Photo by Binary Koala (Flickr/ Creative Commons)
By Richard Tromans, Founder, TromansConsulting
Legal tech is playing an important, if not essential role in law firms today. From email to client relationship management (CRM) and knowledge management (KM) systems, technology has had a major impact. But where is it all headed?
Some argue that it will end in artificial intelligence (AI) creating an ‘iLawyer’. This piece of software – for that is all it would be – would zap through a firm’s KM system picking out and synthesizing relevant case law and previous deals. Then it would utilize game theory algorithms to sort out negotiations and any litigation tactics if needed. Due diligence and discovery processes would take nanoseconds to complete. Documents and legal advice would be then pumped out as if through a digital high-pressure hose.
If the client also had an ‘inhouse iLawyer,’ the two could be put together to speed the process even further. And of course, in such a world there is not much need for human lawyers, or at least that is how the tech extremists see it. Of course this is rather ironic, as the legal tech experts would also be out of a job.
In fact, if one subscribes to this digital dystopia, then all tasks requiring intellect would be replaced by AI. Former lawyers (and everybody else) would be left to wander around town and idle their hours away in Starbucks reading the news, of which there would be little, as humans wouldn’t do much any longer.
That is one view of the future. There is also another, which personally I believe is more realistic. Fundamentally the debate about legal tech is whether it is an ‘enabler’ or a ‘disruptor’. That is to say, does improved tech allow lawyers to do more client work, or does it replace them? On evidence, the answer appears to be that legal tech is an enabler.
Tech has allowed law firms to be more productive and more efficient. They can handle far more deals at the same time. There is far less downtime. Lawyers do not need to wait for documents to arrive by mail. Paralegals do not need to search for musty tomes. The marketing and business development teams are also armed with CRM systems that permit more informed pitches to clients.
What may be replaced in the future are those who perhaps carry the lawyer badge but who are not lawyers really, i.e. those who do client-contactless, commoditized and process level work, or in other words, the work that can be industrialized using digital technology. But real lawyers, those flesh and blood professionals with minds that exude creativity, legal insight and the imagination to solve very human problems, are not going to be replaced. ‘Why not?’ the tech extremists will ask.
There are two key main reasons:
Relationships – Clients come to lawyers they relate to. There are plenty of digital publishers that have gigabytes of case law on file that can be downloaded already. Yet, clients keep calling to speak to a partner they know. They want their insight. They want their personal judgment. They want something quintessentially human: they want to believe in you.
Which leads to:
Trust – Even if a piece of software could produce, for example, warranties for complex derivatives, would a client want to accept them unless a highly experienced lawyer had checked them? Moreover, checking something that complex for faults can often take longer than it did to produce the document in the first place. Therefore, what would be the point in paying for ‘black box’ legal advice if you then have to double-check it? Moreover, what would your professional indemnity insurer say about the risks? And what happens when machine-made legal documents get torn apart in the courtroom? Who will be liable? Then there are some ethical questions. Would a law firm be letting down their client by removing expert human input? Who is the buck passing to? Who owns the problem?
This is why the future of legal tech will remain as an enabler, not as a replacement of real lawyers who advise people. Clients buy legal advice from lawyers not just because they know what they are doing, but because they are human.