Lawyers, technology and culture

Lawyers and technology coming together is a tale of love, hate, and regular nervous breakdowns …

Technology2Lawyers and technology coming together is a tale of love, hate, and regular nervous breakdowns for those who are tasked with ensuring the technological literacy of lawyers. For reasons that are entirely mysterious to me, formal admission requirements for solicitors overlook technological competency altogether, perhaps assuming that universities have trained them sufficiently to employ technology in their work? If that’s the presumption, my experience with young, bright lawyers exiting law schools contradicts it.

Lawyers are creatures of … tradition …

Lawyers are creatures of comfort and tradition, and are generally cynical, sceptical, risk-averse, temperamental, individualistic perfectionists.

Technology, on the other hand, is constantly evolving, collaborative, forward-looking, and notoriously uncertain … or at least that’s how most lawyers see it.

… lawyers are also rational and curious intellectuals.

You might deduct from the above that bringing lawyers and technology together is like trying to make fire and water play together nicely, or herding cats (very cranky cats) … Luckily, lawyers are also rational and curious intellectuals. These latter traits can be utilised to override, or at least reduce, the effects of their less ‘technology-accommodating’ characteristics.

The interaction of culture, technology and lawyers is not a new topic; it has been a hot item at legal practice and knowledge conferences over the past few years and subject of concern sometime before that.

… the main impetus for addressing the matter will come from client pressure …

And while the legal services industry has firmly identified this as an issue, it seems we have some way to go yet to resolve it successfully. I suspect the main impetus for addressing the matter will come from client pressure as, put simply, clients want efficiency, productivity and lower costs from their lawyers and have no desire to cover the cost of the technological illiteracy of legal professionals. Some clients, at least in the US, are going as far as demanding that tests be administered to lawyers on their technological literacy if they are to work on matters for the client.

Some lawyers are now coming on board and have been showing a growing interest in legal technology and the tools in can offer. Legal technology experts noted that some lawyers are starting to come forward, of their own volition, inquiring about specific technological tools!

… a cultural shift is emerging, but there is still plenty that can be done to facilitate lawyers accepting and adopting technology …

It’s clear that a cultural shift is emerging, but there is still plenty that can be done to facilitate lawyers accepting and adopting technology as part of their new world. Lawyers may be cautious and traditional, but they are also extremely rational and curious beings. If technology is presented in the right context, demonstrating its benefit and value, such as increased efficiency and productivity, and happier clients, lawyers will take note. Technology is a competitive tool and those who engage it most successfully and integrate it into their law practice will gain an undeniable competitive edge.

… the key is not to introduce technology for the sake of it, but to address specific, identifiable … issues …

However, the key is not to introduce technology for the sake of it, but to address specific, identifiable practice issues, client demands and competitive imperatives in order to improve efficiency, increase productivity reduce costs and better serve and retain clients.

If you can do that, the lawyers will follow.

Postscript – 2 December 2014

On 28 November 2014, the Australasian Lawyer published an article titled ‘Australian law firms at the forefront of new technology adoption’, with highly encouraging news about the rate of technological adoption by Australian law firms. The article noted that in Australia an estimated ’30-40% of firms embrace the idea that workflow-related technology needs to be actively and continually assessed and upgraded in a changing market’, contrasted with the finding that 85% of US firms indicated that they ‘recognised a need to improve their overall project management technology and efficiency, but only 13% were actually doing something about it’. It appears that Australia is also holding its own against the UK, ‘with both jurisdictions leading when it came to increasing efficiency and productivity by utilising new upgrades in technology for project and matter management’.

In more confrontational legal technology news, in a 1 December 2014 article titled ‘Report: artificial intelligence will cause “structural collapse” of law firms by 2030’, Legal Futures reports on the prediction by Jomati Consultants that ‘robots and artificial intelligence (AI) will dominate legal practice within 15 years, perhaps leading to the “structural collapse” of law firms’. Admittedly the report is high on futurism and presumptions, it’s nevertheless food for thought.

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