The role of an attorney is unique. No day is the same, no case the same. Attorneys are required to think quickly and logically, be able to cite precedent, yet think of new and innovative ways to interpret the law to benefit clients. It is a job that requires a unique skill-set and the human touch.
Therefore the idea that even part of the role of an attorney, or other legal professionals, can be automated seems inconceivable.
Automation in the legal world
As the legal sector battles with challenges to the status quo—increased client demands, pressure for fixed-fee pricing, greater competition from new business models and new entrants to the legal services market—it is essential to rethink existing practices. So, to write off automation as an irrelevance or an impossibility is to ignore an important tool that could help the legal industry navigate increasingly difficult waters.
While sectors like telecom, high-tech and financial services have been quick to adopt advanced technologies (get citation), the legal sector, has been slower out of the starting blocks. In fact, while there has been a significant increase in the number of lawtech companies, the same cannot be said about the level of lawtech adoption amongst legal practitioners.
In reality, most law firms don’t need the full capabilities that advanced tech offers. For most lawyers, a chatbot isn’t going to revolutionize their daily working life—it is more likely to be a drain on resources. Everyday business life may, however, be improved by going back to basics, looking at existing processes, and making changes to remove inefficiencies.
How process could be the key to unlocking the power of automation
Increased business productivity is often closely linked to process improvement. A good process achieves “flow” is predictable and compliant, and satisfies both customers and workers while creating ongoing value.
One of the main barriers to adopting a more process-led approach is that legal practitioners often think that legal work cannot be looked at in terms of the process because each individual piece of work is unique to each individual client engagement.
When lawyers do think about their work in process terms, they are often able to identify the repetitive and predictable aspects. These are the parts that can be automated to save time and increase accuracy and efficiency.
One way of deconstructing process is to adopt principles developed in “lean” manufacturing. Begin by looking at each of the individual steps within a process, starting with a customer request right the way to delivery, then classify each of these steps or sub-processes into four categories: “runners,” “repeaters,” “strangers” and “aliens” or RRSA for short:
- Runners: Standard steps and deliverables which are carried out frequently, are highly predictable, consistent and usually efficient
- Repeaters: Steps which are still predictable but less frequent and less efficient
- Strangers: Steps which are highly customized, rarely occurring and often require a high level of specialized resource to undertake
- Aliens: Steps that have not been seen before but are within the firm’s area of expertise
When the concept of RRSA is applied to legal businesses it becomes clear that many assignments – taken as a whole – are strangers and aliens that require a human being to deliver a personalized solution.
Even so, almost all of these bespoke solutions include steps or processes that have been seen before and are well understood. These are the runners and repeaters that can be automated. These are microautomation opportunities.
Balancing the technology with the human touch
There is no doubt that the automation of routine tasks will enable lawyers to have the time to spend on what matters most: clients’ needs. However, to be truly effective, technology should not be implemented in isolation.
What we, as legal professionals, should be striving for is to strike a balance between technological innovation and the human touch. Technology alone cannot ever replace the creativity and sheer brainpower of a skilled attorney, nor should it. Clients will always need hand-holding, and personal interaction in this line of work is a must. However, technology can make the process of adding that human touch easier. Tools such as automation can free up considerable time—reports suggest up to one-third of time—for skilled legal professionals to dedicate to nurturing client relationships and adding additional value to accounts.
Automation may have seemed like a non-starter for your 2019 self, however, 2020 marks a new phase and a chance to readdress existing misconceptions about the role of transformative technology, such as automation, within the law firm.
Automation provides the opportunity to use the talent with your law firm to its best effect. It enables the human side of law to be celebrated by automating the routine. It boosts productivity, prompting a rethink of existing—and sometimes inefficient—processes.
In an age of plentiful legal tech, automation is a great, first stride forward into the age of digital transformation.