29 Apr Chelsea Davine on Legal Disruption
Disruption of the legal industry often generates heated discussion. Change is upon us, uptake is increasing, and yet the view that ‘tech will take our jobs’ is rife throughout the legal sector. For this post, Chelsea Davine chats with Ineffable’s Sacha Mcmonagle-Ihasz on disruption in the legal sector, and how the legal landscape is changing, ahead of the VSCL’s Wine and Cheese over Legal Disruption panel event taking place at RMIT on Thursday 9th May from 6pm. Click here to register.
Sacha is the head of Creative at Ineffable – a software development firm which specialises in using technology to simplify human problems, and has worked with clients in the past to develop automated and collaborative legal agreements. Sacha is also one of the co-founders of Fabl – a business community with a focus on propelling businesses which create meaningful social change.
Lawyers are infamously trained in a specific mindset: a mindset and process of thinking which has caused numerous public figures to recommend law degrees as valuable generalist degrees. Once within the workforce however, how do we encourage lawyers to utilise this valuable way of thinking whilst also looking beyond our own legal context?
The general consensus amongst leadership in most industries is that diversity produces better outcomes – yet diversity of opinion and experience is arguably lacking within the legal industry. Arguably, the lawyers who collaborate with other industries – and in doing so get a greater breadth of experience in how to provide their clients with exceptional service – will be the most likely to survive legal disruption.
We have previously seen entrenched markets which failed to innovate being severely impacted by vigorous new competitors (for example: Airbnb and the hotel industry; or Uber and the Taxi industry) yet much of the legal industry appears reluctant to consider basic consumer behaviour theory. Consumers want good, reliable service, at a cost-effective price – regardless of the industry.
Many ‘New Law’ firms have experienced phenomenal growth and success within the legal industry through innovating in legal services delivery and spurning traditional legal models.. So, what makes them different and what can more “traditional” law firms learn from them?
Innovation – what is it?
Innovation is a cultural shift more than anything else. In our industry innovation is often as simple as questioning the status quo of how legal services have always been provided. Looking at which firms are regarded as “innovative”, it seems that it is often the ones who reach out to the tech industry and seek external input, rather than creating solely lawyer driven solutions, which come up with what we would consider “innovative” ways of doing things. Legal services are not provided in a vacuum – the lawyers who are willing and open to considering input from external industries are likely to be the ones who survive legal services disruption.
The question then becomes, how can we increase take up of technology in the legal sector to improve how legal services are delivered? Introduction of tech in the legal industry will ultimately require cultural change – which is notoriously slow regardless of industry.
Whilst some processes, such as due diligence, are likely to be automated to some extent as a cost saving measure, many of these processes will still require a human sign off at minimum, if not a more detailed review. An important step towards this cultural change may be emphasising the distinction between legal services tech/software which make lawyer’s lives easier (such as workflow and practice management tools, and software designed to automate aspects of a lawyers job) and legal tech for consumers to use as an alternative to a lawyer (including everything from chatbots through to legal software which flags basic concerns or drafts documents without the need or with reduced need for a lawyer), which targets an entirely different market.
Discussion surrounding uptake of tech by lawyers generally focuses on a reduction in jobs. Focusing on this one potentiality preys on our very human fear of change and prevents the discussion from moving on to how we could be improving the legal jobs which will remain, and what kinds of jobs the introduction of such tech is likely to in fact create.
If you were to ask lawyers to name one aspect of their jobs they find tedious – most would have an answer. If you were to ask them how they would feel if they no longer had to do that aspect of their job – most would feel positive about that change. Yet frame the question as how they would feel about tech doing an aspect of their job and the reception may not be so warm.
Time is a limited commodity and whilst the attitude that “it’s all billable time” may persist, there is value in moving the discussion towards what could be done with that time instead of tasks which could be readily automated. The irreplaceable human elements of our job – problem solving that goes beyond logic to consider the sometimes illogical human interests underlying a problem on both sides, empathy towards our client and an understanding of the broader context their current problem has occurred in – are aspects AI or bots won’t replace, and are aspects that more and more lawyers will have the time and ‘luxury’ to pursue if we foster a more efficient environment, rather than one driven by demanding billing based KPIs.
Xero changed the way accountants worked, yet we still have accountants – moving the discussion away from fear-mongering and onto how we can use tech advancements to better service our clients and be more efficient is a crucial step in promoting innovation in the legal services industry.
Perhaps the question we should be putting to lawyers, rather than pondering what our jobs could look like or whether they will even exist in 10 years, is: “what are the pain points of your current role?”, and then focusing on automating these and freeing up valuable time to focus on our customer service offering.