Research technologies are improving daily, alongside an increasingly client-driven culture. As a result, the way lawyers do business is changing. Historically technical and complicated, over the years, the legal profession has become increasingly open. The internet is enabling clients to research their cases even before meeting their lawyers.
Despite legal research, alongside the ability of knowing the law, being a traditionally important aspect of good-lawyering, this is now becoming a pre-requisite. As a result, how should we define what makes a successful lawyer? And how can lawyers stay ahead of the curve in an increasingly client-driven marketplace?
Technology won’t replace lawyers - or will it?
Much has been written in recent years about the importance of innovation in the legal sector and how technology can improve the efficiency of law firms. But commentators often seem reluctant to consider how all these changes affect the job of lawyers, tiptoeing around the potential of certain technologies to make some of the traditional lawyering skills redundant, and often heralding digital transformation with the caveat: “lawyers will continue be as important as ever”.
So what is the reality? While AI may seem light years away, investment in legal tools which aid your working day like research, guidance and drafting tools can ensure that you are more efficient and provide more value for your clients.
The guardians of legal knowledge (no longer)
The Dickensian trope of lawyers as fusty custodians of legal lore, surrounded by dusty tomes and speaking Latin, created a vivid perception which has survived astonishingly well. Although some of the trappings of this image remain the way solicitors and barristers work today has changed immensely. Perhaps a key development which has led to this transformation is the ease of access to legal information.
Only a couple of decades ago, in order to carry out effective legal research it was generally necessary to have access to a small library of physical books containing case law, legislation and commentary. Now anyone with an internet connected device can access up to date legal information free of charge with a few keyword searches. This has changed the lives of lawyers, who can now embrace flexible working - but, perhaps more importantly, has furnished the general public with instant access to the laws of the land. The golden keys to the kingdom of legal knowledge, previously the domain of the legal professional, is now in the hands of the “layman”.
Dr Google qualifies as a lawyer
The ease of access to multiple sources of free legal information, often written specifically to help individuals and businesses with no prior legal knowledge, has arguably led to clients who are far more educated with regards to their legal rights. In some cases, DIY law products such as legal document templates, have even taken work away from lawyers for routine tasks such as basic will writing and creation of simple tenancy contracts. There is quite a clear analogy here between DIY law and DIY medicine.
Since medical information rose in popularity to become one of the most searched for types of content online, GPs have been faced with patients who have already consulted “Dr Google” and often turn up at surgeries with printouts and self-diagnoses (which are often wrong). Although the NHS has contributed to the online library of medical information, it also advises patients against diagnosing themselves with any serious conditions and instead seeking an expert medical opinion.
Some DIY medical resources (such as NHS approved home testing kits) can free up the time of GPs but, in other cases, a little information can prove to be counterproductive, causing a patient to panic or turn up at surgery with reams of information which takes up more time for GPs. Furthermore, the amount of misinformation can be extremely dangerous.
Applying this to the legal sphere, although DIY law resources are, in certain cases, reducing the need for routine legal work, their existence can conversely generate work for lawyers eg. if a client has got into a legal muddle due to using a template legal document incorrectly. Some technology companies which provide legal templates also refer their customers to lawyers (in case they need bespoke legal documents) - so this can generate new instructions. The GDPR implementation was a good example of how confusing raw legal information can be - and the deluge of self proclaimed GDPR experts was a sobering reminder of the dangers of the proverbial snake oil salesperson
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