Lawyers + Software: The New Partnership Model

On 26 August 1996, Business Week asked: “What’s Wrong With The Internet”? One criticism was that “Good Stuff Is Hard To Find”. Their suggested solution was: “Artificial intelligence will make search engines more discerning.”

One year later along came Google. It found the stuff you were looking for, without scaring you off with talk of artificial intelligence. Google helped more of us join the information revolution.

Meanwhile, today we should be on the road to driving nirvana via real automobiles. A problem for too many is that the “driverless car” is as scary as the “horseless carriage” would have been in its day. However, despite the possible fact that horse drawn carriages would have had fewer fatalities from fatigue, intoxication and distractions, than their human replacements, the good news is that we are headed for a safer age of driving partnership regardless of whether you call them “driverless cars”, “robocars” or just “autos”.

The current Volvo model XC90 is capable of being driverless, but consumers, and our laws don’t seem to be ready. Current laws in Australia mean that the XC90 has been handicapped: at least one hand must be on the steering wheel.

Volvo say that by 2020, no-one will be seriously injured or killed in a new Volvo. But for now, rather than try to compete with drivers, these cunning cars’ “driver support” system is waiting for the driver to doze off, or get distracted before seizing their opportunity to save the day. The beneficiaries, however, might not be shouting about how they too tired, drunk, or otherwise stupid to attempt to drive. Centuries ago, their faithful four-legged friend would have got them there in spite of their state.

My sister believes her Subaru has averted disaster by taking over in rapidly deteriorating driving incidents. Subaru have not scared off customers by talking about AI. To the user, it’s a combo of smarts and magic.

Maybe with the help of AI, lawyers will make fewer mistakes, or can be spared the need for delaying, and time consuming research. They would be less of a financial and time barrier to potential clients. If they could act as your guardian angel and reduce the likelihood of errors, professional indemnity insurers will no doubt, encourage lawyers to use the new tools as they do now with better Practice Management Systems.

So rather than being focused on either/or, we should be viewing the future as a partnership with software, and not just AI.

We flirted with a variation of this idea a few decades ago. D Richman in The Australian newspaper on 6 June, 1995 in an item called “Software savants take on routine user tasks”, said:

“In the midst of the information age, workers are more likely to be buried than elevated by information – coping with the daily onslaught of electronic mail, marketing pitches and financial reports. And when that information doesn’t reach the proper destination, workers have to search for it across myriad networks and databases.

The help that companies need may come from agent technology – software servants that do the bidding of users across interconnected networks of client-server computers.

How about an agent that scans your daily appointment book, noting that you plan to meet a prospective client today? Next, the agent searches a variety of on-line news services for information on that client, placing retrieved files in a folder on your PC. The agent then e-mails your favourite restaurant, making a luncheon reservation for the two of you.

The notion of agents originated in the mid-1950s with the artificial intelligence movement. While AI has fallen out of favour, agents are now starting to catch on in the mainstream of corporate computing.

Many organisations today use agents without even realising it. Agents are built into operating systems, e-mail applications, workflow tools, mobile computing software, and network devices.

In the future, a computer room will contain a collection of agents rather than a collection of applications.

It’s not magic. It’s just thinking about human skills and giving that capability to software.”

The new partnership model might not just be a law firm/IT alliance, but also a personal one.

While most lawyers can see a lot of legal and even business reasons not to embrace such a partnership, particularly if they just sell time, as opposed to outcomes, clients don’t have the same blinkers. They will certainly be tempted by a flood of traditional legal services competitors. While they all involve software, the lawyer’s role will not be obligatory regardless of what the rules say.

The sooner you can also partner with the client in sharing in the benefits of IT, the better. Client driven online document assembly systems, for example, are now prolific, and dramatically reduce the cost for the client. Forgive another pun, but such matters must be driven by the lawyer: ie less expensive client-drafting options online could be initiated by the lawyer so they maintain control and get to complete and check the client’s drafting. IT can turn a loss/loss situation (the client can’t afford a lawyer, and the lawyer operates at a loss), into a win/win.

If handled correctly, the “lawyerless deal” or the “lawyerless case” might be good news for the legal profession. Like the “paperless office” approach of less paper, as opposed to no paper. Less “lawyering” might simply mean unbundling services so that there is less low paying (unprofitable) legal work, and more high paying work by tapping into Richard Granat’s latent legal market. The client does the uncomplicated work, while the lawyers are kept busy with the more challenging, and rewarding work, particularly if empowered by tools that the client, or competitors, do not have.

Less “lawyering” might also mean the Ron Friedmann #DoLessLaw sense of simplifying processes, and questioning the need for something. Lean, Agile Process Management and the Enright Method are terms used by those pioneering the simplification of law.

Volvo’s relaunch of the XC90 with its IntelliSafe Assist driver support system, has enabled them jump up a level in terms of status, and to add $20,000 to the price, and win in terms of perceived value. Similiarly, IT-enhanced lawyers should be able to step up a level in the legal rankings, particularly in the eyes of the service focussed client.

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