To provide help with legal sector and law firm environmental analyses (e.g. PESTLE analyses) I have attempted to summarise the main findings of The Law Society Research Report “Future Worlds 2050: images of the future worlds facing the legal profession 2020-2030” which was released on 8th June by its Futures & Insight team. The report was produced in conjunction with legal market research agency Acritas (now part of Thomson Reuters)   and Infinite Futures.

While some smaller law firms might argue that such global forces are unlikely to have an impact on their practices in the short term, these things WILL increasingly impact their markets and commercial clients – and the expectations of consumers – in the future.

The report explores the likely impact of the trends on the legal market. So it will be valuable for those looking at the future recruitment and skills development of their lawyers. And also the development of new legal services and products. Furthermore, familiarity with such developments will be the foundation of commercial knowledge and the ability of lawyers to hold meaningful commercial conversations with their clients.

The Executive Summary shows the following main trends:

Geopolitical dynamics 

  • By 2050, it is expected that the E7 nations (Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia, and Turkey) will have overtaken the G7 (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US) in terms of economic strength; with a significant shift towards the Indo-Pacific region in future decades.
  • Nationalist superpowers are shifting; China overtakes the US as the world’s biggest economy by 2026.
  • Nationalism is likely to increase while globalisation retreats.
  • Implications and uncertainties surround political events (e.g. Brexit, US Presidency; Iran and North Korea nuclear programmes).
  • Many countries have realised the dependence of their supply chains on other nations, leading to global supply chains being replaced by more regional, supply webs and networks.
  • Generation Z begins to reshape global politics as we see a generational shift in allegiance and identity, alongside the lasting impact of Black Lives Matter (BLM) and other social movements

AI and emerging technologies

  • AI will contribute $15.7tr to the global economy by 2030 (PwC 2017).
  • 85% of job concepts in 2030 do not yet exist, and 50% of people think that the roles and skills of the next 10-15 years are impossible to predict within their industry.
  • Skillsets and mindsets for a 21st century knowledge workforce mean keeping up with changing technology, with significant emphasis on STEAM and soft skills (see “Soft Skills for Lawyers”).
  • 80% of the world’s population (c.6.4 billion people by 2024) will have a digital identity.
  • The cost of running the process necessary to brute-force an AI application might be too expensive in terms of the environmental impact (electricity and heat dissipation).
  • A new complex of trust systems, such as blockchain, is reorganising value chains in radical ways.
  • It is possible to transfer experiential knowledge from one organism to another via an ‘experience chip’ (already effective in mice in 2020).

Data, ethics and trust 

  • The proliferation of personal data and its commercialisation and commodification raises important questions of who will be able to own, access and use data in the future.
  • Data regulations and jurisdictional divergences in how data is protected and controlled create huge opportunities across all sectors and business sizes.
  • Growing global competition for data and AI hegemony, not least between US and China, but with other regions such as Africa rising in influence.
  • Data is increasingly collated in smart ways with data from currently unconventional sources to produce more nuanced interpretations.
  • Algorithms that are addictive and exploit divisive content have the potential to cause serious harm at an individual level and impact the perceived credibility of institutions.
  • COVID-19 measures expand the use of surveillance technology in coming years.
  • The pace of development and the application of AI and other emerging technologies raise some key challenges in terms of potential for breach, harm, ethics and liability, and how accountability can be baked into new innovations.

Our changing environment

  • Climate change will have disastrously far-reaching effects, depleting food, water and energy sources, and permanently flooding low-lying coastal areas.
  • Geopolitical relationship difficulties will hamper a collective global response.
  • The thermodynamics and physical resource constraints of bringing our ‘silver bullet’ technology solutions to fruition remain grossly underestimated.
  • Rise in the number of climate litigation cases and charges of ‘greenwashing’.
  • Current gaps in the regulatory system and limits of enforceability are demonstrated by the difficulty of adjudicating cases when there is no clear way to quantify harm.
  • The role of the law in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals is often overlooked.
  • New opportunities around green funding, company formation and sustainability, requiring legal input and advice.

Other information

The Future Worlds project began in January 2020 and included desk research, three rounds of a Delphi Panel, economic modelling and interviews with 45 experts across a range of industries. The report also raises interesting points relating to:

  • Fragile, Brittle, Resilient and Antifragile organisations
  • Themes of smart cities, population change, industrial sectors, digital revolution, energy, food/biosphere/water, production and consumption and The Imaginative Other (innovation, creativity and the speculative)

Key UK legal market statistics include:

  • In the 12 months to July 2019 there were 146,953 solicitors with practising certificates
    • Women outnumbered men by 4,500
    • Women were two thirds of all trainees
    • BAME groups reached 17.5%
  • The global legal services market reached a value of $766 bn in 2019 – having grown by 5.4% since 2015. By 2023, the global legal services market is expected to grow at 6.5%
  • Global population rises by 1bn+ by 2030. 97% of growth comes from emerging or developing countries (PwC Megatrends research).

This quote really resonated with me “Screen-based interaction requires you to schedule a meeting. The chance meeting at the water cooler is missing. You meet with someone because you have something to say, there is no spontaneous conversation, every conversation is pre-strategised for” (Shruti Ajitsaria, Fuse, A&O)

You can download the full report (66 pages).

(The Law Society previously completed a SLEPT analysis of the UK legal market in its 2016 report “The Future of Legal Services” ).

There’s a short explainer video on marketing audits and PESTLE analyses.