Law Can’t Run on Tech Alone: How Technology Will Help – not Replace – Lawyers – PART I
We’ve been talking a lot about the rise of legal technology and how it will help corporate lawyers – and the businesses they work for – in exciting, invaluable ways. In this, the first in a two-part series, we’ll briefly explore the rhetoric surrounding the relationship between legal technology and the longevity of the legal profession.
While there are new and evolving technologies affecting all areas of law, we’ll mostly be talking about contracts because they represent tangible and meaningful outputs throughout the law. And because, frankly, they’re what we know best.
Advancements to the profession provided by legal technology have proved nothing less than thrilling (for us, anyway). As the practice of law has become increasingly bogged down in regulation, paperwork and mountains and mountains of documents, technology eases the pain of dealing with what could otherwise become convolution. In the contract world, for example, automation and lifecycle management saves lawyers significant time otherwise spent on low-level tasks, from digging through filing cabinets to drafting standard contracts. As technology becomes better at completing rule-based jobs such as easing document creation, collaboration, sharing, storage and analysis; compiling clauses in searchable libraries; setting notifications for renewal and expiry; flagging high-risk/non-standard clauses; cleaning up and recording changes made in negotiations; and accumulating and reporting on data, lawyers have more time and wherewithal to dedicate to engaging legal work. In the realm of civil litigation, e-discovery software effectively automates what were once hugely expensive, drawn-out manual discovery processes, leading to significantly reduced costs. In general, by reducing time spent (dare we say wasted?) on value-poor tasks, technology can and will lower the overall cost of access to legal experts.
Yes, we’ve heard the panicked warnings that the role of the junior lawyer will soon be made redundant by legal technology. A CNN article entitled Here Come the Robot Lawyers notes that Josh Blackman, assistant professor at South Texas College of Law, believes that artificial intelligence programs will be able to perform predictive and advisory functions “in the not-so-distant future.” The article goes on to claim, with a hint of schadenfreude, “As law firms weigh the pros and cons of using algorithms instead of lawyers, technology might even render some of the firms themselves moot.”
While it’s true that technology such as document automation, online billing and cost recovery systems, contract lifecycle management, trial support and e-discovery can and do enable the shifting of lawyers’ time by facilitating often tedious manual or rule-based legal work, this does not mean law school graduates need to look beyond the profession to pay off their student loans. In fact, we maintain that technology is a good thing for the young lawyer, the corporations or firms they work for, and the communities they serve.
So why won’t technology replace lawyers and law firms?
The answer is simple.
To be continued in Part II…