You would think it is a scary time for all lawyers. One day, you read about jobs in the legal profession being taken over by robots led by artificial intelligence (AI) that can work better, faster, and cheaper. They don’t take vacation days or need expense accounts. These described “law bots” are already combating our parking tickets and helping refugees with their asylum claims.
The next day, however, the headlines put you at ease – Sorry, a Robot Is Not About to Replace Your Lawyer. Well, thank goodness for that, right? So, which is it, technology? Are you friend or foe to the future of the legal profession? Put another way, is the legal profession continuing to evolve with sustaining innovations or are we headed to an inevitable new market created by such disruptive innovations as AI that can review contracts and compile discovery?
As technology, not just legal technology, continues to advance at an exponential rate, consumers want their products and services to be faster, better, cheaper, and more efficient. The legal market stage has been set, by the clients themselves, for not just an evolutionary or revolutionary form of sustaining innovation, rather for a disruptive innovation that creates a new market. But how? And when?
Sustaining vs. Disruptive Innovation
Not all innovations are disruptive, even if they are revolutionary. For example, we saw telephones evolve to a portable tool for the car and even very expensive models you could carry with you. It was a revolutionary innovation to “cut the cord” from traditional landlines as the cell phone evolved. But it was not a disruptive innovation because the market was limited and the landline market was not disrupted.
It wasn’t until the smartphone, led by the iPhone, did we see a disruption take place. Within a decade, practically everyone in the developed world had an affordable cell phone, many giving up their landline for this disruptive innovation. It changed the telecommunications market, whereas the first couple decades of portable phones did not.
AI is real and the platform for its disruptive innovation is growing, there’s no denying it. Yet, it hasn’t reached its impact point on the total legal market so far. The two-prong development of what AI can do and how AI can help rolls on. But that’s no reason for lawyers to wait around to change their own thinking about technology, to maintain their own competency of the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology, and recognize the need to better serve clients.
Start Now, Join The (Technology) Revolution
Many Illinois lawyers have recognized these benefits and risks. Technology has been allowing lawyers to focus more on complex, intellectually demanding legal craft over the years while revolutionizing how lawyers actually practice law each and every day.
“Technology has been a godsend to my practice,” proclaims Sherwin D. Abrams, a partner in Abrams & Chapman LLP in Chicago. “It often takes me almost half an hour to get home from my office. Before modern technology, that was a time when clients were unable to reach me. Panic, anxiety often ensued. Now that I have at least one smartphone with me at all times, clients can (and do) reach me via phone, instant messages, and email 24/7. Technology means availability.”
Yet, some emphasize that technology demands that you keep ahold of your clients’ expectations. Melissa Maye, a solo practitioner in Yorkville, Illinois, points out that “the absolute inundation of email has really sped things up.” With that convenience comes an expectation that all emails will be responded to within minutes, adding to your stress. “I have to explain that there is a world of difference between ‘forwarding’ a document, and ‘analyzing’ a document. There’s still no shortcut for reading.”
Eric Frobish, of Cortina, Mueller & Frobish, PC in Morris, Illinois, reiterates Maye’s perspective. “[C]lients now routinely expect instant gratification on everything. I attribute this to the culture of instant communication (and constant connectedness) via text, e-mail, etc. It has become incredibly disruptive to have to deal with the daily deluge of e-mails and texts from clients who want and expect responses and answers very quickly.” Frobish went on to say you have to completely unplug and go into hiding to get anything done or else “it’s almost like it would have been to field phone calls every five minutes back in the ‘old days’ and prior to this current technology [age].”
Today’s the Day
Sure, it’s not always comfortable or easy to adapt to change. Changes in the way we think, the way we do business, and the way we serve our clients takes time, effort, resources, and even courage. If there is going to be a shift in the way legal services are delivered, you better start pushing your existing ideas of how you deliver your services. Or at least be open to those new ideas.
Artificial intelligence (AI) advancements such as natural language processing will continue to improve how voluminous legal discovery matters are scanned and even predicted as relevant, many times over how fast, and even accurate, a human lawyer (read: new associate) could handle the task. Nevertheless, the responsibilities to our clients to properly advise them on complex issues, draft legal filings, negotiate matters, and personally appear in court remain, and will continue to remain, outside the realm of computerized automation.
At least for now.
The lesson to focus on today is just that, focus on today. Just as Richard Susskind challenged lawyers almost ten years in his book The End of Lawyers? Rethinking the Nature of Legal Services, you must ask yourself what you could be doing differently – more quickly, cheaply, efficiently, or to a higher quality – using technology. Pay attention to the questions of the coming disruptive innovations in the law profession – the how? the when? – to be prepared for those new markets, while focusing on yourself, your practice, and your clients – TODAY!