By now, it's a well-known refrain: Those in the legal industry are mired in 'old thinking.' Technology as a threat. It will replace jobs, reduce revenue, and degrade the position of the firm in the legal marketplace. But future-focused industry voices, including Nextlaw Labs, argue the opposite. We believe legal innovation and technology offer an unprecedented opportunity - especially for new attorneys just entering the professional realm.
Demystifying legal technology
The "robots will take our jobs" message is largely hyperbole, but it stems from a lack of understanding of the changes underway in the legal profession, and the technology options already available. As an industry, we've been here before, skeptical of the benefits of technology in legal practice. The legal establishment once claimed online legal research would never catch on. Now we don't even think of this as an innovation- it's standard legal practice. Billing hours in the law library did shrink, but lawyers didn't disappear. They now provide faster, better, and more cost-effective client service thanks to technology.
For a sanity check, consider the following: Across all industries, 60% of all occupations have at least 30% technically automatable activities. Five percent of jobs can be 100% automated. Similar research has estimated that 23% of a lawyer's job can be automated, yet we still need people to make critical decisions, especially in law. For example, contract review can be extraordinarily time consuming but is often written off client bills. Multiple legal tech products, including Luminance, Kira Systems and Nextlaw Ventures portfolio company Beagle, can quickly identify key clauses and precedents to conduct analyses, draw inferences and flag terms for additional scrutiny. Some claim to go even further to render recommendations and judgment calls. A lawyer then interprets those findings, incorporates context and nuance, and provides informed legal service - faster.
Don't Worry, Work Happy: Innovation drives job satisfaction
Nextlaw Labs believes that innovation can take the robot out of the lawyer by identifying and minimizing repetitive tasks and designing better, more intuitive workflows. Today, routine work that is not appropriate for lawyers at high billable rate, busy work that does not significantly improve the quality of legal services can be relegated to technology. Lawyers can focus on higher value work, strategic and creative thinking, and issues that demand insight and emotional intelligence. These are not only the most professionally satisfying aspects of the profession, but they also cultivate the attributes that make the best lawyers so good.
What does this means for recently minted attorneys? They can leapfrog much of the drudgery of cookie-cutter legal work that used to define those early associate years - document review, long hours at the printers, keeping track of countless signature pages - and gain earlier substantive experience in higher-level client service delivery.
Legal tech drives the creation of new roles
The traditional law firm career path has long existed and will likely continue into the foreseeable future. But like revolutions in other industries, the modernization and reinvention of the practice of law is engendering new and unprecedented opportunities. If you're excited about the new ways tech is reshaping legal practice, the ability to try out new tools and understand your workflow from different angles can be eye-opening. At Dentons, attorneys at all levels have the opportunity to explore a wide variety of legal tech, and shape portfolio products of our investment arm Nextlaw Ventures for optimal utility. In addition, our sister consulting entity Nextlaw In House Solutions works closely with net new legal department roles in legal operations, a group tasked with maximizing a legal department's ability to protect and grow the company. A rapidly growing number of legal tech companies worldwide are hiring lawyers who are entrepreneurial and tech-savvy, and innovation teams within firms are becoming more commonplace - including the rise of the legal engineer, a role which sits at the intersection of the business and practice of law, technology and client services. These multi-functional roles often allow for greater
creativity, engagement, collaboration, and innovative thinking than the lawyers of yesteryear could ever dream of. In response, law schools are increasingly incorporating technology, innovation and design thinking into the curriculum to prepare students for this new world of opportunities.
The legal industry is at a critical juncture. The business of legal service delivery is increasingly competitive and complex. Ever-increasing client pressure to evolve business models and exceed expectations has led to a range of reactions - from head in the sand neo-Luddism, to innovation doublespeak and vaporware, to informed and well-founded enthusiasm.
At its core, lawyering is creative problem solving. It requires a solid foundation of knowledge about process, players, and issues to be addressed - none of which can be automated. Streamlined and refined? Absolutely. But not replaced by machines. Attorneys are uniquely positioned to drive innovation, and for those with the drive and prescience, there's no better time to jump in with both feet.
Lawyers are trained to be risk-averse and dive
deep into the legal issues facing their clients. They don’t always take notice when change happens around them. The risk? You could end up like this. But for those who embrace creativity and innovation, there has never been a better time to be a lawyer.
She delivers next-generation technology, process and innovation consulting services across the globe for the Dentons ecosystem, bringing deep knowledge of legal tech through hands-on experimentation with new products, including those in the portfolio of investment arm, Nextlaw Ventures.
Collaborating with legal tech communities and experts worldwide, she continually evolves Nextlaw Labs' partnership and investment strategies.