At my office, I have a bit of a reputation. My colleagues call me a techie as I’m always bringing in new tools and gadgets that promise to make our lives as lawyers easier.
Some of my recent hits include InvoiceSherpa, which helps with managing the books. Then there’s Xero, an accounting app that allows me to see my finances in real time (gone are the days when I used to have to wait on my accountant to tally the numbers at month’s end!) Another tool I love is Calendar Rules, which helps us manage our case deadlines.
As an entrepreneur, my job isn’t to run my office’s billing, accounting or scheduling, my job is to grow my business. I need to figure out where our next case will come from, meet with clients and develop new marketing plans to get our team in front of the right people.
So when I saw the article “Robots, the Latest Threat to Associates and the Billable Hour,” my first instinct was to buy 10 of these robots for my office. I even took it a step further by inquiring as to how I could invest in this new technology. I was that excited.
Here’s the gist: Remember Watson, the supercomputer that appeared on “Jeopardy” and beat the reigning human champs? Someone has created a similar robot for the legal profession, one that can easily answer questions about case law precedent and legislation in mere seconds.
These are questions that would take our team hours to research.
Unfortunately, my dream of outfitting everyone on my team with one of these robots was quickly dashed. At least for the time being. The tool is still being developed and rolled out. We’ll have to see what the final price tag is before taking the plunge.
The techie part of me was completely bummed. But the right side of my brain got to wondering: Would this tool really be a legal lifesaver? Or would we lose something by outsourcing all this work to a robot?
Robots Can Do a Lot. But They Can’t Do Everything.
First, the pros of hiring a robot.
New associates are usually the ones tasked with researching case law precedent and legislation. A service like this would ease the stress of having to find, hire and train new employees, only to have them leave when they’re offered a higher-paying job elsewhere.
A robot would never betray you. It’s loyal for as long as you pay its monthly fee.
But while the robot would be an amazing tool for researching and spitting out precedent, it wouldn’t understand the nuance of what to do with that information.
At my firm, we take a holistic and integrative approach to our law practice. I recently had a client who refused to settle her case. She was emotionally stuck and it was holding back her progress. I saw the problem, we had a gentle heart-to-heart, and she was finally able to move forward.
No robot could do that!
When you’re sitting in front of someone, you can see in their movements and subtle reactions what they’re telling you and, more important, what they’re not telling you. Their behaviors give you clues that no robot could pick up on — at least not yet.
Another thing a robot can’t do is tell you whether the precedent it finds is the best option for the client.
Sure, the person we’re representing might be technically right and almost guaranteed to win a case. But maybe the client doesn’t want to go through the motions of a time-consuming trial and is more than happy to settle out of court.
A robot has book smarts but not street smarts. As a human, I can understand where my clients are coming from and help them make the best decision for their needs.
Finding a Solution
In lieu of hiring a robot, I hired a new associate. He had only been practicing law for a few years; Carlos and I were hesitant to hire someone so new to the field because of all the reasons I listed earlier. But we decided to move forward because, to put it simply, we liked his attitude and energy.
Some newbie legal associates come in with a chip on their shoulder. They figure they already learned everything they need to know in law school and expect to start their career working on high-profile cases. But this associate was different. During the interview, he said he wanted to better understand the whys, whats and how-comes that go into the daily practice of law.
Plus, he had a degree in marketing and was a true extrovert. It was clear he wanted to connect with everyone — from our firm’s legal secretaries to opposing counsel — on a human level.
Try getting that from a robot!
Embracing Our Technological Future
As much as I love technology, I can also see the downside of relying on it too much. At my house, everyone has an iPhone — even my 8-year-old. There are times when I look around and see everyone’s heads buried in their screens. We’re all in the same room, but we’re worlds apart.
Technology will become more and more a part of our daily lives. I see this as a good thing: It will save us time, simplify our lives and help us save money in the process.
And my hope is that it will also make us more human.
By outsourcing the more mundane parts of our daily lives to technology, we give ourselves the freedom to be more creative, to use our analyzing skills and tap into our emotional intelligence. And with all the time we save, we have the opportunity to spend more time connecting with the people we love and care about.
Which is why, after finishing this post, I’m going to close my computer and spend the rest of the day with my family. I hope you do the same.