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Overcoming talent shortages with better technology

APAC Managing Director, VIQ Solutions

Talent shortages are a well-recognised problem in the Australian workforce.

In fact, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said during his Budget speech in June, that: “Workforce, I believe, is the biggest single challenge facing the Australian economy. You will hear me talk about it until you’re sick of hearing me say it, about the importance of building the skills our workforce needs.”

Moreover, the impact of these shortages is likely to have a significant effect on the economy for years to come, not just the short term. Research conducted by PwC and the World Economic Forum found that closing the skills gap could lead to a US$90 billion gain for the Australian economy or 5.2% of its GDP by 2030.

Conversely, failing to close the gap could cost the country US$587.56 billion worth of unrealised economic output – all due directly to talent shortages. This equates to approximately a quarter of Australia’s potential growth over the next decade.

This issue is compounded by the fact that – for the first time since 1916 – Australia’s population shrank last year. Fewer migrants, coupled with an ageing population, seem to be weighing heavily on the economy.

Breaking this information down, it becomes apparent that demand is outstripping supply in the labour force and is unable to account for the total addressable market. Despite this, a relatively buoyant economy and technologically advanced industries are creating demand, despite this scarcity of talent.

We are also yet to see what impact the ‘great resignation’ will have on Australia, but it is having a profound effect in the United States, with a lot of professionals simply deciding to pursue a different path following the pandemic.

Looking specifically at the impact this may have on the legal profession, and several factors come into play. Firstly, demand is up. According to the Law Society of New South Wales, there has been a huge growth in the solicitor profession over the past decade. The number of solicitors nationally has grown 43% since 2011.

Despite this, according to global recruitment firm Hays, the legal profession is listed as one of the many that suffers from a dearth of local talent.

According to Hays, the skills in greatest demand within Australia’s legal jobs market are:

  • Commercial Litigation and Insolvency Lawyers. Litigation was a highly buoyant area pre-COVID-19 and is expected to grow rapidly in 2021 and beyond, as individuals and business owners fall into contractual or company disputes due to pandemic-induced financial pressure.
  • Insurance Lawyers for both the public sector and law firms who can work on child and sexual abuse claims following outcomes on royal commission investigations and subsequent historical abuse claims.
  • Commercial Property Lawyers with strong commercial property skills in acquisitions, disposals and leasing.

While the profound shortage of talent places strain on the industry as a whole, it places yet more strain on professionals attempting to do their jobs effectively. Talent is spread thin, so the burden falls on those available to carry the load.

This shortfall in talent is coupled with a recently-reported surge in demand. The Australian Financial Review published findings in July stating that most legal firms in Australia have recorded an increase in workload due to the current pandemic conditions – despite slowdowns in the court system.

This increase in ad hoc business has led to increased revenue, meaning that the average lawyer was already working harder than ever for their firm. Speak to legal professionals – in many cases working remotely and juggling home life with their jobs – and the strain is palpable.

While there is no quick-fix to the talent shortage, technology and work-practices present a myriad of ways for professionals to increase their productivity without taking on more work. As the old adage states, ‘work smarter, not harder’. Technologically advanced tools now take on much of the burden, freeing up a legal professional’s time to focus on higher-level matters and achieve more in less time.

One such example lies with the digital transcription of recorded audio. Since the world has pivoted to remote working, meetings, tribunals, testimonials and evidence are now heard and discussed on digital platforms. Lawyers are out in the field with recording devices, interviewing witnesses, taking statements and gathering evidence.

Despite this, it is estimated that no more than 15% of audio files are being digitised.

Digitising audio has the effect of making it ‘live’ – rather than a static asset. Instead of pressing ‘play’ and listening to a whole recording in order to find something specific, a digitised file can be searched, and keywords discovered in a matter of seconds. This makes it inherently faster to conduct business, and the digital file becomes much more useful.

Moving the needle further, if that audio recording is captured by an automated, AI-powered application, then a clear, accurate transcript could be waiting on the legal professional’s desk or PC by the time they arrive back at their office, regardless of whether it is a remote or conventional workplace. The audio can be captured ‘live’ in the field in a digital format, then automatically transcribed in minutes.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is powering a lot of technology these days, leading to more efficient and productive tools. These in turn lead to better business outcomes. In the case of digitising audio content, AI can assess the characteristics of an audio file and align it with the most efficient speech recognition engine. This specialised, cyber-secure workflow ensures a highly accurate and diarised draft for self-editing or modification by professional editors to be ‘evidence’ ready – quickly, easily and efficiently.

Such tools tie in perfectly with the new, hybrid workplace as well, empowering professionals to complete their work seamlessly from remote locations. In many cases, the adoption of applications and cloud-based solutions for remote work is making the workplace more efficient in general, with increased collaboration and digitisation.

There are a host of other tools at the disposal of the modern legal firm, such as cloud-sharing applications for better collaboration, and digital notepads that allow access to one’s notes and files from any device, at any time. Automation and editing tools are also critical, allowing a professional to submit a clean, grammatically correct document in a short space of time.

Ultimately, there are powerful factors combining to reduce the amount of time a legal worker has on their hands. The only way to counteract this is to provide better, faster ways of achieving desirable outcomes. The way to do THAT, is by provisioning employees with the tools they need. This way, the profession can continue to take on more work despite a lack of skilled talent, and individuals can become more productive without burning out.

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