One of our neighbours was born in India. When he was young, his father would buy one pencil every few months for him to share with his brother. They did this by cutting the pencil in half. Contrast this with the over-abundance of pencils in our household with just one 9 year old.
Similiarly, there is now an amazing abundance of apps that can used by lawyers. That was not the case when I compiled the first Australasian Legal Software Directory in 1986. I had to scrounge to find tools for lawyers. Like pencils, apps don’t come with pre-packaged drawing skills, nor the experience of when and how to use each. That makes all the difference, as I have discussed before HERE.
One can buy the best software tools but find they outstrip the ability of most to use, let alone master. Peat Marwick’s 1980’s slogan “For a computer to be useful, it needs to be useable” is even more relevant today as we are more ambitious in what we try to do. Ease of use, and convenience for users – as opposed to IT departments – is a recent trend.
If a large case is a rarity for the team, then rather than be “casual users” of powerful tools, they might be better to stick with the consumer-friendly tools they already know. The more sophisticated members of the team might use additional tools such as relational databases to analyse the data, and present the results in the tools the others use.
Most lawyers need protection from tech and information complexity. But in the end you have to ask: why do we need such sophisticated tools in litigation? Have things got out of hand? Clients certainly think so.
While hospitals have a reputation as dangerous places, law offices are perceived as financially hazardous as 70%+ of the population avoids engaging a lawyer when needed.
It’s easy to understand why when lawyers charge by the hour, putting them in potential conflict with the clients’ interests. I recall a school classmate being celebrated by his partners at a top firm for his ability to make a mountain out of a molehill. Corporate clients would seek guidance on a minor issue, but end up with their heads spinning on being alerted to a number of major issues.
Meanwhile, medicine is improving in certain areas thanks to innovations such as keyhole surgery, where the changes are dramatic. Could the law benefit from “keyhole litigation”? It would need to be less traumatic, safer and have the parties back on their feet, much sooner. Maybe it is finally time for the Ron Friedmann tag #DoLessLaw.
But it will involve change to the established processes, and attitudes. The Enright Method, for example, can reduce the issues in dispute, and hence documents. Better management of cases by the courts, including by means of costs penalties, and re-vitalisation of professional obligations to the courts, could see a sharp decline in the amount of waste in court and client resources.
And with it could go the need for overly expensive, sophisticated tools and discovery processes to manage the unnecessary haystacks of information. Just as many people are finding they don’t always need a full blown PC, many lawyers might find that they can get by with consumer-oriented tools such as Evernote, Dropbox and Smartsheet for litigation. They would need the enhanced business versions, and benefit from an experienced person with more powerful tools supporting them.
So yes, maybe it is better to be less ambitious for the technophobes, and get them to actually use the tools, than set higher goals, and fail.
To date there has been the blind belief that if you invested in IT, then you should do well. While technology can enhance the capabilities of lawyers, two significant law firm problems suggest success is not always guaranteed.
The first is Clearspire which spent millions on what might have been either re-inventing the wheel, or seeking perfection, or both.
The other was the Australian Integrated Legal Holdings (ILH) whose share price has fallen from $0.50 to under $0.02. In both instances, large sums were spent on IT, up front, but in different ways.
While powerful IT capabilities might have proven a barrier to competitors, off-the-shelf cloud options are now available to those of more limited means. Although they might still need some “glue” to make them really useful.
This could be coding via an API, but more importantly, knowhow in the relevant domain ie such as litigation support. But even if you use consumer tools, there’s still plenty of mistakes to make unless a knowledgeable litigation support person is driving.
If that is the case, there is the potential to get the best of both worlds:
- The analysis resulting from the use of sophisticated tools by the few who can get the best out of them, and
- The convenience of digesting it all in familiar consumer-friendly environments.
Lawyers can then focus on the real legal issues without being distracted by the additional burden of IT complexity.