An entertaining and insightful article from Rohit Talwar and Alexandra Whittington, as they look ahead to a very different law firm environment in 2025. Their stories from the future might just motivate you in the present.
Exponential Fever. The business world is currently gripped by exponential fever. The concept came to prominence with Moore's law - the doubling every 18-24 months of the amount of computer power available for $1,000. The phenomenon has since been replicated in many fields of science and technology. We now see the speed, functionality and performance of a range of technologies growing at an exponential rate – encompassing everything from data storage capacity and video download speed to the time taken to map a genome and the cost of producing a laboratory grown hamburger.
New Pretenders. A wave of new economy businesses has now brought exponential thinking to bear in transforming assumptions about how an industry works. For example, AirBnB handles roughly 90 times more bedroom listings per employee than the average hotel group, while Tangerine Bank can service seven times more customers than a typical competitor. In automotive, by adopting 3D printing, Local Motors can develop a new car model 1,000 times cheaper than traditional manufacturers, with each car coming 'off the line' 5 to 22 times faster. In response, businesses in literally every sector are pursuing exponential improvement in everything from new product development and order fulfillment through to professional productivity and the rate of revenue growth.
Stepping Up. For law firms, the transformation of other sectors and their accompanying legal frameworks creates a massive growth opportunity, coupled with the potential to bring similar approach to rethinking the way law firms operate. While some might be hesitant about applying these disruptive technologies internally, there is a clear opportunity to be captured from helping clients respond to these developments and from the creation of the industries of the future. To help bring to life the possibilities within legal, we highlight seven scenarios that illustrate how exponential change could transform law firms over the next 5 to 10 years.
Rise of the 'Exponential Circle'. Our continuing programme of research on the future of law firms suggests that we will see exponential growth for those firms who can both master the legal implications of these technologies for their clients and become adept at their application within the firm. By 2025, we could indeed have witnessed the emergence of an Exponential Circle of law firms who have reached 'escape velocity' and left the rest behind.
Dancing with the Disruptors. This accelerated growth opportunity is being driven by the combinatorial effects of artificial intelligence (AI) in particular, and a range of other disruptive technologies, the speed, power and capability of which is increasing at an exponential rate or faster. These supporting technologies both enable AI and are fed by it. These include quantum computing, blockchain technology, the internet of things (IoT), big data, cloud services, smart cities, and human augmentation – all of which could be hundreds or thousands of times more powerful and impactful within a decade. The resulting changes will lead to the total transformation of every business sector, the birth of new trillion dollar industries and a complete rethink of the law, regulation, legal infrastructures, and the supporting governance systems for every activity on the planet.
Tools of Future Exploration. As futurists, one of our core tools for making sense of a range of emerging trends, forces, ideas and developments is to combine them into scenarios of alternate possible futures; stories are one of the key ways in which we share our ideas. We find these far more powerful than predictions, as they allow organisations to prepare for a range of plausible futures rather than relying on more restrictive predictive perspectives and forecasts. The scenarios that follow are built upon factual evidence gained through our research on current and emerging developments, and a resulting set of well-supported assumptions about how developments might play out. These are bound together with some creative conjecture to create storylines that are designed to provoke thought and debate and impart the difference between today and possible tomorrows.
So, below we envision what the winners would look like if we were to travel forward in time to meet the recipients of seven of the global awards for the Most Exponential Law Firms of 2025.
Category 1. Applications that display near-human levels of intelligence – or Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) - in certain domains
Winner: Hothouse Lawyers, a law firm that has formally eliminated entry-level positions. Instead they are filled by an AGI or AI so that highly-paid human lawyers focus their efforts on the more skilled tasks that require their experience, expertise and intuition. The AI-based legal support systems learn, adapt and evolve with the needs of the professionals they support and even conduct a significant amount of client interaction – often with an AI-based intelligent assistant at the other end. This combination of smart market-focused lawyers - underpinned by wide-ranging AI – has enabled industry leading exponential improvement in both operational performance and profit growth.
Hothouse Lawyers is named after its reputation for tender cultivation of the few attorneys it employs: lawyers are treated like rare orchids in a highly inhospitable climate. The legal hiring freezes of the early 2020s resulted in the average age of an attorney rising to 60, exacerbated by the fact that retirement has been eliminated across most professions. Job security has also gone exponential, and employment, for those who can find it, is for life. Only senior positions exist in the firm, and the lawyers who fill them are protected from anything but the most rarefied legal work. All the research assistants have been outsourced or automated, but there are new service jobs created for human personal assistants to these celebrity-like lawyers. The assistants earn low wages although their bosses' seven-figure salaries seem to increase exponentially, as do the life expectancies of these highly-compensated figureheads.
