Why It is Time to Problem Automation Misconceptions
The role of a lawyer is unique. No day is the same, no case is the same. Lawyers need to be able to think quickly and logically, set precedents, and still think about new and innovative ways to interpret the law for the benefit of clients. It’s a job that requires unique skills and the human touch.
Hence, the idea that even part of the role of attorney or other legal practitioners can be automated seems inconceivable.
Automation in the legal world
As the legal sector faces challenges to the status quo – increased customer demands, pressures on fixed pricing, increased competition from new business models, and new entrants to the legal services market – it is important to rethink existing practices. So writing off automation as irrelevant or impossible means ignoring an important tool that could help the legal industry navigate increasingly difficult waters.
While sectors such as telecommunications, high tech, and financial services have adopted advanced technologies quickly (quote), the legal sector has been slower to begin with. While the number of Lawtech companies has increased significantly, the level of acceptance of Lawtech by legal practitioners has not.
In reality, most law firms don’t need all of the features that Advanced Tech offers. For most lawyers, a chatbot is not going to revolutionize their daily work life – resources are more likely to be wasted. However, day-to-day business can be improved by going back to basics, looking at existing processes, and making changes to remove inefficiencies.
How the process could be key to unlocking the power of automation
Increased business productivity is often closely related to process improvement. A good process achieves a “flow” that is predictable and compliant, satisfying both customers and employees, while continuously creating value.
One of the main obstacles to taking a process-based approach is that legal practitioners often feel that legal work cannot be viewed in terms of process, as each individual work is unique to each individual client engagement.
Often times, when lawyers think about their work procedurally, they can identify the repetitive and predictable aspects. These are the parts that can be automated to save time and increase accuracy and efficiency.
Rethink the process
One way to deconstruct processes is to adopt principles that were developed in “lean” manufacturing. Start by looking at the individual steps within a process, from a customer inquiry to delivery, and then classify each of these steps or sub-processes into four categories: “runners”, “repeaters”, “strangers” and “aliens” or short RRSA:
- Runner: Standard steps and results that are performed frequently are highly predictable, consistent, and typically efficient
- Repeaters: steps that are still predictable but less frequent and less efficient
- Stranger: Steps that are very individual, rarely occur and often require a high level of specialized resources
- Aliens: Steps that have not yet been seen but are in the company’s specialty
When the concept of RRSA is applied to legal firms, it becomes clear that many assignments – taken as a whole – are strangers and foreigners where a human must provide a personalized solution.
Even so, almost all of these bespoke solutions include steps or processes that have been previously seen and well understood. These are the runners and repeaters that can be automated. These are possibilities for micro-automation.
Bringing technology into harmony with the human touch
There is no doubt that the automation of routine tasks allows lawyers to invest time in what matters most: the needs of clients. However, to be truly effective, the technology should not be implemented in isolation.
What we as lawyers should strive for is to strike a balance between technological innovation and the human touch. Technology alone can never and should never replace the creativity and intelligence of a skilled lawyer. Customers always need to hold hands, and face-to-face interaction is a must in this industry. However, technology can make adding that human touch easier. Tools like automation can save skilled lawyers a great deal of time – reportedly up to a third of the time – to maintain customer relationships and add extra value to accounts.
Automation seemed like a no-starter to you yourself. However, 2020 marks a new phase and an opportunity to clear up existing misconceptions about the role of transformative technologies such as automation in the law firm.
Automation is an opportunity to make the most of your law firm’s talent. It enables the celebration of the human side of law by automating the routine. It increases productivity and leads to a rethinking of existing – and sometimes inefficient – processes.
In times of numerous legal technologies, automation is a great first step into the age of digital transformation.