What does the future of law look like in an age of machine-learning era advancements? After attending a 3-week boot camp in Chicago at the Institute for the Future of Law Practice (IFLP), it became clear to me that the future of law is less about technological advancement and more about change management.
I practiced civil litigation for about four years in Greece and have worked at a few Canadian law firms under different capacities for the past two years. I am convinced that lawyers all over the world are facing similar, if not identical, challenges.
At the beginning of the Boot Camp almost every IFLP student, myself included, promoted technology as the answer to every problem that law firms or companies face. “Automation and standardization” was the theme of most student presentations, during which one or a combination of existing legal tech tools were put forward. However, one of the biggest takeaways during the Program was that, for technology to be a truly effective tool, it is necessary to pinpoint the actual – often not the obvious – problem and define the end goal. Yet, organizations spend little time thinking about what they wish to achieve.
If the goal is to provide value to customers, it may revolve around process optimization and waste elimination. Before rushing to replace existing processes though, it is crucial to identify what is already working well and try to build on that. Listening to and appreciating the perspective of the individuals that deliver legal services is an integral part of implementing solutions to meet their needs. That said, a tech solution additionally requires an enhanced understanding of business culture as well as foreseeability about who is more likely to embrace it.
In an era of media hype, machine learning expert systems are often portrayed as either a panacea to all hurdles or a threat to the traditional way law has been practiced (and, ultimately, to lawyers’ job security). What was made clear through the Boot Camp was that technology will not replace lawyers; it will instead replace tasks that lawyers despise doing in the first place. A tech solution does not have to be particularly sophisticated either. It is a fact that lawyers’ Microsoft Word, Excel, and Adobe Acrobat skill level can be described as amateur at best. Nonetheless, these represent the tech tools that legal practitioners use about half of the time they spend providing legal services.
Efficiency is the driving force of competitiveness and scalability. Without thorough process optimization and knowledge management, it is likely that legal providers will only be able to replicate the billable-hour business model or, at best, provide a repackaging of existing legal services at a maximum discount of 10% per case. And while this may appeal to clients now, it is not a viable long-term solution: indeed, as clients are already developing or utilizing more sophisticated solutions for their own businesses, chances are that they will anticipate, if not demand, analogous adoption, and adaptation by their legal services providers. It may then be argued that a properly coordinated change management endeavour that embraces innovation, while focusing on adding value and augmenting client experience, should precede any initiative to merely implement technological tools for the sake of efficiency.
What is the IFLP Boot Camp’s unique value proposition? One of its crucial components was students’ exposure to various concepts and disciplines, notably process mapping and optimization, contract drafting and automation, coding, privacy, and cybersecurity, as well as data analytics and visualization. Equally important was the opportunity to ‘escape’ the legal realm and immerse ourselves in the business world, while employing lean thinking and Improvement Kata Skills. This was achieved through multiple real-world scenarios relating to reduced budgeting or change management, where we provided our input through presentations or simulations before CEOs, CFOs, GCs or managing partners of leading organizations. Their feedback and insights on how they navigated similar situations under their own roles were unparalleled.
The unique value proposition of IFLP lies, however, in the fact that students are matched with leading law firms and innovative companies for a paid summer internship, during which they can further implement the modern T-shaped lawyer skillset. Overall, drawing from first-hand experience, understanding the business side of law and client expectations has allowed me to efficiently address a wide range of fascinating projects at my internship to date.
Yonida Koukio is an Intellectual Property Law LL.M. Candidate at OsgoodePD, currently working at Bennett Jones LLP with the knowledge management team as a Legal Innovation Intern. She holds LL.B. and LL.M. degrees from the Democritus University of Thrace, Greece. Yonida has been a member of the Athens Bar Association since 2014, where she practiced civil litigation.