Hothouse relies on other firms to do the initial training of lawyers, with several law schools also stepping into this space. Hothouse and other similar firms now pay a hiring or 'transfer' fee to the firms and law schools from which they recruit more experienced lawyers.
Category 2. Implementation of True Algorithmic Democracy (Algocracy) – Supporting the move to digitizing, automating and embedding the law
Winner: Jónsdóttir & Jónsson, the most innovative law firm in Iceland during the early post-Algocracy period and a pioneer in the design and deployment of Algocracy solutions globally.
Following a series of failed government coalitions since early 2017 and the Panama Papers II leak in 2019, Iceland's citizens decided to overthrow the current government, with the hope of creating a more transparent, democratic and simpler governance model. In a process stewarded by the Pirate Party, Iceland's entire political, legal and financial governance system was converted into an Algocracy, or law by algorithm. Drawing on examples from pioneers in Algocracy such as Singapore and the United Arab Emirates, Icelanders decided that they could no longer trust their human overlords and decided to take their chances with code instead. The combination of a wealthy, egalitarian, and educated population coupled with a history of radical political activism made Iceland a perfect fit for the next step towards a form of technological singularity.
Iceland proved to be the perfect testing ground for Algocracy and the automation of legal and political decision-making. A culture of open-mindedness permitted public trust in AI to grow, while the revolutionary political context ensured that high levels of civic oversight of technology were embedded in the system. The law is embedded at every level; our cars fine us if we speed, and automated courts now draw on data from sensors in objects at the crime scene - connected via the IoT. The law firm of Jónsdóttir & Jónsson is recognized for pioneering the concepts of Algocracy at the nation scale, leading the design and implementation of the solutions and for its innovation in dealing with Iceland's civil, corporate, criminal and tax law in the transition period. In addition to helping the nation avoid complete anarchy during the first two years of Algocracy, the firm has effectively become the 'global go to' advisory partner on all aspects of algorithmic law. Jónsdóttir & Jónsson has shown the importance of adding software developers, political scientists and ethicists to legal teams to design effective systems and back-up provision for nations where human intelligence is ceding to the wisdom of machines.
Since its pioneering work in the field with an Algocracy team of four among a practice of 20 lawyers in its sole office in Reykjavik in 2017, the firm has grown to over 800 staff working on Algocracy issues in 60 cities and 40 countries around the world. The pioneering risk and reward sharing business model has also put Jónsdóttir & Jónsson in the top five globally in terms of profit per partner.
Category 3. Blockchain / Smart Contracts / Distributed Autonomous Organisations (DAOs)
Winner: Ether Law – Boston based pioneers in distributed law
Ether Law has become a global pioneer in helping firms, industry sectors, regulators, governments, and law enforcement agencies adapt to a blockchain world. The use of blockchain-like mutual distributed ledger systems first came to prominence with the rise of Bitcoin - the digital currency that sits outside the regulation of governments and central banks. The transactions are encoded in a highly secure manner and recorded in multiple ledgers distributed across global networks.
Ether Law recognized the opportunity to use such technology in domains as diverse as asset provenance and real estate transactions through to verification of academic qualifications and the tracking and tracing of international criminals. While other much larger firms adopted a 'wait and see' attitude, Ether Law took a proactive stance in encouraging clients to explore the use of blockchain solutions, helping to define the underlying legal and contractual infrastructure and developing the necessary rollback, recovery and dispute resolution mechanisms. The firm pioneered the development of 'off the shelf' solutions that enable counter parties to enter into fully automated contracts. They were also a leader in the creation of truly 'smart' contracts where the systems can deal with contract variations and anomalies, and negotiate agreed outcomes - without human involvement in over 90% of cases.
A key area in which Ether Law took a lead was in helping to take DAOs into the mainstream and securing their legal status. These businesses exist entirely in software and typically have no employees. The firm has helped new entrants, existing businesses, investors, and governments create DAOs and the mechanisms to regulate them. The firm has grown from 44 partners in four US offices in 2017 to over 1,000 professionals in 90 countries globally – with over 600 specialising in blockchain related activities.
Category 4. Direct Service Innovation
Winner: ALF, the "Anti-Law Firm," a corporate venturing initiative from one of the large law firms – aimed at pioneering a radically different legal service model. ALF employs a large IT innovation team creating fully automated smart AI and blockchain based applications running on the internet. These are aimed at consumers, start-ups and small to medium sized firms. ALF has fewer than ten senior lawyers acting in an advisory role to an army of chatbots. A key feature is that all its profits are reinvested in service developments, technology tools and innovative applications – many of which have been adopted by its parent or licensed for use by other law firms.
