April 2017

Why Most People Who Need Legal Services Can’t Get Them

I have told a story through the years that I heard in the early days of “Legaltech” that underscored how we, as lawyers, are slow adopters of technology. The story goes that it took lawyers more than 15 years to adopt new technology that had already been widely used by the rest of commercial and professional fields. That technology - the telephone! At a time of general acceptance of the telephone as the new way to speed communication, lawyers claimed that it would never work in the legal field - that clients would never talk about their sensitive matters on a phone. Of course, we know the irony here is that prior to digital communication, most of a lawyer’s time, had been spent on the telephone.

Additionally, consider our adoption of the utilization of paralegals. It wasn’t considered acceptable to bring on non-lawyer team members to help with overwhelming workloads until decades after its introduction. In 1968, the American Bar Association formed a committee to explore methods of training non-lawyers or “legal assistants” as coined three years later in 1971. If we look at the responsibilities of a legal assistant, there is much overlap with those of legal secretary during and before that time. So, the paralegal, or at least that type of support, was actually present for decades but couldn’t be recognized through billing until the late sixties. And even then, the use paralegal was not widely accepted until the late eighties, nearly two decades after it was introduced!

Another example includes the lagging use of email by lawyers in fear that confidentiality could not be guaranteed, which again left lawyers as the last ones to the party. What is the reason behind the slow adoption rate among lawyers generally? Is this because we are generally risk averse? After all isn’t that why most of us choose law as a profession?

When it comes to technology, attorneys still seem to hold an explorative “wait and see” mindset. Arguably, we have struggled with tech adoption as a whole, but now since our vendor market is fragmented with so many options, we also have to consider which technology to adopt thereby making the choice to “jump” even more difficult.

We can and should reconsider the speed of our adoption cycle for a few reasons:

  1. The use of technology will create efficiencies in our own practices;
  2. Our clients increasing demand for efficient delivery of legal services; and
  3. Because the legal industry is no longer an “attorney only” arena, we need to compete with cutting edge delivery models that focus on speed, user-friendliness, cost and quality.

Until now, we haven’t had to keep up with technology and client-facing skills because there were no competitors other than lawyers. This is no longer our reality. Technology has greatly impacted our traditional model and how the market views its value. So we need to start asking how do we stay competitive? It’s tough to know which steps to take in a quickly-evolving industry. A less disruptive way to acclimate under this changing atmosphere is by establishing small actionable steps to achieve a new objective. Whether it be taking a few minutes a day over the course of a few days to read about different project management systems or making a recurring event in your calendar to Google a YouTube video to further hone your Microsoft Word or social media capabilities, small steps, like in anything else, will eventually get you there.

Overall, we need to transition from our slow adoptive ways and transition our focus to understanding today’s technology, where technology lies in the future, and its interplay with our professional responsibilities.


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