Some thoughts on lawyers, clients, the Internet and the future.

A guest blog by Jon Busby first published on his blog Legal Two.

“Above all, we need to build up our provision on a clean slate – and from the bottom up. We should not begin with the lawyer: we should begin with the person who has a problem.” Roger Smith

Roger Smith’s powerful lecture caught my eye because of this quote. Roger (amongst a collection of other things) touches on the need to utilise technology, not because it has all the answers but because it might have some of them. I like this. I like it when people go beyond an all or nothing attitude and appreciate that there is a balance, a middle ground.
It is easy to see the Internet as debasing, diluting or devaluing but that shows a lack of awareness in the potential it can offer. Especially when it has a proven track record at delivering real value.

Potential not only for the client but also for the lawyer.

There is a resistance from some lawyers in accepting that the Internet and technology are here to stay, that somehow lawyer world will be immune from their impact. I so often see the future being given lip service.

That’s fine except for one decisive thing. The client.

We the client aren’t tippy tappy-ing all of our devices because they are pretty objects. We are tapping data in to probably save time, possibly save money and definitely get to our relevant value quicker.

So… lawyers have to start to foresee more, create more, build more and yes, even fail more. Why? Simply because what lawyers deliver is too valuable to lose.

Lawyers can choose to embrace or resist. If lawyers choose the former and engage with technology, then they will have a far greater chance of helping it’s development so that it benefits them too. If they choose to resist then they will increasingly be bypassed.

We have long since moved on from entry level technology but Roger is right. Much that is heralded on the Internet about online legal is “little more than digital leaflets.”

But we are now seeing technology that is smarter and follows the same logic paths that a lawyer may employ to get to a more refined starting point such as an initial draft. This will have a big impact on a lawyers cost of delivery as technology begins to strip out the inefficiency that is holding back the real value.

More compelling, such technology is now being securely shared with the client and offers the holy grail of real time collaboration. This shift or split into inputters and interpreters I have touched on before.

So where does this techno end game leave the lawyer? Unnecessary? No. Redundant? No. Well not for the lean, the efficient, the evolving or the open.

I think, if they are savvy, lawyers are in a very good position.

The savvy lawyer will see technology as liberating them form things that they shouldn’t really be doing, for example form filling. Clients have been educated to securely form fill by the likes of Amazon, comparethemarket.com etc. That leap of faith has already been made by your market. As a supplier to that market this is a leap lawyers have no option but to now seriously consider.

It is not about all or nothing, digital or analogue, remote or face to face, niche or general, national or local. It is about what is right for you and your client. What you both want/need and how you both give/get it.

Ain’t that sweet? For all the so called techno devaluing it will actually bring many lawyers closer to their client with the lawyer doing more lawyering and less routine process.

Ain’t that ironic? The thing lawyers most fear, technology, will probably save many.

I totally accept that some people won’t choose this route. But lawyers need to accept that some people will.

What the savvy lawyer should also be considering is what makes them necessary and indispensable. Being there is not indispensable because there are lots of lawyers already there. Being qualified is not enough because there are lots of qualified people. Being online is not good enough because lots of lawyers are ‘online.’

So how do lawyers stand out from other lawyers?

I think by focusing on the human to human bits, the intellectual interpretations; review, recommendation, judgement. But they must do this in a way that is compelling, engaging, useful and relevant. This is what clients will pay for. This is what most lawyers actually want to do and funnily enough these are the things that technology is not brilliant at delivering.

And when clients can start to see through the current fog of legal service provision they will start to disrupt this market by making a choice either with or without you because no one gets sentimental about an incumbent supplier when they find a better alternative.

That’s right. It won’t be the lawyers or technology disrupting the legal services market. It will be the client.