The Anti-Law Firm is a response to a grassroots movement of coders, computer scientists and attorneys who decided to put the power of the law back into the hands of the people. Inspired by the early success of DoNotPay, the ALF chatbots have supported millions of people who were previously prevented from remedying legal wrongs because of the high cost of legal representation. It all started with the protests in the late 2010s, which came to be known as Occupy Law.
Occupy Law was at first a US/UK student-debt awareness movement, but later a driving force for a civic renaissance about the right to legal representation. By 2020, citizens were using chatbots to fight their way out of disproportionate student loan debts, tackling unfair housing regulations and taking on pension and retirement systems rigged against the consumer's best interests. What started as an easy way to protest a parking ticket had turned into a social and criminal justice revolution, which then morphed into the emergence of firms like ALF. Today, the chatbots are all open source, and there are a variety of options to deal with a range of laws and clientele. Because the service is so decentralized and automated, the loosely-organized outfit does not actually consider itself a law firm. Nevertheless, the sheer volume of cases it handles mean it is recognized as a leading innovator in exponential legal practices with a focus on DIY law.
Category 5. New Entrants
Winner: Fähig, the law app for the sharing / gig economy. Often described as the Uber of legal services, Fähig offers a preventative or preemptive legal service, and legal protection by subscription and on-demand. Fähig addresses two key opportunities, firstly the growth in citizens wanting protection of their rights and privacy, and secondly lawyers wanting to offer services globally.
No lawyers, no offices, no actual conference room. If this doesn't sound like the typical law firm, that's because it's not. Fähig (German for "capable, able, competent, proficient") is the legal AI startup that finally enabled even the smallest of law practices to offer a truly global service via the internet. Lawyers can work cross-jurisdiction thanks to the regulatory acrobatics Fähig is willing to perform in highlighting the relevant country specific laws, precedents and cases for any matter. Fähig earns revenues from charging a small subscriber fee for lawyers and clients and taking a small commission for connecting lawyers to clients worldwide. Clients pay a super-low monthly fee for legal service on retainer, which is increasingly a necessity in a surveillance society. In most cases this can be bundled into the customer's bank charges, mobile phone bills or accessed via a single keystroke on a mobile phone app. Essentially, tap an icon and a lawyer is at your service.
The opportunity is born out of the rise of the 'always on always monitored' surveillance society. Increasing digitization of our lives, rising levels of digital policing in many big cities, as well as the explosion of surveillance technologies in the burgeoning smart cities have made it far more common for citizens to be accused of crimes, experience cyber-crime or suffer identity theft. The proliferation of IoT-enabled devices, city-wide sensor networks, and drone surveillance in the skies means that nothing goes unnoticed or unrecorded. The data is captured in the cloud, shared and analyzed by ever-smarter technologies.
The 'precog' science fiction of Minority Report has become a reality. Data collection from our mobile devices and the internet has become so efficient that predictive marketing has given way to predictive policing. This has created a high demand for legal advice on how to defend yourself when predictively accused of a crime you have never contemplated or have yet to commit.
Fähig also has a strong customer base of civilians worried that the data they share, their internet searches and other digital footprints might end up being misused or used against them. So, there is a growing demand for on-demand legal services related to 'data and identity theft and misuse protection', and this is the booming specialist market Fähig has been able to serve. The firm has seen the number of global customers rise from 20,000 in 2018 to over 50 million worldwide by 2025, with revenues topping US$1.5 billion. The firm is owned by a combination of the citizens and lawyers who use it, governments and technology companies. For law firms, Fähig has also become a training ground for new lawyers as they can be seconded to work within its core team - developing the global jurisdiction analysis systems at the heart of the firm. Many larger firms have also licensed the technology for use with their own clients.
Category 6. Most Disruptive AI Innovation
Winner: My AIAttorneys 'In-House', a legal service that operates strictly through AI-analyzed surveillance of clients. All research is conducted via monitoring / eavesdropping on client's computer systems, transaction flows, personal digital assistants, social media activity, emails, and data collected from spy drones, and IoT-connected sensors, microphones and speakers.
Today's time-poor legal clients prefer to not have to spend time discussing the details with their attorneys, so instead they give permissions for AIs to observe, collect data, analyze and predict the information needed for representation. The service is particularly popular with the new wave of technology-centric start-ups with big ambitions but very small headcounts – where literally no one has the time or inclination to talk to their lawyers – however important the matter is.
