On my way to a conference last week, I saw a reference to an Above the Law blog post titled “Why You Should Care About Legal Tech“. First thing I did was check the calendar and confirm that it was, in fact, still 2016 and then ponder the fact that people still need to be convinced that this technology thing is worth a gander or two in the 21st century. Then I read the article. It was okay, but left something to be desired in the way of concrete examples.
To start off, let’s unpack the word “technology.” A few years ago, I did a presentation titled “Books – The Original Legal Technology.” And that’s true. We need to stop thinking about technology as automatically equaling computers. Technology is any tool developed to make some aspect of life easier. It is a fundamental characteristic of human beings to find these tools to make their lives more efficient. So it boggles my mind that any professional would think it acceptable to ignore something that they could use to make their professional lives better. I don’t care if you didn’t grow up with it. The first person to bang two rocks together to make a knife didn’t grow up with that either.
On a related note, all of us have a professional obligation to continually improve our abilities and be life long learners. You don’t have to be an industry expert, thought leader or any other type of specialist to see that computer based technologies are greatly changing the way the world operates. So from the low hanging fruit of social media to the brave new world of artificial intelligence and data analysis, to be a competent professional means that one must investigate these and see how they may be used to improve one’s job performance. If it’s changing other professions and the way people live, it probably can be used in your profession too.
(You’ll probably notice that I’m using the word “professional” here instead of job titles. That’s mainly because I write for an audience of both lawyers and librarians. This is one of those occasions where a blog post applies to either group. Just mentally replace professional with what you are. ANYWAY.)
So. Why should you care about technology? Here’s some more concrete-ish examples.
- Your clientele expects it. No matter if you’re a lawyer or a librarian, you are competing with client/patron expectations of what a business looks like and how it operates. Their expectations are based on things like Google, Amazon and Facebook. Do you have a web page? Does it have good enough SEO to get to the top of google search results when someone is looking for you? Is it mobile friendly? Do you offer the ability to interact – i.e. client intake or ask questions – on this page? How about social media presences? Do you have basic information like location, hours, phone numbers, matters handled, services rendered, or even *gasp* pricing available so that people can find out what you’re about in the place where they found you? Do you provide services via the web, like ebooks or providing forms? Are those services as easy to use as Amazon or LegalZoom? Did some the questions I just asked confuse you or did you wonder why I asked them? Then you may have a problem.
- It can make you more efficient. As the saying goes, “time is money” and no where is that more true than for those that bill hourly. Case management software, legal research services, out-sourced virtual receptionists, calendars that simultaneously appear on your phone, desktop, laptop and iPad…all examples of technologies that allow one to get more work done faster. There look to be good possibilities in the future that tools like eDiscovery software, document assembly tools/automated forms and standardized contact databases will do the same. Basically, anything that requires a lot of repetition and not much individualized legal judgment plus takes up a lot of time is a good candidate for improvement via technological innovation.
- It can do things we couldn’t do before. When you hear the word “data”, it’s tempting to get a mental image of words or numbers on a spreadsheet. The fact is that law is data. Most of the information put out via the usual transactions in a law practice are data. And up until recently, that data has been a big black hole because it wasn’t in a digital format and easy to analyze. However, that’s all changing, and changing rapidly. Instead of relying upon courthouse gossip to see how likely a judge is to grant a motion, you can now look at data for his or her entire judicial career and find out hard numbers and facts on this. Not only is new information available, but companies are also coming up with new ways of looking at the results, which are more intuitive and easier to understand.
- You’re already using it. Whether it’s legal research services or eDiscovery tools or practice management software or even a smart phone that you’re using to keep track of your schedule, you’re interacting with technological tools every day. Back when I used to teach technology to law students, I had a rule of thumb for the amount of knowledge you need to have about a tool you use: if you drive a car, you should be able to identify the liquids leaking out of the bottom and either be able to change a flat or have a good service like AAA on speed dial. The same level of knowledge/competence/comfort should be had for the tools you use in your professional life. Do you need to know Google’s algorithm? No. Do you need to know what an algorithm is, why the top result in a google search is the one you’re getting, and what might be missing? You betcha. To be a good consumer of technology is to have a basic understanding of what the salespeople are telling you so you can tell what’s BS and what actually makes sense.
- The status quo sucks. Most people who need an attorney can’t afford one. The unemployment rate for new lawyers is sky high. Library budgets are being eaten alive by expensive software and publisher business practices seemingly designed to put libraries out of business. The public is turning to companies like Legal Zoom and Amazon to fulfill the duties that libraries and lawyers have traditionally filled without the protections that these professions offer for the public’s well being. Are you going to just sit back and take it? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Technology is not a panacea, but it offers the best chance to by-pass or change the ills that are affecting our professions.
So the next time you see a blog post or tweet talking about technological innovation in your profession, don’t ignore it. Yes, it’s a bit of the Wild Wild West now and people are making all sorts of claims in part to separate you from your money. All the more reason to stop, pay attention and educate yourself.