The use of technology has made life easier and more fulfilling for millions of people — and it can do the same for lawyers and their clients, says Hugh Logue, author of the new book, “Automating Legal Services: Justice Through Technology.”
Logue is director and lead analyst for legal technology at Outsell Inc., a research and advisory firm focused on media, information and technology markets. He identifies trends and opportunities for legal publishers, technology companies and legal service providers.
From drafting transactional legal documents such as wills and contracts to developing legal-knowledge platforms in specific areas of law, Logue champions the use of technology to wholly or partially complete a task historically performed by a person. He says automation with well-defined parameters can be used to make routine legal work profitable, maintain quality and make legal services more accessible to all in society.
“The greatest threat to the legal profession is not automation; it is from the ‘pile them high and sell them cheap’ manual model” in which some law firms hire inexperienced lawyers and load them with large caseloads to maintain profit margins, Logue says. “This low-cost version of the current model is a slow threat to the future of the legal profession” because it can ultimately drive down the overall quality of legal services.
We caught up with Logue to talk more about legal technology and its benefits:
Why should lawyers embrace automation?
For most lawyers, the intellectual challenge of helping people by analyzing and deciphering the law is what excited them and drove them to enter the legal profession. Lawyers who grew up in the digital age take for granted that technology can do mindless, tedious tasks and are pushing back against managers asking them to regularly do this work manually. The automation of legal services will free lawyers to carry out creative-legal tasks that they enjoy and clients value the most, such as arguing difficult law questions, preparing litigation strategies and spending more in-person time with clients. Automated legal services will also enable lawyers to analyze various legal complexities and scenarios and work with technology to help people on a much larger scale.
You say in the book that people do not want lawyers; they want a solution to their legal problem. How can automated legal services help lawyers to better serve their clients?
People now expect to be able to do almost everything online, including manage their legal affairs on a limited budget. On the corporate side, flat structures, a more computer-literate workforce and a massive increase in the use of cloud-based tools has led to a reduction in support staff and the expectation that employees will self-serve using online tools to meet their knowledge needs. Lawyers need to get out of their clients’ way and enable them to carry out legal tasks on their own through technical solutions created and run by their firm. Clients increasingly want a blend of services that mixes legal advice with technology expertise to solve their problems in the quickest, most effective way.
Can automated legal services help to open up access to justice?
Anyone who believes in democracy knows that justice is at the heart of a democratic society, and for justice to take effect, laws and legal procedures must apply equally to all citizens. It is shocking that in 2020 there are still hundreds of millions of people worldwide who are unable to navigate legal procedural systems when they suffer an injustice. Of course, there is a need to increase the number of lawyers representing those without means, but it is also clear that this is a drop in the ocean and a more innovative approach is urgently needed.
I’m fortunate to be able to help legal tech companies develop the technology advances that are revolutionizing the legal industry as part of my role at Outsell, but these are mostly being developed for, and adopted by, large law firms and corporations. There is a danger that if governments and judiciaries do not act quickly to support and adopt the automation of legal services for ordinary people, then only large and well-resourced law practices and companies will have the means to invest in the necessary technology. Far from opening up access to justice, this would load the dice against poorer people and increase inequality in society.
In what ways can new technologies bring more people into the legal profession?
Automated legal services will still need lawyers to provide the analysis of laws, prepare guidance notes and train systems. As law firms use automated systems to serve latent legal demand for legal service, this will create new jobs for future legal professionals. It is quite attractive work, which presents an opportunity for a better work-life balance.
There are lots of people with different technology skills who want to improve access to justice and contribute to the legal system, but they don’t want to go to court or spend their days drafting documents. In carving out new legal technologist roles, there is a place for these people who understand the law and can combine this knowledge with their technical skills to design and maintain technologies that can support society’s legal needs.
How can technology make the delivery of legal services simpler?
The first generation of automated tools in the legal sector were designed to replace manual legal services both in corporate legal departments and in law firms. However, the second generation of automation tools will be client-facing. How a legal problem is solved is of less importance to the consumer compared to the time it takes and its cost. In the past this put the quality of legal advice at risk, however, that is an increasingly false dilemma as fast, better quality and cheaper alternatives to conventional legal services are emerging through automation. While it’s important to maintain realistic expectations as to what automation technologies can currently achieve, the technology will only improve with time.
What would you say to lawyers who may think automation is a threat to the legal profession?
Lawyers who embrace new technology and are open to change do not need to see automation as a threat. I discuss in my book how the legal services sector currently resembles the banking sector between the 1960s and ’80s when it went through a period of considerable technological change with the introduction of ATMs and computerization. Barclays Bank in London installed the world's first ATM in 1967. The ATM arrived at a time when bank services were only available in branches that were open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday to Friday, making it more convenient for many working-class people to store their money under a mattress than in a bank. The arrival of ATMs caused real fear among banking professionals of redundancies and technological unemployment. Their fears proved to be unfounded as the ATMs were able to serve the huge latent demand for banking services, which led to more people opening bank accounts, then taking out mortgages, credit cards, home loans, car loans and so forth.
Similarly, there is a massive latent demand for legal services that cannot be viably met by the current manual business model. Automation can help law practices achieve massive growth and will create jobs for those firms that set themselves up for it.