Future of Professional Work: Evidence from Legal Jobs in Britain and the United States
56 Pages Posted: 25 Oct 2021 Last revised: 2 May 2022
Date Written: December 24, 2021
This paper examines the impact of digital technology on professional work by combining insights from the future of work debate and the system of professions. With the adoption of digital technology, who ends up undertaking digital tasks depends on the nature of professional jurisdictional control, which we define as a profession’s power to maintain or shift from existing jurisdictional settlements in the face of external disturbances. Protective jurisdictional control implies that the profession engages in full or subordinate jurisdiction, delegating new tasks to subordinate semi-professionals. By contrast, connective jurisdictional control leads them to prefer settlements by division of labor or advisory links, enabling equal-status professions to work together. Using a large database of online job postings by Burning Glass Technologies, we find evidence for this hypothesis. Empirically, we deploy three ways to gauge the nature of professional jurisdictional control: first, by comparing traditional law firms and alternative business structure firms in the UK regulated legal industry; second, by contrasting the US (with protective jurisdictional control) and the UK; and third, by examining the legal sector (in which the legal profession is dominant) and non-legal sectors. Moreover, we find that protective (connective) jurisdictional control is associated with lower (higher) pay premia for new digital skills, consistent with theory. Our findings highlight the importance of the mediating role of professional jurisdictional control to inform the future of work debate.
Keywords: Future of work, system of professions, digital technology, lawyers, data scientists, Burning Glass Technologies
JEL Classification: C8, J24, J31, J44, L84, L86, O57
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