Is Ignoring Innovation Unethical?
Lawyers and change are often at odds. What does that mean for the future?
The world is demanding automation and law firms are not denying the utility of tools that make things easier. Law firms all over are going as far as to engage full scale departments within their firm to research and adopt productivity tools, artificial intelligence and machine learning. As these tools start to gain traction, they have the potential to offer a massive benefit to lawyers and their firms: added efficiency, better data for decision making and scalability are just a few of the outcomes technology can provide for a law firm. Lawyers used to close deals with faxes and in-person meetings. Today we close billion-dollar deals via email and PDFs. My oh my how things have changed! Processes have obviously improved over the years but even as technology advances, firms still seem to be stagnant in their adoption.
Efficiencies are somewhat counterintuitive to someone selling time (which sales model is changing). While lawyers want to make things easier on themselves, the real motivation here needs to be in service of the client.
The American Bar Association’s model rules of professional conduct require lawyers to engage in continuing study and education to maintain their license. This same rule also mentions an obligation for lawyers to stay abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology (ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct Section 1.1, Comment 8; New York goes even farther in their own version of this comment indicating that lawyer’s should “keep abreast of the benefits and risks associated with technology the lawyer uses to provide services to clients or to store or transmit confidential information”).
Adopting new technology isn’t just a way to add efficiency. Technology is a means by which lawyers can up their game to provide the most competent representation possible.
Many firms are on the right track by engaging in the conversation around new technology and while this is encouraging, there are still pain points that are not yet fully addressed. Our personal lives are drastically impacted by the real-time economy with services like Uber, Netflix and Venmo giving us what we want when we want it. So why, as a transactional attorney, is there still a world where clients need weekly check-in calls to ensure all deal teams are on the same page?
Let me paint a picture for you: you’re running point on a giant transaction. You and your colleagues are working around the clock. Diligence is pouring into a data room, emails are flying at all hours of the night and your client wants weekly all-hands meetings to push this to close as quickly as possible. You wake up at 6 am after a stressful night wondering: did documents go out last night? Where are we at on diligence? Did we engage all third parties? Who is drafting local opinions? You haven’t started your day yet and your nerves are already a mess before you’ve sipped your coffee. You get to the office and your client calls looking for an open items list. You give them a brief overview but don’t really know what’s up.
This is a harsh reality for most lawyers: constant pressures, a desire for a better process but a sufficient amount of stress that forces you to keep the wheel moving by doing the same thing over and over again. Have we grown too accustomed to the thorn in our side to envision a better way?
In service of our clients (and our own sanity), there has to be a better way. So here is a new picture that is available to lawyers today: You’re running point on a giant transaction. You and your colleagues are working around the clock. Diligence has poured into a real-time checklist. Emails are still flying around but are significantly reduced because there are fewer one-off requests and group distributions. You wake up at 6 am to a daily recap showing that documents were uploaded last night, title, survey and zoning all uploaded their reports and local counsel was added into the deal room to get started on their initial drafts of the legal opinions. You confidently get into the office, coffee in hand, feeling a calm sense of command over your deal, the day and your life. If your client calls, you’re fully on top of everything (and if they don’t, it’s because they used a mobile app to figure out where you’re at on the deal).
There are lots of naysayers rejecting technology, just like there are probably a select special few among us still using fax. The future of our practice lies in the manner in which we can improve and innovate for our clients (and if you disagree, just ask yourself whether you think your clients will be doing business the same way in the next 5/10/15 years). If you want to see the future of the legal profession, look at the tools first-year associates (i.e. millennials) are using outside of the firm to plan their lives (they’re using tools like Trello, Via or Monday). Partners will retire and a new generation will start to shape what it means to provide competent representation to their clients. So why not start now?
Knowing change is inevitable, what simple actions can you take now to be a part of the future rather than against it?
- Talk to your firm. They are very likely already thinking about this and have a team of people looking at solutions. Join the conversation.
- Talk to your clients. They are all trying to figure out how to utilize technology. Being a part of their conversation shows you are a thought leader and genuinely care about their business.
- Learn the market. Lawyers have very limited time and get turned off at the site of “another platform” or even having to log into something new. The nagging urge to the bill will always be there as a lawyer. Taking the time to learn what tools exist is easy. Allocating an hour a month to reading tech or cybersecurity blogs will make you very well informed.
- Get involved. The legal tech industry is booming with Meetups and events highlighting new technology. Attend an event, get involved and arm yourself with an understanding of what people are creating to change the landscape of the industry.
Regardless of whether you want to improve your own process, we owe it to our clients to understand the best possible way to represent them. At ProDeal we’re not just trying to shape the future of how deals close but also the way in which in the industry looks at new technology.
At ProDeal we’re always talking to lenders, developers, law firms and other service providers about how they think about technology. Please leave a comment below or reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or even just to discuss some ideas. At the very least I’ll invite you to our next Meetup!