Automation could lead to 67,000 job losses, Law Society predicts

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By Katie King on

Solicitor numbers on the up but same can’t be said for legal services sector

The Law Society has predicted an impending decline in law jobs, citing firms’ emerging tech as the reason why.

Considering employment across the whole legal services sector — solicitors, paralegals, support staff, etc — the forecast says jobs will fall from 317,854 (where we are now) to 316,304 come next year. That’s a drop of 1,550 or 0.5%.

A summary of the Law Society’s findings

A small change perhaps, but the Law Society reckons things could get worse over time. The report says:

“Over the longer term, the number of jobs in the legal services sector will be increasingly affected by automation of legal services functions. This could mean that by 2038 total employment in the sector could be 20% less than it would otherwise have been, with a loss of 78,000 jobs — equal to 67,000 full-time equivalent jobs — compared to if productivity growth continued at its current rate.”

The Law Society concedes the automation-induced job losses are “offset at least to some extent by continuing growth in the demand for legal services from elsewhere in the UK economy”, but that may not enough to quell the fears of those most likely to be affected (support staff and paralegals). Data shows firms have already begun to replace work typically done by these staff members with automated/IT-based systems, particularly at larger firms.

Support staff at a number of large corporate outfits seem to be already feeling the effects. We reported that Pinsent Masons’ recent redundancy consultation could see the demise of up to 100 PAs, the firm having cited investments in “technology and other resources”. Hogan Lovells is also expected to cut 90 London support staff roles, these moving abroad and up north.

While the legal services sector as a whole may be under a bit of pressure here, the solicitor profession seems buoyant.

The number of practising solicitors hit 140,000 for the first time ever this year, latest stats from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) demonstrating a 12% increase on the number from this time five years ago. Unfortunately the Law Society was unable to provide a solicitor-specific prediction in its latest forecast.

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