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Q: Where are you on the legal tech spectrum? (Where should you be?)

A: Modern lawyers should harness the power of technology, without abandoning the traditions of our craft.

Ask a group of lawyers for their views on legal tech and their responses will likely split into two very different camps. 

‘Old-fashioned’ lawyers

The approach for these lawyers is: “We lawyers are artisans – crafters of the finest bespoke wordsmithery. How could such artistry be sullied by something so base as technology?”

  • Pro – Avoiding tech is a badge of honour for many lawyers. In a profession steeped in tradition, there is an undeniable cachet in using the old ways. Why change something that has worked for centuries? 
  • Con – Every process involves some level of tech, so it doesn’t make sense to freeze tech at one point in time. Even the pen was a new tech at some point. Tech-friendly lawyers pity these primitive luddites.

Tech-friendly lawyers

Tech-friendly lawyers would say: “This whole law malarkey is just one big algorithm. With enough computing power we can solve all legal problems.”

  • Pro – It goes without saying that tech has brought great efficiencies to all industries, so why not law? Why stick with something that has remained unchanged for so long?
  • Con – This type of lawyer is so tech they almost aren’t lawyers anymore. In believing that everything is tech and programmable, they downplay human experience and nuance, trusting all in their codes and programs. Perhaps they get excited about tech and buy products with reckless abandon. Old-fashioned lawyers sneer at this faddish untried nonsense.

How do areas outside of the law address this bifurcation between tech and craft?

In even the most science-bound industries there is always room for some humanity and imagination. Ada Lovelace – daughter of Lord Byron, with poetry in her veins – was also a pioneer in computing. Lovelace believed that there was a division between science and art that was detrimental. She coined the term ‘poetical science’ for her idea that scientists gained from exploring their intuitions. The lesson here is for the tech-friendly lawyers: it is important to retain the human element of our craft and not expect tech to solve non-tech problems.

On the other side of the equation, areas that seem innately suitable for human traits benefit from the logic of science. Several examples come to mind:

  • Chess. Chess computers finally overtook human players in the 1990s. However, it is now held that the best chess competitor is a middling human player managing an array of chess computers. 
  • Aviation. The role of tech has played an ever-increasing role in aviation, to the point now that it seems very natural that a human pilot guides and interprets the work of the computers.
  • Driving. Driving has traditionally required some very human elements: touch/feel, values-based decision making. Car makers improve driver performance by adding tech to processes that we might once have thought of as particularly human. 

The lesson here is for the old-fashioned lawyers: don’t underestimate the ability of computing power to take on tasks that have traditionally been performed by humans.

So what is the answer?

It is very clear: por qué no los dos/why not both? In other words, there is no need to completely jettison lawyer culture for a shiny tech bauble. Equally, one shouldn’t ignore completely the possibilities of tech just to defend a fusty convention. Our view is that the best lawyers use legal tech to enhance and accelerate their practice, without abandoning the human elements.  

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