Disrupting law + lessons for now

3 mins

This week, a little dose on the future of law and some important takeaways about what lawyers need to be doing right now.

On 26 September 2019, I attended a Disrupting Law panel event hosted by Rahul Soans of The Disruptive Business Network (tagline: “What if the status quo is wrong?”).

“This panel discussion will be an exploration of what legal services will look like in the coming decade. How will everyday people interact with legal services? Will all laws be codified and AI predict all outcomes? How will lawyers as individuals have to change and adapt?”

The panelists:

  • Annabel Tresise⁠ – Admitted lawyer and Associate to a Judge of the Supreme Court of Victoria. In 2017, she created a legal app using Neota Logic to help self-represented litigants navigate their way through the Federal Court bankruptcy system. She is also interested in ethical questions on the use of AI in legal services and has co-authored papers with colleagues at Swinburne and Melbourne University Law Schools.
  • Matthew Taylor – Co-founder and managing director of MET Designs, a social enterprise that aims to transform lives through education. He is also a policy manager at the Victorian Government and a member of the Global Shapers Community (an initiative of the World Economic Forum). We’ve previously interviewed Matthew here on Legal Brew.
  • Christopher Barlett (standing in for Demetrio Zema, Founder of Law Squared)⁠ – Our tech guru and non-lawyer on the panel, Chris is from the world of software development, system architecture, user experience (UX), product development, project management, and client relations.

Some of the big takeaways from the event:

1. It’s broken…

The legal business model, in its current state, is fundamentally broken. Whether from the standpoint of access to justice (i.e. not everyone who needs legal help can get it) or that lawyers are leaving a strained profession in droves.

The AFR noted that the next generation of to-be lawyers are shunning big law firms and 16-hour work-days in favour of a more balanced career and life. Talk to almost any lawyer who has gone through this and you will feel like you’re hearing the same tape played over and over again.

2. Time to fix it (but how?)

An interesting point that was raised during the panel discussion was how legal tech, as viewed within law firms, solely focused on service delivery rather than improving the internal workings of a firm.

Most firms, at least the largest ones, have put together internal “idea pitch” teams to come up “innovative solutions” to perceived problems. Most of these ideas are geared towards how firms can better serve their clients, or bill more effectively. Little brainpower is spent on thinking about whether the time-billing business model has to change (i.e. real value can get stuffed) or interventions to wean lawyers off the 16-hour grind.

In this sense, legal tech piece is simply a distraction from the biggest elephant in the room. “Just pretend that nothing is wrong peeps! Tech will save us!”

3. There will be pushback

The legal profession is a highly regulated⁠—and therefore protected⁠—industry. The technological revolution is something that the profession has never had to deal with before.

This year, for example, France banned the use of data analytics to assess judicial decision-making. Anyone in breach of this law (Article 33 of the Reform for Justice 2018 law) faces a maximum 5-year term of imprisonment and fine of €300,000. This raises genuine questions about what should or shouldn’t be subject to scrutiny. In other words, can we turn off the legal tech tap when transparency gets too uncomfortable? Where is it appropriate to draw the line? Are our protectionist tendencies putting society’s greater interests at peril?

At this juncture, the choices that we make will have lasting consequences for wider society⁠—from the standpoint of transparency to access to justice.

4. It’s time to be courageous. And creative.

We can’t stop the fact that technology is going to change the way we work. During the panel discussion, Chris raised a profound point⁠—“for those of you who are freaking out, know that robots aren’t going to replace lawyers” because, in the end, everyone wants to share their problems with another human. To paraphrase:

What lawyers need to do now is to be courageous and brave⁠—to do the hard things that no one is doing⁠—when everyone else is doing the easy things, simply because it’s easy.

It’s the hard things, like being human, creative, relating to people and building up those lateral-thinking skills that are going to win out in the long run, after everything is said and done.

Thoughts? Leave a comment below or share this post with your friends.

Special thanks to…

Rahul Soans of The Disruptive Business Network for hosting this event and the excellent choice of coffee from St. Ali. Check out their other events here.

2 replies on “ Disrupting law + lessons for now ”
  1. Thank you for sharing! This is also very relatable to the construction industry where the hours are very long, competition is high, projects are being squeezed to save money, resources are low, programmes are shorter and quality is being compromised. Whilst at the same time, the old systems is the same. More creativity in the way things are done and more of a people/sustainability focus would make the industry a more favourable place for young people to work in.

    1. Thanks for your insights Nhung! A big step is for businesses to look to the long term and champion / support new ideas from the next generation of industry practitioners. That can be difficult if the day-to-day involves putting out fires, but it’s possible to do with the right vision and courage.

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