The fear of tech advances
By Pippa Allsop
Pippa Allsop discusses the tensions between the human legal advisor and technology
It is probably no surprise to any legal practitioner that ‘client handling’ was among the top three skills ranked as most important in a solicitor’s day-to-day work, according to a recent study commissioned by the Law Society.
What is perhaps more interesting is the fact that, at 53 per cent, client handling far outstripped other seemingly essential legal skills such as writing and drafting (38 per cent) and ‘solving problems requiring solutions specific to the situation’ at 36 per cent.
There’s no doubt that being proficient in client handling is crucial to being a solicitor. This could mean, as it does in my own practice area of family law, managing the sharp end of a client’s emotions through fraught periods in their lives.
Or, as in any practice area, generally managing client expectations whether in terms of timescales, outcomes or costs.
Managing client expectations is an integral part of the job but is also one of the most commonly reported causes of work-related stress.
Solicitors frequently report anxiety caused by unrealistic client expectations in relation to how quickly queries can be responded to, or the belief that their advisor should be available around the clock.
The Law Society research also found that “a common theme from employer interviews was that firms were paying more attention to softer people skills… when recruiting legal professionals, whereas in the past they had only looked at the technical legal skills”.
So it’s clear, within the profession at least, that effective client management skills are imperative to our role. We seem to place weight on the issue from every angle. But the question is: do our clients actually feel the same way?
The legal sphere has been plagued for some time by the fear of what impact technological advances might have in the future.
Another Law Society report, commissioned from the Institute for Employment Studies (IES), bolsters this concern – though the research indicates the greatest casualties will be among the ranks of support staff.
Conversely, the forecast for the employment of legal practitioners remains relatively healthy at a growth rate of just under 2 per cent per year through to 2027.
The idea (or hope) that deep down, clients still desire the human element in their advisors is further underpinned by recent research, carried out by Michelmores, into the investment behaviours of millennials, which found that “whilst millennials are likely to use technology for their simplicity, level of control and objectiveness, it cannot yet replace the level of assurance provided by an advisor”.
This research also revealed that though millennials are “more likely to agree than disagree that they would rather take investment advice from a ‘robo-advisor’ than from a financial advisor”, this was only by a relatively close margin, and that millennials are “still most likely to trust more traditional forms of [investment] advice”.
There appears to be a key distinction here between the continued desire for traditional advisors and the irrefutable demand for tech-savvy platforms through which to interact with them.
The two are, fortunately, not mutually exclusive and there is no question that there will be a continued need for client-facing advisors to demonstrate their added technological value within the marketplace in order to continue to attract clients in future.
The issue of how the push and pull between employee demands for diversifying workplace practices and meeting unabated (or worse, increasing) client demands will work itself out remains to be seen.
While it doesn’t appear that solicitors themselves will imminently become an endangered species, there will undoubtedly be a delicate balance to be struck between embracing technology in a way that doesn’t make us redundant – but equally ensures clients feel properly held and handled by an increasingly virtual presence.
Pippa Allsop is an associate at Michelmores michelmores.com