What does your future as a lawyer look like? How can you make sure you stay relevant in the future?
Legal space is changing and it is changing, whether lawyers are involved or not. Thanks to design and technology, people start getting get the help they need more often and better, and getting help is not tied to the thickness of their wallet.
What and how do you plan to sell in the future? The changing world and the law becoming more and more mundane requires that you change too. Only a lawyer who is ready for this change will succeed. If you still want to earn with legal expertise, you need to innovate. The rest of the world has already gone, postal parcels are picked up from vending machines, banking matters are handled online, airline tickets are no longer written by the travel agency but come directly to e-mail and the electricity contract can be made online. Even the tax authority has digitized. A lawyer must know how to do this as well.
The truth is that the law is broken. The work of lawyers is expensive and legal services are difficult to purchase. Lawyers themselves do not find their work meaningful and relevant. People don’t get the help they need for legal problems. If you fall ill, you will receive expert help in hours. If you need a will, people don’t even know where to start. Almost every company has an accountant, but the law is handled by Google. This could all be different and soon it will be. For you, it means asking if you are ready for it.
The promise of legal tech
Technology is a great, yet largely unfulfilled promise of improvement for law and lawyers. Technology can make lawyer’s work more meaningful and efficient. Above all, technology can make justice more accessible and narrow the justice gap. The justice gap, ie the gap between the need for legal services and the services available, is currently huge. If you are thinking about the broader meaning and impact for launching a technology project, it is here – improving access to justice. The fact that more and more people in need of legal aid could get it.
The work of a lawyer is manual, slow and inefficient. It is also expensive. Lawyer writes by hand, lawyer prints, lawyer scans, lawyer manages different versions of the same document, lawyer collects signatures on documents. Lawyer keeps things in her own mind or in her paper notebook and so do her colleagues. Lawyer searches for information in books and scattered electronic databases, lawyer googles, lawyer searches for ready-made templates, and customizes them by deleting, adding, and copying text. Lawyer repeats the same steps in the same way countless times.
Sounds absurd, right? At the same time, a huge amount of easy-to-use technology has been developed to automate information retrieval, processes, and document processing. It would be possible to do background research, share information, prepare documents at the touch of a button. But you think easily that there is no time to get acquainted and take over.
When we talk about leveraging technology in law, it sometimes feels like we’re trying to run a race with robots. We stick to tasks that robots would do much faster and at the same time we complain about the lack of time when there is not enough time for anything really important and interesting. Clients and colleagues are waiting despite their frustration, to have their case to move forward in the lawyer’s work queue. This is in no one’s interest.
Technology can be used to solve legal problems cheaper and more quickly. Already today, various services utilizing legal technology make it possible to solve legal problems even without a lawyer. From customer’s point of view, there is a huge difference between paying a lawyer who charges hundreds of euros an hour for manual work or using technology to solve a problem with fraction of the price tag.
From your perspective as a lawyer, technology opens up tremendous opportunities to develop your own work and role. Technology allows you to focus on where you are at your best and where the customer gets the most value, i.e. where the customer is willing to pay. Where in the past, scaling up legal work has meant more people and more hours, you can use technology to scale your own work even by yourself alone.
Moving from legal tech buzz to the everyday work
What is legal technology all about? Is there even legal technology, or just technology? That’s a good question, but pretty useless from the user’s perspective. Legal technology has been around for as long as lawyers have used technology and at the same time the term legal technology is not very old. One way to look at the history of legal technology is to keep general technological development in its own category and technology developed for legal work in its own. The latter technological development, on the other hand, can be divided into the pioneering phase, the buzzing phase, and the ongoing buzzing aftermaths, which will hopefully soon begin to show signs of settling into reality.
The buzzing phase began when the first speeches and conferences built around legal technology a few years ago were full of sensational imagery about robotic lawyers and how artificial intelligence will steal the work from all of us. The events were marketed with images of robots and circuit boards that will replace the brain. In addition to the hype, the presentations did introduce available technologies, but the real use cases, user stories and the concreteness of the lawyers’ everyday life shone with their absence.
