Automation In The Legal Industry: Has The Time Come To Change The Status Quo?

Alex Siryi
By Alex Siryi, Tech writer with 8 years of experience in helping the business audience better understand the complex and ever-shifting world of software development.
3rd September |

Does the incentive to change in the current law industry not as attractive to companies as the benefits of maintaining things ‘as is’? 

Automation and digitalization of infrastructure have made a colossal leap forward over the time of the COVID-19 pandemic in almost every industry. The trend is likely to stick even in a post-pandemic world as the benefits businesses have discovered are downright gamechaning. 

That said, the legal industry still lags behind as many law firms fail to adopt efficient digital transformation strategies. 

Not to say there has not been a shift in the direction of automated workflows over the years. There’s no dancing around the concept in a world where 23% of lawyer’s work can be automated. Or in a world where specialists in the industry are struggling to recover 6 ‘missing’ hours on a day-by-day basis. 

It’s just that the scales are tipping too slowly. 

The dangers of a Status Quo

Back in the year 2000, Blockbuster had a chance to buy Netflix for as little as $50 million. It was the same year when they made $800 million from late fees alone. This was only 16% of the giant’s yearly income. 

Where are the two companies today? 

But more importantly, why? Why did Blockbuster refuse to purchase Netflix? 

Because of the existing Status Quo in the industry. The incentive to change was simply not as attractive at the moment as the benefits of maintaining things ‘as is’. 

Ok, this is a fairly broad example that has little to no relation to the legal industry. What about the fact that almost half or responders in the 2017 Aderant Business of Law and Legal Technology Survey that the way they collaborate with a law firm is different today than it was 5 years ago? What this means is the back office and the front office in an average company are much more interconnected now than they were ever before.  

In simpler words, new processes are being introduced. Yes, adoption takes some time. The flow of change is gradual. But it is here. It is ever-present. Yet a lot of lawyers still refuse to embrace efficient automation. 

It’s just not a good fit for us

In our experience, we have found that a lot of lawyers are actively rejecting complex automation solutions. And for a good reason – their role is unique. Barely anything they do is exactly the same. Every contract has nuance, every case – its own specifications. A machine is simply incapable of interpreting the same incident through several lenses choosing the best option to fit here and now. 

In addition to that both automation and digitalization open a Pandora’s Box of security risks, additional regulations, concerns regarding safe data storage, etc. 

This mindset further enforces the Status Quo and demolished every desire for change as, well, the incentive to change was simply not as attractive at the moment as the benefits of maintaining things ‘as is’. 

And yet…

Yes, the idea of automation replacing any part of a lawyer’s work seems unorthodox (to say the least). 

And yet, the report by Deloitte Insights states that a whopping 114,000 jobs in the legal sector will be replaced by automated machines and algorithms. We are talking about 39% of the jobs in the sector. 

How is this happening?

Well, instead of focusing on ways technology can replace a lawyer, smart law firms have decided to enhance and enrich the workflows of their professionals. The same report predicts that automation will create 80,000 new jobs  – all better skilled and paid. 

Never change for the sake of changing

Just like any other good thing in this world (like cake for example), automation has its place in the legal industry. And it is the job of the decisionmakers in a law firm to decide where and when to adopt it. 

A chatbot, for example, probably won’t revolutionize the day-to-day work of your lawyers. Furthermore, it will take away from the personalized experience and the bond your clients have with your law firm. 

A basic automated drafting solution won’t pull much weight either. Your team will be stuck with tweaking and adjusting the solution to achieve satisfactory quality of the document while still losing the magic of their touch

That being said, a tailor-made custom drafting solution that has been built for you from scratch will me much more adjustable to the needs of your law firm. This type of automation will empower you to use your company’s branding, and it will simplify complex conditional calculus – among other things.

The key here is in analyzing your processes and finding ways of improving them rather than replacing certain stepps with software. 

Process is King

If you are looking to stay ahead of the curve and dominate the competition when it comes to clever adoption of business-centric automation, you will need to know which processes will benefit from the change. 

The RRSA concept should help you with the prep work. Start with gathering all of your business processes. Then evaluate and categorize them into 4 different groups:

  • Runners: These are highly repetitive, standardized, and repetitive processes. You can easily predict the outcome as well as their quantity and consistency. 
  • Repeaters: Similar to runners, these processes are less frequent and not as efficient. 
  • Strangers: These are new processes that have either been introduced recently or simply don’t occur more than once or twice. They require a much more custom approach in both preparation and execution. 
  • Aliens: These are the processes that reach outside the firm’s area of expertise. 

Dividing your business processes into these categories should help with preparing the law firm for automatization. 

At least on paper. And this is where may companies stumble. 

In reality, most processes are much more complex. They consist of various steps that require various levels of focus. 

A smart leader would give the steps in business processes the same analytical treatment. This way you will be able to predictably automate minor steps in various similar processes using the same tool or solution.