I enjoy saying from time to time that technology is great when it works and is not so great when it doesn’t. Obvious enough, I think. However, I think those two sentences also speak to a number of commonly overlooked issues regarding legal technology and deploying legal technology.
Many of these issues came up in a recent conversation that I had with Callum Murray, the founder and CEO of a Scottish legal startup company (https://amiqus.co/) whose mission and purpose is to increase the accessibility of the civil justice system. It is an admirable goal and one that I would say that is also both ambitious and achievable. Their first product provides online compliance checks making it easier to access a lawyer, accountant, or other regulated services professional.
Callum put forth a pragmatic and realistic view of legal technology and offered some essential lessons for those seeking to either learn more about legal technology or deploy a specific piece of legal technology. One of the first issues he noted was the need to think systematically about the problem that you are seeking to solve. Simply deploying technology without a defined purpose may result in simply glossing over existing problems or replacing a simpler set of problems with more complex ones resulting not just in more work, but costing you and your business both time and money. You need to really understand the problem given how many technological solutions exist currently and continue to get created each day.
Another issue important to note here is that even with the rise of automation and machine learning, the lawyer is not going anywhere. In Callum’s eyes, technology will serve to make the practice of law more efficient. I agree. I would also argue, however, that lawyers continued existence also depends on their collective ability to learn new skills and to adapt. For too long many lawyers have chosen to resist technology. It is becoming clear that is no longer a choice that one can make.
Finally, Callum raised another important point to keep in mind and one that is applicable regardless of one’s use/deployment of legal technology. Setting ambitious long-term goals is a great thing to do. However, those goals will quickly mean nothing if you do not set highly achievable more immediate goals. This is particularly important if you are seeking buy-in from key stakeholders whom may or may not embrace technological solutions as enthusiastically as you do. Technology is not always cheap to deploy, both in terms of time and money. Therefore, as one might say, the proof is in the pudding. Showing that something solves a seemingly intractable problem will serve to illustrate to others that perhaps that same something on a larger scale can solve a larger and equally challenging problem.
As I said at the outset, using technology for the singular purpose of using technology doesn’t tend to solve a lot of problems and may do just the opposite. So, while legal technology continues to be a welcome addition to the practice of law, knowing how to use legal technology and why to use it is just as, if not more important, than just knowing that it exists.