Changing Perceptions

Staring into the void…


♫ So, here we are staring into the void
The old way of thinking has been destroyed
You need to just accept the fact
That an open mind has the biggest impact.♫ 
– Music and Lyrics by David Sanchez, recorded by Havok

What will be the impact of technology on the legal profession? That answer has much to do with whom you ask and the time frame being referenced. According to an article in The American Lawyer:

“If all currently available legal technologies were universally implemented today, the change would reduce lawyers’ hours at large firms by 13%, according to estimates by Frank Levy, a labour economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Dana Remus, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law.”

However,, states: “A new analysis from Deloitte Insight states that within the next two decades, an estimated 114,000 jobs in the legal sector will have a high chance of having been replaced with automated machines and algorithms. The report predicts “profound reforms” across the legal profession with the 114,000 jobs representing over 39% of jobs in the legal sector.”

What can we conclude from these statements?

Technology is disruptive. The parable of the boiling frog is applicable here. However, since the threat of technology is not imminent, partners do not perceive the danger posed by such technologies and hence display an inability or unwillingness to react to or even be aware of the threats. Lawyers also have a false sense of protection due to the perceived inability of non-lawyers to practise law.

However, technology changes faster than law and ethics. Case in point: is a disruptive innovator that operates in three countries and has provided legal services to close to four million customers – and it is not a law firm. Ross, the IBM artificial intelligence legal service, was developed by people with backgrounds in neuroscience, information systems, software development and natural language processing. Change is being driven by skilled people with backgrounds that don’t include law. You can bet that they are aiming for the highest-value services provided by lawyers, since that is where the pot of gold lies at the end of their rainbow.

Disruption has already happened to other businesses. In Forbes, John Kotter looked at the Kodak downfall and found that on the surface, it did not move into the digital world well enough and fast enough. John asked: “Why did Kodak make the poor strategic decisions they made?... Answer: The organization overflowed with complacency.” Management at Kodak did not take decisive action to combat the inevitable challenges that were recognized as emerging but not acted on. 

There are parallels with Kodak. In many firms, partners are already busy and don’t see the need to take action on change that might involve disrupting their money tree. Of course, once 20 firms start doing something new then partners’ heads may pop up from the sand. Until then, there is no perception that circumstances tomorrow will be any different from what they are today and hence there is no need to think about what is ahead.

But the power of change cannot be underestimated. Jane Wurwand in the Huffington Post stated: “The feeling of consistency may appeal to many because it feels safe. But, in business at least, staying in the same place and doing the same thing is not safe. In fact, it’s quite the contrary, it’s dangerous.”

There is no question that entrepreneurs are busy innovating in the legal space with disruptive technologies at their side. Within law firms, the old ways of thinking are dangerous. For us lawyers to avoid becoming irrelevant, keeping an open mind regarding technological change will have the biggest impact.

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