K&L Gates global managing partner and chairman Peter Kalis says women, machines and legal journalists are among the biggest agents of change for law firms, and that those that do not grapple with them will find innovation “disruptive as hell”.

“I believe that the legal industry is one of the most highly competitive in the world. There is, however, nothing unique about us,” K&L Gates’ Kalis told The Lawyer Business Leadership Summit recently. “If you don’t grapple with it, it will be disruptive as hell.”

Women and the push for diversity was the first of the six key trends that law firms must face and adopt, according to Kalis. From the managing partner perspective, firms that are commended for diversity shouldn’t think of it as an isolated effort. 

Machines and the use of technology, one of the biggest innovation topics at the Business Leadership Summit, were his second innovation point.

Kalis posed the question: “Will humans turn to machines to uphold the rule of law? That’s not a world I want to live in.” Just as it would be odd (and interesting) for lawyers to take on quills and parchment, Kalis said, not effectively embracing technology was equally absurd.

Legal journalists are drivers for change, Kalis said, and law firm leaders should avoid hiding behind PR to avoid tough questions.

“What do you do when you’re enveloped in a world that covers your smallest mistakes?” he asked. “Don’t try to spin them, be honest. earn some good will, and prepare at some point to be burned.”

The next two points, globalisation and regulation, are intrinsically linked in Kalis’ argument.

“It used to be that clients feared the fact that governments regulate in different ways,” Kalis commented. “Now they are cooperating, that’s even worse. Law firms have to rise to that multi-jurisdictional cross-border challenge for their clients.”

Kalis’ closing remarks were about innovation, which is not restricted to the creation and protection of intellectual property. When talking about the trend for firms to invest in back-office support or business services centres, Kalis says “it’s nothing I would brag about”.

”It’s a good idea if your lawyers are mostly in London to send over to Belfast. If your lawyers are in Pittsburgh, you can just put them down the hall. To be more efficient is an activity, it’s not an accomplishment.”