Attorney-client contracts with My AIAttorneys involve permissions to monitor the client, their business and their key staff at all times, both online and in person. The relationships are two-way; the client's own AI personal assistants, digital twins, drones or other personal "things" hooked up to the IoT will communicate all the necessary information, knowledge and experiences as well as keep tabs on their case and attorney. The service continues to evolve with the firm now able to predict and pre-empt emerging risks as well as handle existing cases.
Still in its infancy, this service is light years ahead of the simplistic "robo-lawyers" of the mid-2010s. My AIAttorneys received the award for their innovative 'In-House' product - a comprehensive analytics program that collects data on the client 24/7 by use of wearables, implantables, and biometrics in and around their work and home. My AIAttorneys is another example of the growing array of legal firm and technology company hybrids. The combined use of big data, IoT, drones, AI and next generation real-time e-discovery gives this company an edge unmatched by the rest.
Since launch in 2019, the firm has grown from around 120 individual customers and 15 corporate clients to over 12,000 individual and 800 business clients ranging from start-ups to now global multi-billion dollar corporations. Revenues topped US$100 million in 2025.
Category 7: A Very Human Law Firm
Winner: Mann, Mann and McMann, a British boutique law firm that caters to specialized clientele seeking human lawyers, which are considered a luxury item.
Mann, Mann and McMann achieves exponential profit growth with a 'less is more' attitude to legal services. With just five lawyers on staff and minimal automation outside of routine office processes, this ultra-premium fee firm occupies a spacious and plush office space in London's Mayfair. Client correspondence is handled face to face, over the telephone and via courier delivered documents. Only in the most extreme of circumstances and for international clients is email used. Text messaging and social media contact with clients is strictly forbidden. In many respects, the firm looks more like the private office of a wealthy family, with no client issue considered out of bounds for the right fee. From helping you sell your company and drawing up prenuptial contracts through to meeting with your child's boarding school headmaster or commissioning, insuring and storing bespoke jewelry for you, Mann, Mann and McMann can deliver.
Each lawyer is supported by 6-10 staff who undertake rigorous legal research, conduct forensic-level due diligence of their client's activities and lifestyles, and cater to every need and whim of these rock star lawyers and the clients they serve. The firm is the epitome of elite - with offices replete with rare art, expensive furniture and five-star catering, these lawyers' reputations for being 'divas' is well known. This old-school firm stands out for its adherence to a non-cyborg, AI or chatbot lawyer tradition. All five partners are non-enhanced humans and rely solely on their own experience, expertise, intuition and track record, which are exquisite, exemplary and costly. The firm has a minimum three-year prepaid retainer with its clients and charges roughly three times the closest competing firms' fees. Many competitors' can charge lower prices thanks to their investment in intelligent technologies implemented to augment or replace the work of human lawyers.
Mann, Mann and McMann's clients are typically royalty, multi-millionaires, billionaires, heads of state, leading politicians, sports personalities and rock stars. These clients value privacy and place a premium on the fact that their affairs are handled by trusted individuals with only the barest minimum of information stored and processed on computers.
With the aim of doubling fee rates every three years and participating in the financial success of clients' business ventures and investments, this highly secretive firm has grown average revenues to a reported £7 million per partner. Rumours suggest that unsolicited success payments from clients of £1 million or more are not uncommon.
Through these examples, we have tried to highlight a range of ways in which law firms can take advantage of the exponential growth opportunity arising from disruptive technological change. Hopefully we have demonstrated that there are many routes via which technologies such as AI will create new market opportunities, drive change in internal operations and lead to the emergence of radically new legal service models and opportunities. We could also see the emergence of firms that emphasize the human factor while those around them are eliminating their differentiating features through automation. The thing that all these examples have in common is the potential to drive exponential improvements in performance and the rate of revenue and profit growth. We feel this is an opportunity worth exploring.
Rohit Talwar is a global futurist, keynote speaker and the CEO of Fast Future Publishing (www.fastfuturepublishing.com) where he is applying the principles of exponential thinking to create a new model for publishing. Rohit works with law firms around the world to help them understand, anticipate and respond to the forces of change reshaping business and the global economy. He is the editor and contributing author for a recently published book The Future of Business, editor of Technology vs. Humanity and co-editor of a forthcoming book on The Future of AI Business.
Alexandra Whittington is a foresight researcher at Fast Future Research. She has published about topics ranging from the future of families to the future of blockchain. She is an alumni and undergraduate adjunct faculty member of the Foresight program at the University of Houston.