New industry report highlights AI and staff wellbeing as the biggest challenges for the legal sector in 2024

melissa davis what lies ahead 2024

MD Communications, the leading reputation consultancy for law firms, today launched its annual ‘What lies ahead’ report to assess the risks and opportunities facing the global legal sector in 2024.

The report canvassed a broad cross-section of the industry, including managing partners, general counsel, marketing officers and recruiters. Common themes highlighted by the respondents and analysed within the report included the application of artificial intelligence (AI), diversity, ESG, staff wellbeing and hybrid working.

MD Communications’ CEO and founder, Melissa Davis, said:

“We are just over a year on from ChatGPT’s launch, and I know few commercial lawyers who haven’t tried out – or been required to try out – what’s available through such AI large language models. Law is still, though, a people business, and personal relationships and trust are central to its ability to function. Professionals who shared their thoughts on what 2024 holds had a great deal to say about ‘people’. They are focused on succession, diversity, and opportunities.”

The legal community began integrating AI into its work and legal processes much quicker than professional observers – and lawyers themselves – would have expected. Just over a year on from ChatGPT’s public launch, its technology is front of mind, according to the new report.

Other topics highlighted include conflicting views on ‘hybrid working’, with respondents suggesting that tensions are set to escalate in 2024 between lawyers who demand a return to the office and those keen to uphold what they consider the one positive legacy of the Covid-19 pandemic’s lockdowns and restrictions.

The demands of accurate ESG reporting are also a leading concern. General counsel and their external legal advisers are acutely aware of the risks of misreporting – especially on governance and environmental issues. 

In her foreword, Sharon Blackman OBE, Head of FX Legal, Citi, welcomed the report, echoing the excitement and concerns of its many respondents about the increasing use of technology in the delivery of legal services.

She said: “I want to know my advisers are proactive, not only in identifying and managing the risks, but also exploiting and importantly passing on the benefits.”

She said the legal profession needs to improve the wellbeing and diversity of its people:

“As a client, I am better served by advisers who are value aligned, passionate about their craft, have the benefit of a diverse team, and who look after that team identifying and nurturing their talent in all its guises.”

Jeff Davis, General Counsel, Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, said:

“General counsels do not see the ‘inner-workings’ of the law firms we instruct. We are placing trust in skilled, knowledgeable, careful, indemnified professionals. But there are points mentioned in this report which we need to know they have addressed. For me, it helps me understand how they are assisting in getting to net zero, a more diverse profession, a healthier working environment.”

Siobhan Lewington, Managing Director, Fox Rodney, said:

“Whilst lateral partner hiring continues to be strong, the associate hiring market has become much slower, with some firms now experiencing excess capacity. Unless transactional activity picks up significantly in 2024, we expect the associate market to continue to be quieter.”

Keith Oliver, Head of International, Peters & Peters, said:

“I see an increasing focus on ESG and both consumer and minority shareholder disputes/litigation, combined with an explosion of fraud claims flowing from crypto currency losses and AI scams.” 

Kathleen Harris, Managing Partner, Arnold & Porter, London said:

As we grapple with development and changes, it is important to understand the importance of the rule of law and not to make changes that either seek and / or inadvertently undermine it. The underfunding of the criminal justice system and the issues surrounding access to the legal system remain key.”

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