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Law requires constant adaptation – not only to accommodate changes to case law and legislation, but to ensure that we can most effectively serve our clients and the community that we live in. Clients have a great deal more choice about how and where they get legal advice from, and when they do knock on our doors (increasingly, in the figurative sense), they rightly want transparency and value for money. To deliver this, lawyers and law firms must embrace technology. Not only does it free us up to spend more time delivering on clients’ needs, but it ensures that they are getting greater bang for buck by making us faster and more efficient. Caution: this involves a lot more than buying some fancy software. It involves a culture shift. This is mainly because a lot of lawyers don’t like what technology means for law – either the profession at large, or for them personally.
People typically underestimate the pace of change. When I started my article clerkship in 1989, we still had typing pools, gave dictation, took ‘long’ lunches, and there were very few female lawyers (and far fewer lawyers generally). No one had a computer on their desk. But things do change, and they change quickly (if this is embarrassing for anyone who still gives dictation, then good – it should be). When I started evangelising about law, AI and bots a few years ago, people honestly looked at me like I had lost my mind. Now, it seems like every man and their dog sees it as obvious. (Like any good lawyer, I put all my discursive thoughts in writing (or, as the young people seem to be saying, I have the receipts). I mostly resist the urge to rub peoples’ noses in them.
When people talk about tech, particularly when it comes to autonomy and automation, it often sounds like it’s an end in itself. They have no idea how it will actually make their business better, or enhance their client’s experience. Maybe that’s why very few firms have actually effectively harnessed autonomy in their businesses – because they just don’t ‘get’ the point of it. They’re very vulnerable to being sold generic software products packaged up as ‘innovative’ so they can tick a box and move on to something else.
Technological change drives culture change and culture change drives technological change. This involves breaking a lot of bad habits. Lawyers love to delegate, and to my mind that’s half the reason a lot of people entered the profession. However, properly done, automation takes care of the ‘busy work’, leaving our legal experts to focus on being, well, legal experts and looking after their clients. Lawyers also love hierarchies. However, having to bow and scrape to senior associates and partners does not promote the open dialogue that is required to support innovation. (Does that mean you talk to the CEO a lot over Slack? Yes.)
In the law firm context, technology is also a great leveller. Suddenly, those scruffy IT guys you only talked to when you forgot all your passwords after returning from holidays are not just core to your business, they are – shock horror – become CEOs and managing directors. Take it from me – let it happen.
It becomes immediately apparent who is using new systems – and loving them – and who isn’t. Of the latter, some don’t because they don’t know how, and to that end training, support, fluid communication channels and fast solutions are essential. Of course, some don’t use the tech because they don’t want to. Some people HATE the idea of changing the way they do things. Put simply, it is not the ‘law and order’ version of practicing law they dreamt of. In Littles’ experience, most tech luddites come around when they see just how speedy it makes previously mundane tasks, and how happy the client is that their matter is progressing well.
At Littles, this has involved three complementary undertakings:
· streamlining our processes and procedures – that means never doing something just because ‘that’s how it has always been done’
· deciding what to automate: what requires human interaction and value-add, and what doesn’t? Get rid of the low hanging fruit. Regardless of some of the tricks that other law firms might employ, I think it’s going to be hard to find software that convinces clients to put their trust in us more effectively than great (human) lawyers – particularly the community leaders we have at Littles, and
· investing in client relationships with a focus on delivering value. For one thing, clients want to be able to talk to their lawyers at their leisure
Oh, and as I keep saying – Littles has gone one step further and developed its own industry leading tech. I fervently believe – know- that this path is the right one, and that the future of Littles is the future of law.