And when I say lawyers, I include the courts, law firm staff, paralegals. Everyone who moves the machinery of law.
So here is why it’s hard to sell tech to lawyers.
Everything your law tech can do is already possible by other means.
Here is a list of other means:
- Microsoft Word
- Fax (disgusting but true)
- Folders and files on your computer
- And last but not least: human labour
The above is also tech. At some point it was hot new tech (even human labour—see the history of employment and management science). People who designed the above technologies were geniuses. All of this tech is sufficiently general to support any application. You can draft any document in Word, send any letter by email, satisfy Ontario (that’s where I practice law) requirements for service of most documents by fax, build arbitrarily complex matter management systems in spreadsheets and simple file systems.
General-purpose systems like email, word processors, spreadsheets, file systems, phone and so on are extremely powerful and flexible. But this power and freedom comes at a cost. Here are its elements:
- Human error
- errors are more likely when users have more choices and must make more decisions
- special-purpose systems are faster because they eliminate many decisions and impose tunnel vision through input forms
- Integration deficit
- it’s harder to make general-purpose systems work together; often humans have to be that glue raising the cost and increasing errors
Lawyers are often willing to bear this cost because they have traditionally been able to pass it on to clients. So far a combination of the general-purpose systems and a sufficient number of staff and junior lawyers can solve any problem that the law tech is eager to solve.
But two recent developments have put this status quo at risk: 1) clients are running out of money; 2) solo/small firm lawyers (whose clients never had money anyway and who are starting to target higher-tier clients with tight budgets) cannot bear the above costs.
We are not at the inflection point yet. But smart people are starting to invest in law tech.
Find me on Twitter: @pulat