Jeffrey Catanzaro on why young lawyers need to be smarter when it comes to lawtech
The release of the results of a Junior Lawyers Division of the Law Society survey, showing the surprising lack of awareness of lawtech among young lawyers, hints at the misunderstandings in the wider profession around the transformative role technology could play in legal service delivery.
The survey, which looked at technology created specifically to help with the way in which lawyers carry out work, paints a picture of junior lawyers oblivious about the disruption lawtech promises for the legal profession. The results make for startling reading; a staggering half of respondents said they didn’t actually know what lawtech was before responding to the survey, and almost two-thirds felt it was not having an impact on their current responsibilities.
Yet is this an issue confined to junior lawyers? Or is it symptomatic of a wider ignorance about lawtech? At the junior level, perhaps it comes down to training – over 60% of respondents said they had received little or no training or information on lawtech. But drilling down into the survey responses sheds some light on attitudes in the profession more widely. A number of respondents commented that lawtech was driving client expectation. Thanks to lawtech, clients apparently now demand work be delivered at the same rate as a click of a mouse. One commentator even went as far as suggesting that lawtech simply increased the ways that lawyers could make mistakes. All this anecdotal evidence hints at both younger and older lawyers gripped by fear about the emergence of lawtech.
More positively, three quarters of respondents believed their area of law could benefit from advances in lawtech, and there appears to be a consensus that lawtech will have a significant impact going forward. The survey suggests digitisation is being welcomed, albeit cautiously, in an industry renowned for conservatism and generally slow to respond to change.
The truth is that lawtech isn’t something to fear. Indeed, adopted in the right way, it will enable all lawyers to perform their work more effectively and efficiently. But the backing of individual lawyers is essential if they are to deliver real business benefits that transcend the hype. Future generations of lawyers are set to play a crucial role in ensuring these new technologies are embedded right at the heart of the profession and embraced by the lawyers using them.
The trailblazing lawyers of the future will set themselves apart by combining legal knowledge and tech savviness. They’ll be the ones suggesting to the business new ways of delivering legal services through technology, perhaps even changing the very shape of the law business itself. The newer innovations go beyond merely tracking work, toward actually enabling it. And the next generation takes this further, reducing legal work by, for example, actually replacing human lawyers.
A key conundrum facing law firms at the moment is where it should pitch its next IT investment. Should a firm stay in the comfort zone, choosing the well-established and familiar? Being fearful of venturing beyond current platforms (which primarily focus on tracking legal work) will leave a firm playing catch up with their more forward-thinking contemporaries.
But on the other hand, forcing progress too quickly and disregarding what a firm’s staff and culture can cope with risks alienation, jeopardising engagement and consequently causing a huge amount of wasted money and time.
Firms need tools for assessing where they are now, where they need to get to, and how they can get there – and it follows that they need a new internal language for technology that all staff can understand. Rather than a project-by-project approach, firms should look to design a cohesive overarching strategy for their tech journey with buy-in from the highest in command. Firms should use this approach as a template for making decisions about individual IT projects and investments.
As lawtech becomes more and more widespread, the smarter law firms will increasingly shift form and separate out the various different ‘strata’ of legal services, reassessing how each layer is best resourced – whether by humans, by machines, and whether they still need to be housed within the law firm business or law department, or instead located outside.
Lawyers at any stage of their career should not be gripped by fear at this prospect – they should embrace the change. To do so, lawyers must start by understanding how lawtech works and how it can be best utilised in their firms and the legal profession.