AI is not taking our jobs nor will commoditisation ruin the legal profession
The world moves fast and the legal profession slow – at least that is the assumed state of play. When the billable hour is how you make bank, isn’t software that can speed up workflow just cutting your revenue?
So here are 3 simple ideas to keep you at the forefront of the modern legal game.
The idea of outcome-based billing, fixed fees, or subscription services may be alarming to some in the profession, but new players, in NewLaw as it’s commonly referred, are increasingly making use of these differentiators to distinguish themselves in a tight market.
Legal advice – in the strictest sense the creative or commercial thinking part of advice – is more valuable than the ability to repeatedly draft merely procedural documents such as NDAs. This work is unlikely to be, or perhaps cannot be, digitised. AI such as OpenAI might be able to generate a coherent book summary, but are unlikely to be able to generate creative legal logic any time soon.
For that rote work, why wouldn’t you bill by fixed fee? If most of the work is copying and applying existing precedent, it’s quite easy to replicate work across matters with little time in between – saving time for big thinking.
Which turns us to the next question: and if you can cut out procedural work through software, freeing up time for more valuable thinking work, why wouldn’t you use some of that time for planning?
While the exact path of a matter might not be known, accurate cost estimates can be made if you plan it out in steps – for example, through a Gantt chart. In a project-managed model, projects – matters – are usually overseen by someone like a project manager or legal operations professional (who may or may not be legally qualified themselves) in concert with specialist lawyers.
These are team members whose role is to accurately plan legal milestones and to delegate tasks, but may not be able to necessarily achieve those goals to the same level to the same level that a specialist advisor might – and their presence (or knowledge of their skillset) is one key to an outcome-based billing model.
For an intro to just one kind of project management system let’s look at the buzzword management style-of-the-moment, Agile – remembering Agile focuses on team interaction.
For the meeting-addicted; a scrum happens at least once a day. A “Scrum Master” will figure out all the work that needs done, organise it, then set goals and have the team achieve them in sprints – with debriefings at the end. A KanBan board is a methodology where each team member can see all the work they need to do on a board. This stops things from getting overwhelming as the idea is to put a cap on how much work a team can be doing at any one time.
If you’d like a little more structure than all that, Microsoft’s creatively named Microsoft Solutions Framework (V3 Overview download) describes itself as agile, but isn’t necessarily capital A Agile. It is still iterative and adaptable to changing requirements, but it maintains the use of milestones and defined phases.
Obviously this kind of structural change cannot happen overnight. Yet the flip side may provide something that will pay off in spades – more streamlined processes and a lower cost of service and happier staff and clients.
Hearsay: The Legal Podcast is a CPD provider for Australian lawyers. Lawyers can get all 10 of their mandatory CPD points through Hearsay – and why not check out the inspiration for this article? Have a listen to Episode 65: The future of the profession: building law firms for the 21st century with Demetrio Zema, Founder of Law Squared.
By: Hearsay: The Legal Podcast with research by Elise Murray.