As 2014 draws to a close, there have been more than a few reports of generous associate bonuses at some well-known firms. In an industry that has had its share of challenging economic news since the Great Recession, news of these bonuses is a welcome change. While the increased bonuses are positive, especially for the receiving associates and the law firms able to spread such largesse, it would be wrong to conclude that they signal a return to the go-go years of yore.

Indeed, just as we read about the bonuses, we were treated to a prediction that robots and artificial intelligence ultimately will replace the iconic hard working associate. Not surprisingly, the report sparked a great deal of interest (here, here and here).  For the futurists, the demand for efficiency will stimulate a remaking of the legal profession, particularly for law firms, in the next fifteen years. Jomati Consultants predicts that the 2030 law firm will have fewer associates. In this view of the future, senior lawyers will deliver legal services by interpreting data and analyses largely generated by non-humans. If true, large associate bonuses likely are not a topic of year-end reporting in 2030.

Is there any need to reconcile accounts of today’s large associate bonuses with the forecast that associates will be replaced by evolving tools like artificial intelligence? No, but there are a few take-aways.

Predictions Aside, Greater Efficiency Will Be Required in the Future. The march towards delivering legal services more quickly and less expensively continues. Client expectations assure that. While nobody knows whether an army of R2D2’s someday will replace eager associates, clients and competitors will demand greater efficiency than available today.

Large Associate Bonuses Do Not Impress Clients. As much as it is interesting to hear about this year’s large associate bonuses, only the receiving associates and their firms enjoy having that news to tell. Most clients could care less, unless they think that they are indirectly paying for the bonuses through the high rates charged. Then they care, but in a negative way.

Firms Should Strive to Understand How Artificial Intelligence Can Help. Artificial Intelligence’s use in the legal profession will continue to evolve. Robots by 2030? Maybe not. But the successful firms of the future will master AI instead of having it master them. Understanding AI and its latest trends will help a firm take advantage of this groundbreaking tool. “Being one” with AI can give a firm the edge it needs to compete more effectively.

Clients Will Want You to Embrace New Tools of Efficiency, Including Artificial Intelligence. Clients today ask their law firms about diversity, data protection and succession planning. Clients likewise will ask about the latest tools of efficiency, including AI. As AI gains industry acceptance, a large bill laden with associate hours may be tough for a client to stomach.

Get Ahead of the Game. AI and other tools of efficiency are inevitable in one-way or another. Getting ahead of the game will be a key to your success in the future. Don’t wait. Start now.

Hopefully, your firm was one that enjoyed such a successful 2014 that it awarded generous bonuses to deserving associates and staff. Congratulations if your success was the result of great team effort and hard work. But even if it was, do you think it is time to start thinking about your firm’s efficiencies for the coming years?