As internet legal service providers continue to eat away work from trained legal professionals, many have sounded warning cries on an impending “death of the traditional legal profession.” While the erosion of market share is real, the doomsday alarms are exaggerated.
The fact is that the legal profession is experiencing massive change—not death throes. New technologies that enabled internet legal service providers to carve a niche for themselves also offer trained legal professionals tools with which they can strengthen their value proposition. This is especially true for advanced technology like blockchain and AI.
As in any time of change, though, care is needed to ensure that technologies develop in a controlled, rather than chaotic, manner. Only by proactively working to shape the future legal profession can those who practice it most fully benefit from the direction it takes.
Facing the crossroads
Many tech solutions are emerging to enhance the value propositions of law firms. Blockchain offers the ability to provide secure communication of sensitive information, self-executing smart contracts that offer clients streamlined work processes, and much more. AI enables lawyers to eliminate many mundane research and document drafting tasks, enabling them to devote more time to matters that require their expertise.
Yet, these solutions are emerging in multiple “flavors.” Various tech companies bring unique versions into the marketplace. Although these versions strive to be agnostic of the technology platforms that different law firms and their clients use, there is no guarantee they will work together seamlessly.
However, one of the chief benefits of blockchain is its promised ability to provide a secure platform where persons authorized to access a sensitive document can access it no matter where they are or what kind of platform they use to secure their internal networks.
Clear and easy communication is thus paramount to blockchain’s promise. The more different protocols emerge on competing platforms, the more blockchain’s promise of universal access is compromised.
Technological solutions that can help legal professionals fulfill their responsibility to protect clients’ confidentiality and rights are proliferating. Even in a fragmented marketplace, these technologies can help legal professionals assure their clients of the superior value professionals provide for them.
For these technologies to fulfill their promise, though, it is essential that technologists and legal professionals work together to establish standards and regulations that ensure the legal technology sector does not devolve into dueling platforms that hinder interoperability between law firms or their clients, siloing information in incompatible platforms.
Warnings of the demise of the legal profession are overstated. Although numbers trend downward for those who previously engaged in the kind of tedious “grunt work” that new technologies can do more efficiently, the legal profession will emerge stronger than ever as professionals increasingly adopt and enhance the use cases for those technologies.
Clients will continue to need the guaranteed functionality of work products that only trained lawyers can offer. Emerging technologies can only enhance – not replace – the legal professionals’ skills in this regard.
Adopting these technologies is a given for the future of law. To get the greatest benefit out of this adoption, however, many parties must come together to develop standards that provide for the interoperability of these platforms, helping to facilitate a thriving future for the legal industry and those served by its acumen.