Those lawyers who at this stage dared to join in and who were not themselves creating a buzz for their own purposes were confused. How is all this relevant to me, how does this affect my daily routine? The benefits of technology seemed far from their own work reality.
Don’t get me wrong. Buzzing can be helpful, it brings things to awareness and technological advancement is starting to gain a foothold and weight. For the most part, however, those who do not see technology as an intrinsic value but as a tool are expelled, those for whom technology itself does not add value to work but the benefits of technology. Those who want to understand and verify the benefits of technology and who agree to use only technology that is easy and safe from the user’s point of view will stay out of development due to the buzz. In other words, it is the users whose vision and input are needed for development!
The buzz also results in a distortion of reality, you might easily believe that everyone else is already far and beyond in their technology acquisitions. However, this is not the case. You would be amazed if you knew how many lawyers still work without special legal technology tools. For most everyday software, it is still MS Word and email.
As of today, legal technology has moved from a buzzing phase a little further to a phase where ties to everyday work is already beginning to emerge. Examples of how technology is really used and who really benefits from it and how. Users’ desires are beginning to crystallize as needs that they know how to identify for service providers. At this stage, however, the reality remains that while companies report having invested in legal technology, its implementation rate is low. So lawyers are not yet making much use of the tools, and technology has not yet lived up to its promise in practice. This is the start of the next phase, which will focus on the transition of technology to the everyday life of lawyers.
How to master legal tech
Technology is a necessary tool, but it will not replace people and it will not replace you if you keep up with change. Your job as a lawyer will change, but it won’t go away. A lawyer is and can still be a respected and important profession, but the professional image is changing. Anyone who is prepared for change can still earn their living with their skills and do important work for their customers.
From your point of view, all of this may seem overwhelming unless you have yet to become familiar with legal technology. There seem to be so many different options available that you don’t know what’s right for you and your organization’s needs. You also have to decide whether you want to be at the forefront, taking the marketing benefit or role in technology development, or take the follower position who first sees how the experiences of using the legal technology develop.
Technology offers almost limitless opportunities for a new kind of work in the future and plays a vital role in enabling change.
Consider what your typical working day as a lawyer looks like. How much of your work day includes routine work, secretarial or proofreading work, or in general work for which you would probably find better addresses than your limited working day? The most challenging and interesting jobs are crammed between urgent routines, and you can’t give them the time and input you would like. Not to mention strategy or development work, they usually don’t have time at all.
Keeping up with developments can feel challenging and create pressure. The flood of information is huge. Too active following of colleagues or competitors causes unnecessary comparison trap. We all have to face the externally fed threat images of losing our relevance and think about how threats should be addressed and, above all, what could be done about them. A good recipe for getting involved is an open attitude and an active start: where you wrap your sleeves, you stay abreast in development.
When you’re excited about all the opportunities that technology can bring to your work, watch out for pitfalls. Don’t get technology just for its own sake. Do not start the project from technology, but start from your own needs, which is the most burning problem in your work that you would like to find a solution to. You need to understand your own business as well as the needs of your own users. Many people in technology projects easily focus on the technology itself, whether it has the necessary functionalities, whether the interface is intuitive enough, how reliable the technology provider is, where the data is stored, how much the tool costs. Once the tool is selected for users trained, the project is complete, right? Except that this is only halfway, if at all. You still need to change the ways of working and the processes that the technology is bought to support.
Technology itself has no value if users don’t use it. Each user has her own way of doing work, her own routines, her own fears and feelings. Users also have their own daily work and can find it difficult to find time for learning and change. Therefore, from the very beginning, the project must also focus on change management, which must cover not only changes in working methods and processes, but also changes in the organization culture.
The smallest, most important, and often times the most difficult change is the change you start and implement within yourself. What is the change you are seeking and what is the first step in that direction?
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