Signs of the times: Top predictions for the legal industry in 2023

By Marcus Hannah, Senior Legal Counsel, Docusign

Was it only five years ago that most lawyers were deskbound? Working in offices, poring over piles of paperwork, and using landline phones to connect with clients? Yes, but a lot has changed since then and, looking ahead, the legal industry looks set to embrace even more changes as we march towards a digital future. 

Here are my top predictions for what’s in store for legal professionals in 2023.

1. Asked to do more with less, lawyers will thrive

‘Doing more with less’ is a common refrain these days, echoed across industries and business contexts. And it’s being heard loud and clear in the legal profession. As tough economic conditions continue, executives will be keeping a close watch on the bottom line – and in-house legal teams will be asked to take on more work without increasing their headcount. 

While this may not be a popular request, lawyers have already adapted their ways of working thanks to the pandemic, and most are now familiar with how to use digital tools to increase their efficiency, reduce the administrative burden, and get work done faster. 

For example, Zoom meetings can replace travelling across town to meet face-to-face. Working from home a few days a week can replace lengthy commutes. Docusign can replace the need to bring five parties together in a room to sign an agreement. Tools like these empower legal professionals to focus on the work they do best.

2. The traditional ‘law firm’ model will modernise and evolve

Big law firms have been stuck in their ways for decades. Yet this traditional model is being challenged by the rise of smaller and more agile legal firms. The recent trend of lawyers choosing to work in-house for companies, instead of for major firms, is also having an impact. To remain competitive, the major firms will have to adapt and become more flexible – and we’re starting to see big firms change their practices.

In 2023, more firms will experiment with new business models and consulting arms. For example, they may offer ‘lawyers on demand’ services where their lawyers are contracted to work in-house for clients. Or they may explore the commoditisation of less complex legal processes like contract management in a bid to capture the smaller end of the market. 

3. AI will be a game-changer, but not just yet 

With all the talk of ChatGPT and other AI tools taking over the professional world, lawyers are right to be sitting up and taking notice of how it will impact their jobs. In 2023, there’s no doubt we’ll see more lawyers experimenting with AI. At this early stage, though, most will be exploring how to use AI as a tool to increase productivity, rather than to replace employees. 

However, we are already starting to see some ‘AI law firms’ popping up and offering legal services for lower-end functions like advice on parking fines or templates for standard disclaimers. As clients become more comfortable with approaching these AI-powered firms for legal advice, the scope of work provided by such firms will naturally evolve. But I don’t think it will happen this year.

4. A settling after workforce movements

Having seen a lot of employees moving jobs in recent years, legal professionals are more likely to stay in their current roles. 

At the same time, I expect the industry as a whole will remain flat or grow slightly. There shouldn’t be a fall in headcount or firm revenues, but we don’t expect massive growth, either.  

Are you ready for what’s next?

As these predictions demonstrate, legal practices need to prioritise new tools, technologies and processes, stat. The good news? It’s easy to get started with one of the key tools transforming the industry: eSignature. Try Docusign for free today. 

Marcus Hannah Senior Legal Counsel
Marcus Hannah
Senior Legal Counsel
Related Topics