Change Is Coming for the Professions –
It’s Time to Embrace It

Contacts: Richard West, Kennedys’ partner and global head of client innovation

04-05-23

This article contains statements, paraphrases and conclusions from Kennedys Fostering Innovation in Insurance panel, The Future of The Professions. The panel considered how the professions, insurance and law in particular, implement technology to remain relevant. 

We had the privilege of welcoming professor Richard Susskind, author of the acclaimed book The Future of the Professions, to speak at the Kennedys’ Fostering Innovation in Insurance panel. Professor Susskind is an eloquent and renowned speaker on the topic of professional services disruption – a discussion that Kennedys follows closely.

With this as a backdrop, we asked Professor Susskind: how should legal professionals reconsider their roles in a 21st century, digitised world? How might they remain relevant in the new economy?

For many years, a ‘social pact’ has existed with regards to the professions: a few highly skilled individuals have a monopoly of knowledge and, therefore, expertise, in their respective fields. Only a doctor can practise medicine, only an underwriter can determine an acceptable risk and calculate a fair price for coverage.

This ‘pact’ also regulates who can enter a profession and their remuneration. In doing so, the professions are provided with considerable autonomy about how their market is run. Until now, that reality has remained largely unchallenged.

Some futurologists would argue that technology may, at some point, completely remove professional monopolies on information. However, matching existing human performance is not sufficient. In professor Susskind’s words, “there is no finish line”. Therefore, might technology have the potential to exceed the quality and consistency of knowledge expected of the professions? If so, how can the professions adapt to this challenge?

Challenging the professional status quo

Technology, including the internet, has already begun to shift the foundations of the professional ‘social pact’, with the general public having increasing access to publicly available sources of research and knowledge. However, the pact has not yet been fundamentally undermined. Instead, professionals have been able to utilise technology to make their systems and approaches more efficient and effective, while retaining their positions as experts.

Maintaining the professional status quo is now no longer a long-term certainty. The launch of large language models, including ChatGPT, was almost unimaginable even a few years ago and illustrates how quickly the knowledge landscape is changing.

Is the ability of our industries to adopt new technology at risk of being outpaced by the speed of development? In the legal world, the prospect of large language models being able to give legal advice based on a comprehensive data set comprised of previous caselaw and sources of legal knowledge can be envisaged. The same can be said of the ability to write a contract, or interpret a will and testament. Just as the judgement I apply to the exercise as a lawyer is fundamentally built on the data I have accumulated; technology has the potential to do the same but at scale.

My professional judgement is shaped by the knowledge I have gained from precedents, case reports and academic study. Why couldn’t AI systems eventually match or even outperform my judgement, if they have access to a greater dataset than the human mind can retain? Might that mean that AI can then offer a mostly correct interpretation of a coverage question, or offer a predicted outcome for a defence case or jury decision?

Shifting gears

To maintain our professional roles and keep adding value to our clients, we need to maintain focus on the disruptive forces facing our industries. However, minor efficiencies will not suffice. In the modern age, we must be willing to update the way we think and work. We must utilise AI and other future technology to build entirely new processes, operating models and, in time, businesses themselves.

If we continue to push back against change, if we become, in the words of one of our panellists, “Chief Prevention Officers”, then we cannot expect to remain a trusted expert within the modern economy. We must drive a culture conducive to innovation in our own industries.

As professionals, we must be aware of our own limitations. Building a culture of innovation requires many factors – from strong leadership to collaboration with external partners. It also requires allowing those who understand new technologies to take on the responsibility to drive change. This includes the youngest professionals coming into the industry: our paralegals, trainees, participants in our insurance graduate schemes or apprenticeships – these are the people who know the future better than current business leaders.

Who drives the change?

At the heart of this cultural shift is adding value to clients. That requires us to refocus on the desired outcome, rather than obsess over the tools we currently use. How can being innovative evolve our ability to create value for clients? A key tenet of the ‘social pact’ was always that the consumer should benefit, first and foremost.

A failure to listen, or understand the pace of change, could see our industries become increasingly irrelevant to the modern world. However, this is not a path set in stone. As Professor Susskind told us, in the grand arc of human history, the best developments are yet to come. That is why Kennedys is taking the time, now, to focus on what we can do as lawyers and insurance professionals – so that we are ready for the Future of the Professions.

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