This post was co-created by Kari Boyle and Matt Sims, with help from ChatGPT.
“How do we create value that is distinct from what machines can do faster and cheaper? The answers will shape our future.” Greg Satell, Note 1
The legal profession is experiencing a transformational shift, with AI and automation changing the way legal services are delivered. However, despite the advancements in technology, there are still essential aspects of the lawyer/client relationship that only a human lawyer can provide. In this article, we will discuss the unique value provided by lawyers and how lawyers can identify and build on those dimensions of the client experience.
Greg Satell points out that in the face of automation and technology, “value doesn’t disappear, it just shifts to a different place.”
“Once a task becomes automated, it also becomes largely commoditized and value is then created in an area that wasn’t quite obvious when people were busy doing more basic things. Go to an Apple store and you’ll notice two things: lots of automation and a sea of employees in blue shirts there to help, troubleshoot and explain things to you.” (Note 1)
He says, hopefully, that:
“The future is always more human…. the antidote for our overly automated age is deeper personal relationships. Things like trust, empathy and caring can’t be automated or outsourced.” (Note 2)
Lawyers used to see their core value in their substantive knowledge of the law, legal analysis and finding solutions. Now they can shift their value to another equally important aspect of legal service; the legal client’s experience dealing with a legal matter.
While AI can provide legal analysis and suggest legal solutions based on data (with increasing speed and accuracy), it cannot (yet) convincingly empathize with clients or demonstrate caring and compassion. Human lawyers can connect with clients emotionally, read between the lines, and provide personalized solutions that cater to their unique needs. Moreover, skills such as active listening, emotional intelligence, intuition, curiosity, respect, sensitivity, and the ability to read body language and facial expression are crucial aspects of delivering a superior client experience – and are all things that AI cannot provide.
These are not “soft skills” – they are essential professional and leadership competencies.
Much of the client’s job is to take advice and then make decisions. Emotions drive decisions much more than rational logic or data alone.
Research shows that humans “don’t make moral judgments through conscious reasoning, but rather through unconscious intuition. Essentially, (humans) automatically feel a certain way about something and then come up with reasons that we should feel that way.” (Note 1)
Unlike lawyers, AI cannot deal effectively or authentically with a client’s emotions, discern someone’s underlying intention (the “why”) or what the client really cares about. AI will also struggle to work collaboratively or develop good working relationships with humans. Lawyers can do all of this. They can build trust, manage expectations, provide comfort during emotionally charged legal proceedings and work well with a team.
Let’s be realistic. There is a layer of legal services that will soon be commoditized by advanced technologies. Smart lawyers will leave those to the machines and focus on what clients will still want humans for. Why do Apple customers take time, energy, and money to visit an Apple store in the mall over the online one? Why do bank customers walk past an available ATM and stand in line to speak with a human? Why do people willingly pay more for a local product or service they can buy cheaper online? Understanding the answers to these kinds of questions is the key to the future of legal services and should be a priority for all working lawyers today.
The Importance of Collecting and Using Client Experience Feedback
So how can lawyers identify what their clients really want, and focus on the unique kinds of value they can offer in response? One obvious answer is asking their clients. Collecting and utilizing ongoing client experience feedback is a powerful tool to help lawyers identify what’s working and what isn’t and deliver the kind of legal services that their clients value and need. By listening to clients, analyzing their feedback, and acting on it, lawyers can enhance their reputation, improve client satisfaction, and increase referrals. And, they can shore up defenses against the incoming tide of legal bots on the hunt for business.
A Tool to Help
With support from the Law Foundation of BC / Legal Aid BC Legal Research Fund, our project (Note 3) developed a purpose-built tool that lawyers can use to collect and analyze client experience feedback.
It was designed to be as flexible and easy as possible for busy lawyers. All they do is:
- Create a permanent custom feedback link for their practice. Something like lawyername.avvy.pro.
- Get this link into the hands of their clients via email, on invoices, closing letters, or text.
- Wait and watch the responses come into their client experience dashboard, which will track trends and inform important decisions on evolving their legal services. Not surprisingly, the qualitative comments are really helpful and can be used for testimonials.
For more, have a look at how the innovative Everyone Legal Clinic is using the tool to quickly understand how their new service model is resonating with clients: ELC case study.
The short version of the story is this. Collecting structured client feedback works. As soon as you see your own client experience data on the screen, you’ll ask yourself things like, “…why is that dimension scoring so high with my clients? How do I double down on what’s working there?” or “…why is that dimension lagging behind the others? What can I change to improve it?” These are the types of questions, and answers, on which the remarkable legal services of the future will be built.
Conclusion: Embrace the Unique Value of Lawyers
AI and automation will change the legal profession, but they will never replace the unique value that human lawyers provide. Lawyers would be wise to identify and embrace their unique value and continue to provide exceptional legal services that cater to their clients’ needs.
Note 1: Greg Satell, “What will Humans do in an Artificially Intelligent World?” Medium March 18, 2023.
Note 2: Greg Satell, “Value Never Actually Disappears, It just Shifts From One Place to Another” Digital Tonto November 18, 2018
Note 3: The Unbundled Legal Services Research Project: