• Wenee Yap

Clients Don’t Respect Tradition: Introducing AI to Senior Lawyers


source // McCarthyFinch

Wenee Yap from McCarthyFinch (and founder of SurviveLaw) interviews CEO of McCarthyFinch, Nick Whitehouse, and McCarthyFinch Legal Tech counsel, Jean Yang, on the future for junior lawyers if senior lawyers do not embrace artificial intelligence.

Progress and tradition. Many believe the two concepts sit at opposite ends of the spectrum. The stereotype of the tech-savvy youth versus the change-averse mature worker almost feels as old as the concept of progress itself. However, the numbers tell a different tale.

The cliché: junior lawyers are whizz kids, senior lawyers are dinosaurs

For their part, Millennials don’t always adhere to preconceptions in regards to tech use. A report released by not-for-profit Change the Equation suggests that 58% of Millennials fail to learn tech skills required to boost workplace efficiency.

Within the legal profession, the Millennial unease towards AI may be deepened by more legal-centric concerns.

“It is understandable for junior lawyers to be insecure about the value they offer if technology is doing their job for them,” said McCarthyFinch’s Legal Tech Counsel and Legal Services Manager Jean Yang.

“What they should be doing is seriously considering what their clients most value and adapting their skill set accordingly. There is also concern that AI will deprive new lawyers of the training that earlier generations of lawyers received from doing the more menial work.

“In truth, AI can provide new and deeper learning opportunities for junior lawyers.”

Older workers also defy expectations. A survey commissioned last year by Dropbox suggests that workers of the 35 – 54 year-old demographic adopt workplace technology at the same rate as their 18 – 34 year-old peers. Moreover, workers over the age of 55 reported lower levels of tech-induced stress than the younger generations.

While the legal profession boasts many such examples, there still exists an antipathy towards AI among the elder ranks.

Senior lawyers can do it, so why don't they always want to?

McCarthyFinch CEO Nick Whitehouse says as technology changes the workplace, there will be a cultural shift away from juniors grinding at low level tasks to earn their stripes. Instead, these juniors will have augmented roles and more freedom than ever before. Such shifts, however, are not always met warmly by senior lawyers.

“Senior lawyers may feel they’ve already struggled up the mountain and, thanks to the introduction of AI and other tech, the people below them now don’t need to,” Nick said.

“There’s this sentiment that the juniors now have it easier, and when coupled with a Partner-centric fear that technology could erode the profitability of a Partnership, it causes some resistance among senior lawyers.”

Indeed, the perceived impact of technology on partnership opportunities is a major issue within the senior ranks.

“The legal career is a long-term game: as a senior closing in on Partnership, they don’t want to disrupt the very model from which they hoped to reap the benefits,” Nick said.

“However, the reality remains that firms have already experienced a decade-long decline in demand, with the the real growth in the legal industry having gone to legaltech and outsourcing, or stayed in-house. In the face of enormous and accelerating change and disruption amongst their clients, the traditional firm model needs to be rethought and reinvigorated to stay relevant.

“Who is better placed to do this, and reap the rewards, than a senior lawyer who has a view of both the old and the new, an appreciation for traditional approaches as well as a good grasp on how to apply technology? The question really is: are these traditions too baked in?”

The case for bridging the gap

Far from posing a threat to their future prospects, AI can assist in paving a road to partnership.

“The senior lawyers in fact have a lot to gain from adopting technology,” said Jean.

“They’re in a position of influence at a point when law firms have an opportunity to innovate their business models for greater profitability. You have more work done faster and cheaper, boosting margins in a way that hasn’t been possible without technology.”

McCarthyFinch CEO Nick Whitehouse says the key to meeting this goal is to fully integrate AI across a firm - a process called ‘Lawyer in the Loop’.

“The key is to identify tasks within the firm that blend tech with lawyers, not replace them,” he said.

“This approach sees low-level tasks being predominantly actioned by the AI. Sometimes AI will do the whole task, with a responsible lawyer retaining oversight, and sometimes the AI will simply prepare work for the lawyer to do, thereby improving efficiency.”

When applied successfully, this approach can allow the tech and the lawyers to learn from each other.

“The value of a Lawyer in the Loop implementation is that it’s not a point solution, and can draw upon a greater number of variable interactions to learn from and become productive within a firm,” Nick said.

“It also provides an opportunity for lawyers to learn and gain insights they otherwise would have missed. For example, we recently trained an issue tagger which then started suggesting issues that the solicitors hadn’t considered. It took our learning and improved on it - which then prompted the lawyers to consider the AI’s findings and delve further.”

As gatekeepers to change, senior lawyers can ensure their firms exceed the needs of their clients by blending tech and human resources.

“Clients don’t leave a lawyer’s office thinking ‘Next time I want a computer to conduct my legal work’,” Jean said.

“However, tech has become a firm’s biggest opportunity to improve their clients’ overall experience, as well as attract and retain the best lawyers. And so, if ignored, it also becomes their biggest weakness.

“For senior lawyers thinking about the future of law, it pays to remember that clients don’t respect tradition. They buy outcomes, so how can you best deliver them?”

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