Into The Law firm of the Future: Notes from the 2022 IBA Stockholm conference

by | Jun 14, 2022 | Insights


At the beginning of May, a group of law firm leaders from all around Europe gathered together to configure “The Law Firm of The Future”.

The conference was presented by the International Bar Association’s Law Firm Management Committee, and was hosted by the Swedish global law firm Mannheimer Swartling at their striking Stockholm offices.

The discussion on the ‘law firm of the future’ started prior to COVID, during the previous IBA conference in London in 2018. It explored the transformations affecting the legal world emphasizing legal technologies which were forecasted to change the everyday work of lawyers.

It even invited several vendors to present their products that would serve future law firms. This time, however, the managing partners were looking inward – not what they can bring from the outside to help the firm, but rather what can they change internally.

It is no secret that the past two years of a global pandemic brought significant changes with it to the workplace, and law firms were no different (we wrote about it here, but also see for example others who wrote about it here and here).

This conference reviewed the lessons learned through the last two years of a pandemic and focused on how to build ‘the law firm of the future for the next five to ten years.

The conference opened with a fascinating analysis by Klas Eklund, Stockholm’s Senior Economist, examining where the world and the global economy are heading.
His talk set the scene for the afternoon panels that discussed how law firms take a stand and affect some of these issues, addressing green transformation and climate change (hint, no more annual office trips to the Seychelles Islands, or traveling by train rather than by air to meet clients when possible).

It also included ESG for law firms –highlighting a focus on pro bono work, where the partners’ panel raised important questions like how they choose and market pro bono work in a trustworthy way.

Yet, without doubt, the main concern of all delegates and the topic that dominated the hallway talks throughout the conference was the “fight over talent,” which some have even escalated to a “war.”

Taking care of our assets – looking after our people

In an intriguing lecture by Jens Näsström, a Stockholm-based occupational psychologist & Researcher specializing in lawyers, he raised the question of how we look after our people? By ‘we’ he meant the partners, and by ‘people’ he meant the young lawyers who make their way to the firm as interns and young lawyers.

In other words, he was asking how law firms retain interns and ensure they make it to become partners – how do you make the investment pay off. Many law firms start thinking about this question only after their associates start moving into the embracing arms of high-tech companies or leaving law altogether.
However, Näsström suggests that firms should be concerned much earlier (if their stress wasn’t high enough already), that is before their interns even join the firm. It is no secret that young lawyers are overworked. Thus, his model suggests implementing a long-term mentoring program that starts with law students continuing well into their years as associates.

Doing so, he argues based on several programs already running and 15-year-long research he conducted, will create a notion of meaning and personal connection which will then translate into commitment – the key to retaining employees.
The same concept was raised by the partners in their panel, where mentorship was discussed as a way of ‘attracting new talent.’ Making young lawyers become part of the bigger picture and making their work, what the partners called “fun,” not in the happy hour sense but rather in the meaningful legal work sense.

Moving forward

Despite the recognition of all the known pivots next to the elation of ‘being a lawyer in a law firm,’ it was quite surprising to see that the legal world is still very much a conservative guild. Old law practice may have discussed legal tech in London yet is still very slow to embrace new-law practices like flexible working styles (hybrid or remote), legal ops, and alternative legal service providers (ALSP). The realization that optimizing your sources to avoid overworked employees can help law firms retain their teams, only starts to trickle in.

When they do – ALSP companies will still be here to assist, more than that, they’ll be ready to create in collaboration with the law firms what would really be the face of the law firm of the future.