Turn and face the strange

  • September 26, 2018
  • Kim Covert

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Lawyers, they say, are averse to change.

OK, so that’s old news. Some of us adapt better to a shifting environment than others, and the lawyer, by personality and by training, is generally slower to embrace change.

But is this rule hard and fast, or are there ways to adapt oneself to the need to adapt?

Wendy Law, Deputy Solicitor for the City of Mississauga, thinks so, suggesting that you adapt to change the same way you get to Carnegie Hall – practice, practice, practice!

 “If the user doesn’t adapt to change, then the change fails,” she said during a session titled “Rise of the Artisan: Critical thinking in a world of machines” at the 2018 CCCA conference in Toronto. “How do you develop a feeling for change? Have a lot of changes. People get used to the fact that it’s not going to be the same anyway, so let’s not resist.”

Law avoids falling into certain ruts by setting aside a morning every once in a while to play – she cleans old apps off her phone, downloads new ones and forces herself to learn how to work with them.

But she also says that if you want your workplace to be more accepting of change, you need to hire for that characteristic as well.

“When we hire for in-house counsel, we don’t necessarily just hire for legal skills. You’re looking for more than the ability to practise law, you’re looking for the ability to deal with technology, the ability to embody and accept change,” says Law.

“I want to find lawyers who can actually be agents of moving forward with change. I don’t want a lawyer who’s going to be skeptical about change.”

That said, despite fearmongering from some corners about AI encroaching on the legal profession’s bread and butter, Law says that the pace of change at this point isn’t something that we really need to worry about. And even if it does speed up, she and her fellow panellists say machines will have to do more than pass the average Turing test to oust lawyers from their jobs.

Carla Swansburg, Director of Practice Innovation, Pricing and Knowledge at Blakes, points out that for one thing, not everybody – and not every area of law – has the money to buy the technology needed to automate processes.

“One of the tensions is ‘who pays for what?’,” said Swansburg. “There’s a lot of opportunity but these things are expensive to implement and design and who’s going to pay for that?”

Some markets are a little bit ahead, and some are better-resourced, she noted. While document automation is one area where there’s a lot of growth, some areas which could really benefit from it – family law, for example – don’t have it because it’s the big departments, big companies, that can afford it.

If you’re going to start bringing machine-assisted processes into the workplace, a good place to start, she adds, is doing the stuff that you don’t want to do that you have to do on a regular basis.

Khalid Al-Kofahi, Vice-President, Research and Development at Thomson Reuters, says there’s definitely work that is better suited to automation, and that which is more appropriately left to the human touch.

“Your job is not to find, your job is to analyze,” he told the lawyers in the audience. “You should not be spending half your time finding content.”

Not everything can be reduced to data sets, Law added.

“The most valuable asset of a senior lawyer is their legal intuition,” she says. AI is great for doing research, but the experienced lawyer’s intuition, and ability to analyze based on that intuition, is something that can’t be programmed. “AI will take on some aspects, but lawyers will still be required to be strategic.”

Kim Covert is the editor of PracticeLink.