We had an Australian lawyer visit our office the other day. This is pretty unusual, especially as we’re pretty much just about accounting for accountants. Anyway, he’d been referred by his friend, an accountant, who said he should look us up if he was ever in Vietnam.
He’d more recently been feeling the pressure of the legal profession, and the ability to make money. He remarked that several of his lawyer friends were struggling in smaller firms. As we continued our discussion, it sounded like it was not only the Australian accounting profession under assault from automation, cloud and commoditization, but also other professional services.
According to this lawyer, it was getting harder to make a serious living (lawyer speak for serious amount of money). Now just hold tight here for a minute, as plenty of Australians probably think we’ve become more litigious than America, and there seems to be some truth to this, so how can lawyers not be making a motza? As explained to me, there are certain large expenditures, including offices, receptionists, staff etc that make it harder for smaller firms to compete, especially in the “bread and butter” small work that is now more automated.
Certainly in comparison if you think about the large fee that used to be charged by Australian accountants for setting up a company, this process is now highly automated, quick and cheap – a disappearing revenue stream for Australian accountants.
It seems that some lawyers are finding it hard to make ends meet, and are looking at other options. I think we are coming to accept an Australian accountant sitting in a shared communal office, but probably not yet our lawyer? Certainly when it comes to privacy, I’m not sure we’d all feel comfortable meeting our lawyer to discuss our court case in a shared space, regardless of how good the coffee is.
As we progressed, the lawyer was telling me about automation and computerization assaulting the bread and butter of the lawyers work, and that in his opinion specialisiation was required to enable his business to continue for a longer period of time. Part of that specialistion involved using offshore labour to assist with research and documentation.
What was interesting about the conversation was that we mentioned several books including the Blue Ocean Strategy and making an uncontested market space, and also the Susskind series of books – Richard Susskind and Daniel Susskind have released “The Future of the Professions”, which has some good reading for accountants, but our conversation revolved around Richard Susskind’s books: “The end of Lawyers”, “the future of law tomorrow’s lawyers: an introduction to your future” etc. These are certainly all worth a quick read, regardless of which side of the “Compliance is Dead” side of the fence you sit.
What is certain is that there is no monopoly on information, and your client has access to the same information that you do – be it legal or accounting/tax.
After the meeting I was thinking more about the impact on all professions, perhaps even the medical professions as Susskind eluded to in “The Future of the Professions” I wonder at what point in time big data might be preferential to a medical professional. If, faced with the dilemma of going to the emergency room, you were faced with a 2 hours wait for a medical professional, or an immediate access to an interface that had handled 100,000 emergency situations, whether you’d wait for the human. Would first responders be better equipped to handle emergencies with a massive database built from big data behind them. I’m sure we’re going to face these questions in the future.
Whilst some may argue professions are different, there seems no disagreement that all professions are undergoing significant and rapid change. And whilst specialization might extend the profession for some time, it seems that Susskind’s “the Future of the Professions” argue somewhat comprehensively that the whole business model for the profession is under significant assault.
As for my lawyer visitor, he’s continuing on his track to specializing his legal work, and looking for offshore labour to assist with cheaper research assistance.