Lawyers: Mind the innovation gap

July 23, 2018

Technology and lawyers may not seem like the most natural combination. Technology is rapidly evolving and driving innovation, but lawyers are often cautious when it comes to experimenting with new technology. There is no lack of innovative technology in the legal sector, but there aren’t many law firms that are ready to embrace new solutions. While firms are striving to reduce costs by using technology to achieve improved budget forecasting and efficient legal project management, new technologies are often perceived as prone to error or not secure.

But what else is the cause of the innovation gap in the legal sector?

The history of lawyers and technology

Let’s go back in time to examine the history of technology adoption. The 1960s saw the introduction of networked computers and fax machines, as well as the beginning of the internet with ARPANET. In the 1970s, Wang Laboratories introduced a microcomputer that included word processing, which proved to be crucial for law firms.

In the 1980s, lawyers were still drafting contracts on typewriters. Bits and bytes were making their way into the world but were considered an uncertainty by the legal sector because ink on paper is fairly permanent, while everything is editable on computers. At the time, only a few lawyers realized the social impact of information technology in the years to come.

About a decade later, lawyers started to use computers for their office work, and typewriters could no longer be found in any firm. A new phenomenon appeared: the World Wide Web. This created the opportunity to leverage an almost infinite amount of legal information. Then came the 90s, when Mosaic and the first Blackberry pager helped legal professionals achieve more.

In the current millennium, innovations rapidly follow each other. The first virtual law offices are opened, and cloud-based software is introduced to the legal community.

Lawyers and technology now

In the past, lawyers were reluctant to adopt new technologies because they wanted to reduce risk. Many were waiting to see how new technologies would develop before deciding to implement them. Compared with the 90s, today’s innovations are following each other at a pace that is hard to follow and can make some people more wary of their impact.

In 2017, funding in legal technology reached an all-time high of $304 million. That means that promising startups with great ideas for the legal industry have more firepower to make the best products for legal professionals.

More recently, AI came into the picture, leading many to wonder: What will trigger adoption of applications powered by AI?

ROSS Intelligence and other AI-powered products are making strides in changing the legal industry, but only a small percentage of law firms currently leverage AI technology. Perhaps the bigger firms will lead the way, as they have larger budgets to invest in solid AI applications. But lean law firms are also interested in automating chunks of their business in order to compete with bigger firms. Whoever becomes the leader for AI in the legal profession, there are still many unanswered questions.

With increasing demands from clients for better and transparent service delivery, legal professionals should welcome technology to aid in process improvement. Systems for practice management and analytics are evolving into invaluable assets that assist and automate a great deal of legal work. But tech companies haven’t found it easy to convince law firms to embrace technology.

Why are lawyers skeptical of technology?

Perhaps the personality of lawyers is one of the causes behind the innovation gap. Dr. Larry Richard, a leading expert on the psychology of lawyer behavior, has been gathering personality data on thousands of lawyers and has advised dozens of Am Law 200 law firms on leadership, talent management and other issues. Lawyers are cautious by nature and trained to seek out facts and look for the negative in every situation in order to reduce risk. Although this seems like a negative trait, it makes sense when you think about a lawyer’s responsibility to protect their client. Dr. Richard describes two major reasons for lawyers’ skepticism:

  • The personality trait of skepticism provides an advantage to lawyers, and people with high levels of skepticism are more likely to be attracted to the law in the first place.
  • Skepticism increases over time because lawyers work in a skeptical environment.

If this mindset of “critical thinking” is being applied to the many new legal tech solutions that pop up, it is understandable that some lawyers are reluctant to change.

There are many factors in play that have affected the adoption of new technologies in the legal sector. While it might be in a lawyer’s nature to minimize risk and imagine the worst-case scenario, the firms that change their perspective and welcome new technologies with open arms will win in the long run. Law firms that manage to close the innovation gap will be the ones that gain an edge over the competition. Eventually, this will be an eye-opener for other firms that opted for the “better safe than sorry” motto. Small changes in mindset is all that it takes.


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