The practice of law still needs a human face

The legal profession, like most others is increasingly drawn to the time and cost-saving efficiencies of digital technology. But in the rush to automate, streamline and optimise their businesses, lawyers mustn’t lose sight of more traditional values.

Practice of law needs a human facePractice of law needs a human face

These days emails, invoices, even social media commentary can be pre-loaded and timed to arrive on thousands of devices simultaneously; AI can assemble evidence for client cases and bots can handle customer service enquiries. So, who needs all that messy human interaction stuff?

We do, according to Stephan Stern the writer and visiting professor at Cass Business School, “Computers are becoming cleverer, more powerful and quicker and they can replace some of the mundane tasks that human beings do. But I think we still want humans to be in charge, not algorithms or robots.”

Perhaps it’s not hard to see why customers would feel that way, but what about the lawyers themselves? As clinical psychologist and behavioural neurogeneticist, Dr Bob Murray explained in a recent, thought provoking article, “We are relationship-dependent and relationship-seeking creatures [yet] lawyers and law firms are being dragged into being less human and more automated.”*

Yet the law is still a very human profession

The client wants to meet an expert who can solve his problem; the lawyer gets to discuss issues that can broaden her experience. In cost terms, face-to-face meetings may be the least efficient form of contact there is – yet they could also be the most valuable.

Murray believes that eliminating human interaction could expose lawyers to as many risks as their clients.

Keep technology in its place

Winston Churchill once said that scientists should be ‘on tap, not on top’. He could just as easily have been talking about technology, as the following story by Legal commentator Joshua Rozenberg illustrates quite well.

“I used to send my lawyer an email on a Sunday afternoon. I wasn’t expecting an answer until the next day but he was so pressurised by the fact that I was writing by email that he felt he needed to reply straight away. What I actually wanted him to do was think about it overnight and prepare proper, sensible advice.”

So, in this case, instead of supporting the lawyer, the technology pressurised him and potentially reduced the quality of his advice. Rozenberg’s message is clear: “We mustn’t be carried away by technology. Just because you can do something using IT, it doesn’t mean you should.”

In the end, clients call on lawyers for a different kind of intelligence: the kind that comes from expertise and experience. Unfortunately, it cannot be automated and must be kept in good order to work properly. And. As far as we know, it’s not covered by any IT maintenance contract.

How lawyers can ‘embrace their human side’

Try to understand what your client really wants

Not just the point of law, but the real human need.

Don’t be too transactional – recognise situations where a phone call or face-to-face meeting might be appropriate or even necessary.

Enjoy interacting

You are a trusted adviser who sees some of the real drama of human life. It’s a responsibility, but also a privilege.

Get involved in your community

If your work tends towards the virtual, take your expertise out into the real world.