Dear law or pre-law students in Asia,

Many of you reading this post decided to become the best lawyers in Asia or enter the legal profession based on only the vaguest notions of what the practice of law is actually like. It is perhaps a notion formed by TV shows or, more likely, the views of your parents. Unfortunately, neither TV shows nor your parents prepared you for law in the 21st century. Law is not what it once was – or even what you were told it was before you or when other lawyers in Asia began the applications.

You will be entering a profession evolving (like software) from Law 1.0 to Law 2.0, then to Law 3.0 – all during the span of your career. Law 1.0 firms are steeped in tradition and pomp, heavily labour-intensive and lawyer-centric. Clients fit into the way lawyers do business not the other way around. Law 1.0 firms bill by the hour and justify their fees with the mantra, “But I spent a lot of time on this file.”  Law 1.0 lawyers believe that “time spent on a file” equals “value to clients”.

Unfortunately the heydays of Law 1.0 are coming to a close. The partnership model, unlike a corporation, is tragically unstable as partners tend to be more loyal to themselves than to the partnership. Long-term strategy is forgone at the expense of the short-term profits. Even associates will need to work more and more years in competition for fewer and fewer partnership positions that provide no job security whatsoever.

Further, while billing by the hour increased revenue, it also inhibited innovation and efficiency. As a result, when lawyers in Asia were the only providers of legal services, revenue in Law 1.0 firms was more a function of monopoly than good business practices. Now however, clients are demanding and will only pay for, what US law professor, Sylvia Hodges recently tweeted, “outcome rather than input – efficiency not waste.” Things that Law 1.0 was not designed to achieve.

Now, advanced legal technology means that there’s a need of fewer lawyers to do the same amount of work. In fact, legal tech is one of the most interesting and growing areas of the legal services industry. Everyone is looking to create the “killer app” that will take even more work away from lawyers – or resourceful lawyers will use it to complement their practices. Some of you may end up working with legal tech entrepreneurs.

Then there is the appearance of non-law firm legal providers such as legal process outsourcers in Ireland, South Africa, Philippines and India. These further reduce the need for traditional lawyers in Hong Kong, Singapore and elsewhere. Reduced need for traditional lawyers creates an oversupply of traditional lawyers which ultimately drives down salaries and prestige.

So, what are your career options by 2025?

Over the next decade the role of lawyers in Asia will change to become more akin to consultants than that of technicians. Technical legal skills, while important, will need to be complemented with a host of new skills; such as project management techniques to understand how to manage your teams and price your services, or lean sigma techniques to keep your practice profitable, and as well as more than a passing knowledge of business principles.

Many of you will join the growing number of in-house counsel. It is a role that will be one of the greatest drivers of change in the legal profession. In these roles, there will be an introduction of lawyers in Asia to a number of different metrics. By this, you will routinely measure and assess your performance with things like teamwork, management skills, cost savings, and efficiency. Savvy in-house counsel are now imposing these measurements upon their outside law firms. You will also have the chance (through lawyers-on-demand models) to work on a project-by-project basis. It will be without monthly targets– giving greater flexibility for those who want a different work/life balance.

In a Law 2.0 firm, you will have many career options beyond the old and rather dull, associate-to-partner career path. In fact, the vast majority of you will never be partners – if that role even exists in 2025.

You will choose among being a:

  • Pricing director
  • Project manager
  • Business development manager
  • Client manager
  • Technical lawyer, or
  • Innovation manager, to name just a few.

But the evolution of the legal services industry will not stop there. At least one Asian country, if not more, will follow the lead of Australia and the UK. Moreover, it may allow outside investment in law firms before 2025. This will touch off more evolutionary change for legal services providers – Law 3.0.

Is it scary to be starting a career in a profession that is in the throes of massive change? Sure, but only if you intend to be traditional lawyers in Asia….

This post by Mitch Kowalski is based on an article he authored for The National magazine which first appeared in September 2013.  You can reach him at or follow him on twitter @mekowalski.

Posted by Mitch Kowalski

Mitch Kowalski is an author, advisor and innovator in the global legal services industry.

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