Fear of tech in the legal profession

Law firms that embrace legal tech are more efficient, have unique selling points for acquiring new clients, and are generally more successful. Yet, technology in law is more often viewed as a curse than a blessing. What exactly is everyone scared of?

Monsters unmasked

Getting lawyers to embrace new technology in everyday work can be challenging. Traditional law firm structures, such as partnerships, place heavy emphasis on the importance of their people. Top fee-earners can be the lifeblood of the firm, retaining clients and bringing in new business. So, when technologies that can do their job for them come along, it’s intuitive to be threatened or hesitant to adopt them.

Legal professionals often dream ideas of up new ‘robot lawyers’ – artificial intelligence's (AI) that have instant access to cases, legislation and latest legal developments. These would, in theory, be more knowledgeable on legal matters and could act as better advisers. 

In practice, legal tech isn’t here to replace lawyers but instead enhance them. Rather than Skynet LLP, we’re seeing AI help lawyers turn work around faster. This can range from correcting errors in legal documents to protecting the firm itself from cyber-attacks, ensuring resources are focused on client work. 

For example, LexisNexis Cordery Breach Navigator combines legal and compliance expertise with intelligent workflows to ensure the best outcome for businesses and their reputations. It can help identify long-term strategies to reduce data breaches and provide support to data protection teams.

Client climate

While the legal profession is constantly evolving, one constant is that the client is king. And, if lawyers need more career reassurance, they can rest easy knowing that clients won’t be handing over their legal matters to AI quite yet. At Legal Future’s Artificial Intelligence in Legal Services Summit in July this year, Dr Ruth Angus said clients are more worried about lawyers being replaced than lawyers themselves. 

This doesn’t tell us lawyers are ready to hand over the digital reigns. Instead, it shows how people-driven the legal profession is. Clients want to know their legal issues are going to be carefully handled by real people. Having an actual human to contact and discuss issues with is what develops client-firm relationships and sees repeat business.

Ultimately, AI isn’t there yet. While firms that embrace new technologies appear more innovative, AI can’t proactively develop a firm’s reputation. Instead, as AI, blockchain and smart contracts become more prominent in the legal sector, legal professionals should be adapting to this change.

Stamp of approval

To do this, firms should be proactively developing lawyer buy-in and knowledge of legal tech. As traditional law firms are often quite hierarchical, leading from the top can be an effective way of doing this. Working with key partners to find an inefficiency in their workflow and using the right technology to address it can end fearmongering. Actually demonstrating how tech can be useful and make work easier is more likely to lead to it being adopted at senior levels.

Lawyers generally like being good at their jobs. Once buy-in from high-performing partners is won, others are more likely to be open to new technologies as being open to new tech is seen as worthwhile and necessary to be the best.

But, involving all types of legal professionals is important. Non-lawyers are generally best placed to understand internal processes. The absence of billing targets and client-facing work allows for more flexible workloads to integrate ambitious projects or learn more about legal tech. This can then benefit the firm as a whole as, once a new way of working is adopted in on team, others are more likely to follow. Therefore, ensuring buy-in from all areas in a firm pushes forward tech adoption.

Another approach for achieving buy-in is ‘gamification’. This involves wider initiatives to encourage the adoption of new technology or drive awareness through challenges or incentives. Last year, Gowling WLG introduced a cryptocurrency incentive scheme to familiarise the firm with how cryptocurrency wallets work using blockchain technology. Employees could build their own cryptocurrency wallet and receive tokens to store in it for doing so. Tokens could then be exchanged for a drink in the office’s coffee shop. 

Initiatives like this push people to learn more about new technologies for benefits outside of improving their work processes. Crucially, once they discover what these new technologies offer, they are less likely to view them as threats. Instead, they are more likely to integrate this tech into their daily routines and dispel myths of lawyer extinction.

To learn more about legal tech see Lexis PSL.

Written by Andrew Muir for the Future of Law.

Filed Under: Technology

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