A True Story
The “great and all powerful Wizard” in the Wizard of Oz conditioned his minions to believe that he was “great” and “all powerful” through the use of devices which were misunderstood and in their awesome manifestations resulted in awe that was undeserved.
As a child, many times I was presented with circumstances which presented mysteries which I interpreted, in the mind of a child, as resolved in ways that defy adult reasoning. For instance, I was frequently sent to the local grocery store to get bread or milk with money to pay for those items. In my mind, the change that they gave me was how we continued to have money to pay for things. It didn’t occur to me that my parents worked
If you follow the pundants and plan for the future, the future is dim indeed and there is little hope now that artificial intelligence is ready to break into the realm of lawyering without lawyers. Much has been written about how technology has changed and will continue to change the legal profession. The pessimists see fewer lawyers being able to make ends meet with a surplus of legal talent which will increase pressure to reduce income for those who remain. In addition, they warn that we will continue to wage an ever expanding war against internet resources which are cheaper and far more efficient than those lawyers who continue to overcharge for the same services. And the impending doom is in the offing for those don’t keep pace and adopt the newest technology available. All the while, the country lawyer, much like the country doctor, is becoming an increasingly rare commodity in rural areas.
Now, I might be called a luddite if I fail to buy into that view of the evolution of the legal market. But from my perspective, the future is not so dim for those who choose to enter or continue in legal practice in spite of all the competition bombarding lawyers from all directions and many of the dire predictions.
The reason I have doubts that all of our legal services will eventually be found at vending machine type dispensaries is based upon my personal experience and the reports of others. The Attorney At Work blog recently published a review of a newly released book by Richard and Daniel Susskind, titled, “The Future of the Professions”. In reflecting on the content of that book, the author of that blog stated:
The Susskinds believe that lawyers, and others, have breached the grand bargain, in large by protecting their monopoly and providing services at a price point that is beyond the reach of the he average person. This leads to a charge of protectionism — which lawyers are familiar with. Speaking cynically, the public sees self-regulation as the fox guarding the henhouse in the profession of law. Or as the book’s authors more charmingly phrase it, “Are we asking the rabbit to guard the lettuce patch?”
Agreed, we cannot sit still and expect to compete and survive. Yet most of the fear mongering is overblown and misses the point when it comes to what it will take to succeed in the new and changing legal marketplace. One example of those changes is the ability of a lay person to draft their own Will through internet platforms with ease.
However, the efficiency and price point advantage that many of the “new guys on the block” offer their customers with computer generated documents can be quickly lost when it comes time to administer an estate controlled by a Will drafted by someone on line. The savings realized in drafting can be quickly dissipated when the family realizes that there is no property to distribute because the testator spent the last two years of his life in a nursing home and the implications of funding it were not considered in that estate plan. As it wasn’t a plan at all.
I am amused by offers from some of the on line platforms which offer customers the option of consulting with attorneys affiliated with that on line resource. The problem with that strategy is that so often, the customer doesn’t know what they don’t know. Computer generated documents are based upon “if” and “then”. You cannot plan what you don’t know about! In other words, you can’t know what you don’t know. The package is designed to trade inputs (intake form) for output (the Will).
Some of the questions can sort out legal issues which the producer of the program has anticipated. What it cannot do is envision all of the permutations possible and produce a document designed to foster better relationships among the family members. Does it ask about family dynamics? Can it? Indeed, can it open the door to allow the applicant to tell the computer program about the extent of experience that that person has had and how they want their wishes to be carried out in a very exacting fashion to avoid some of the problems that they associated with probate and the death of a loved one.
To be sure, as lawyers, we have the opportunity to use computer resources to our advantage to better organize ourselves and generate materials which are appropriate for our client’s needs. But never forget to take the time to listen to your clients to determine what their goals and concerns are and don’t forget the 25/75 rule – talk 25% of the time and listen 75% of the time. If you do, your clients are more likely to connect with you and you will uncover the real issues that brought them to your door in the first place. It is the personal touch that is critical these days to be able to compete against internet resources.