Let’s Get Back to Basics

AI has been a topic of choice in the legal tech and tech industry in general. While I applaud the initiative, we are a long way away from AI taking over a lawyer’s job.  I don’t think we should stop talking about AI, but I do think we should focus on tackling problems that are still plaguing the legal industry that a robot drafting a legal pleading from scratch can’t solve.

Issues like alternative fee arrangements, transparency in the legal process, access to justice, and automation of repetitive tasks have still not been resolved. Of course, some companies are making headway and are making it easier for lawyers to do their jobs, and for clients to solve their problems without paying thousands of dollars in legal fees, but they are a long way from being great, let alone perfect.

An interview I conducted with an immigration firm revealed that they are using seven different tools to manage their law firm. They have one lawyer and several staff members. Yes, you read that right… seven different platforms to manage one firm. That alone tells me that one product is not sufficient to solve a lawyer’s problems, despite what they are touting, and we have a lot of work to do to create just one tool that does it all.

While legal tech platforms are pitching their products as one-size-fits-all solutions, the fact that an AM Law 200 law firm COO told me at this year’s Code X that they use over 200 tools to manage their large firm tells me that’s not nearly the case.

Seven or even 200 tools for managing a practice are fine if they all solve the firm’s problems. The issue I had with those seven tools is that three of them were doing the same thing: helping the lawyer fill out immigration forms. Yet none of them did it well and had way more bugs than solutions.

Yes, you can manage your billing, your calendar, tasks, and emails from most of the law practice management platforms out there. However, collecting payments from the same platform (and not integrating with a separate one to do so), importing your data with the click of a button instead of paying hundreds or thousands of dollars for project managers to do it for you, and managing advanced accounting without Quickbooks, or even completing intake forms without integrating with Lexicata, or conducting a deep analysis of your practice as a business is far from perfect.

These are unmet needs for lawyers, and features that actually help them manage their law firm like a business and improve the inefficiencies that they are always complaining about. Solve these, then start talking and panicking about robots taking over lawyers’ jobs.

Reading about AI on a daily basis is frustrating when there are so many unmet needs of lawyers and we haven’t even scratched the surface of helping people who don’t have basic access to justice and who can’t get representation because of exorbitant legal fees that amount to a person’s paycheck.

Yes, these are very difficult problems to solve, but they will not be solved (at least not anytime soon) by robot lawyers. We have come a long way with legal technology, but instead of tackling these difficult problems, we simply sweep them under the rug and are trying to tackle the forest without looking at the trees.

My advice?

  1. Stop with the hype of AI. Just because you create a list of task items for specific cases does not mean you have AI built into your software. We have bastardized the AI term and now it’s used as a catchall phrase for anything that’s automated. The I in AI stands for intelligence… let’s make our machines do something worthwhile then call it AI. Instead of using buzz words, focus on solving problems.
  2. Stop worrying about ROSS and handle the problems that are really plaguing your firms. At Legal Tech New York, a whole session was devoted to alternative fee arrangements. That is a HUGE problem that needs to be solved and CIOs and COOs of law firms are struggling to find the right tools to manage it and get lawyers on board. Companies like Digitory Legal are tackling this low hanging fruit and will be at the forefront of solving these real issues.
  3. Finally, legal tech companies, find your niche and do it well. Stop trying to be a one-size-fits-all tool with built-in AI and touting yourself as such. Do one thing, and do it well.