Monday at the 2018 ILTA Conference.
The focus of the day is on innovation, but one thing that kept coming back to me, over and over, were the risks to the typical law firm, and their litigation support functionality, from all sides.
Risk number 1 – AI
Frankly, we could break this up into two subtopics. The first would be the obvious risk, AI is going to cost some people their jobs. Jay Leib of NexLP made that clear when he talked about the AI models that would be used to make future legal decisions, as did Andrew Sieja of Relativity when he talked about the technology just getting better and better, and things that used to take 10 hours, now take minutes. So there’s the clear downside to that innovation, if your job involves just moving the wheel of eDiscovery, processing and loading data, running productions, just doing privilege review, etc. You’re at risk of being replaced by better technology.
Secondly, though, the other risk is that AI is going to bring is going to be what Jay talked about specifically, the AI models that will be based on what has come before. The models that will tell us whether a matter is worth taking on, or if a clients gets involved in a legal dispute outside the norm of our representation, what to do about that and how to decide how to move forward. Personally, I can’t help but wonder if that level of tech will wipe out one of the benefits of being with a large firm, the wide-ranging experience. Think of it this way. You may typically have legal representation to help you with succession planning, or maybe some real estate purchases, etc. for your business. Suddenly you find yourself in an employment dispute with a former employee. Now you need a labor attorney. When you’re with a larger firm, your “normal” attorney, may be able to simply call in one of her partners, and take on the matter for you. When you’re represented by a smaller firm, or a solo, they may have to refer that work out somewhere else.
But imagine if an AI model could tell that attorney that based on previous learning, and previous cases, the best option would be to offer a settlement, around “X” amount. Suddenly, those small and solo lawyers can take care of some of these “extra” cases and mitigate the advantage that a larger firm would have, and isn’t it just nicer to deal with the small-firm lawyer down the street than one in the huge building in another city? That’s a risk of lost business in some cases. Not all, for sure, but some.
Risk number 2 – Non-law firm innovation
Here we are talking also about two things, but they are really one. We’re talking about legal service providers, and also about things we’ve already discussed with the Big Four firms. Simply put, the innovative tools and people they employ, can run circles around a typical law firm. They have the ability to be nimble, responsive, and yet build out big tools that can handle anything clients throw at them. Law firms, typically, don’t have that. I suspect we’ll see more partnerships in this area, as we’ve seen with EY and Riverview, where an organization that doesn’t typically represent clients, starts to add that to what they already do in terms of technology. Even if they don’t directly impact many law firms, though I think it’s clear the Big Four are aiming for exactly that, these outside innovators will impact how much Litigation Support gets done at the firm, versus with an outside entity in direct partnership with the client.
Risk number 3- Plain old burnout.
In the small firm session Dana Sarti made a sort of small statement, but one that stuck out to me because, one I’m a huge advocate for mental health, and this is absolutely an issue, but also because it runs counter that what we typically hear at events like this. She talked about planning for the times when you just simply aren’t available. Because, “you’re human, you get to take breaks”. It was almost jarring to hear because it runs counter to everything we typically boast about in our industry. Now, obviously, I have written before about how horrible that attitude is, but it was good to hear someone else say it. It was also telling that Doug Austin’s response to that was that, as a vendor, they aren’t allowed to be human. That’s much more the norm in our industry, and I’ve overheard more than one person talking about how many hours they put it, and I’ve only been here 24 hours as I type this. It’s a weird badge of honor that we were in the eDiscovery industry, and it makes me nervous about how much law firms and providers are putting their people at risk. High turnover is a painful thing to have to deal with, but I feel like it’s something we have, and continue to have, because we simply don’t give people a break.
What is the risk to your firm if your one or two Litigation Support department ups and leaves? Will you still be able to continue with your projects if there’s no immediate replacement? That’s not a fun place to be, but I also wouldn’t blame anyone who decided enough was enough.
If your Litigation Support person is more important to the continuing operation of your firm’s cases than some of your attorneys, you have a problem. You need to either pay them accordingly, or rearrange the workload so that they can have a life. Preferably a little of both.
It’s an interesting time to be in a law firm, and I don’t mean that in a good way necessarily. Firms are going to have to become innovative to stave off some of these risks, and Lit Support pros are as well. We’re going to need to see more firms partnering with technology companies to provide best in class technology, and legal representation, to clients. That’s going to involve some disruption, quite a lot of it in fact. Firms have not always been so good with that.
More as we continue through the week, and if you’re here in National Harbor, find me and say hello!
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