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Why Lawyers Are Slow To Adopt Legal Tech: Because It Often Sucks, and Isn’t Worth Risking Our Law Licenses.

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Over at Law Technology Today, Mary Juetten ponders why the legal profession is slow to adopt new technologies. Here’s the perspective of a practicing small firm lawyer who has been a relatively early tech adopter.   

  1. Legal Tech Has To Work for Lawyers to Use It

Legal technology isn’t a category unto itself. Instead, legal tech competes with technology generally – including technology tools designed for small business and entrepreneurs. I’ve used Freshbooks for online invoicing since 2005,  Box  as cloud-based storage and client portal since 2006 (as well as Basecamp from time to time) and Google Apps throughout. When law practice management tools came on the scene around 2008, they were decades behind the functionality that I’d become accustomed to: some lacked invoicing services, others didn’t have a robust portal feature.  Seven years later, cloud-based LPM platforms have come a long way – and while many  lawyers – particularly those new to solo practice – are embracing them, these systems didn’t come soon enough, or work well enough for many tech savvy lawyers.

  1. Tech Needs to Solve Real Problems

Lawyers will use technology that solves real problems. That’s the reason that cloud-based practice management platforms are gaining traction with solos and smalls. But do the newfangled crowdsourced legal research technologies really help most lawyers with research? Not so much.

  1. Infrastructure Constraints

Many courts still don’t support e-filing, and there are still clients who don’t use email.  And there are clients who can full well use email and the Internet, but actually prefer advice by phone or in person.  There just aren’t many efficiencies that tech can solve in this context. That’s not to say that there aren’t ways to use technology to improve efficiencies even in a hard-copy world – but there are fewer benefits and so less incentive to try.

  1. Regulatory Uncertainty

Ethics uncertainty is a reality for solo and small firm lawyers. Many refused to use the cloud until bar associations affirmatively granted permission. Likewise, many solo and small firm lawyers are reluctant to participate in newfangled limited-scope service arrangements or question-and-answer advisory services for fear of an ethics complaint.

It’s happened. But lawyers aren’t as much to blame for regulatory uncertainty as legal tech companies. After all, they’re the ones who profit most from change – so shouldn’t they be the ones to challenge the bar or advocate for safe harbors for innovation.

Legal tech wants to be like Uber – so why not act like it? Uber is renowned for taking on regulators– Uber does the dirty work, not its drivers. If Legal Tech wants more lawyers to engage, the companies ought to be on the forefront in changing the rules.

But – lawyers are an easy target. Much easier to criticize lawyers for not adopting new technology than figuring out how to develop tools that will really help us to better serve clients.

So let me turn the tables on legal tech companies. What technology should  we lawyers be adopting, and just how are we slow to adapt?

  • The title of this post made me laugh. The tech, as far as I’m aware, isn’t designed by people who actually use it. And the tech companies should be lobbying for better regulation. In Texas, our own Supreme Court has been promulgating DIY forms that the lower courts must accept and lawyers are understandably upset. There seems to be a false dichotomy among the profession that people either need to pay thousands of dollars for traditional legal counsel or do it entirely by themselves. I’m sure more can be done to bridge that gap.

  • Good points here Carolyn, but I would suggest that much of the legal tech that ‘sucks’ is still at the very early stages of product development. Uber sucked at the beginning too. The things that traditionally help technology suck less are: 1) early adopters using the product and providing feedback, and 2) VC investment to help move the technology forward faster. In the legal tech industry, these two things are still a challenge for entrepreneurs building legal tech products.

  • Nehal

    These factors are certainly slowing down the adoption of technology among legal professionals. The challenge in taking on regulators is that most legal tech companies don’t have the resources needed to drive real change because, as Jules mentioned, investors have not focused on legal tech as much as other areas.

  • eDepoze

    Great article, Carolyn! We agree with you. Most legal tech startups are made by technology people. It’s not often a new platform is made by a lawyer. I for one saw the lack of it, and decided to act on it myself with eDepoze. Great argument to the pundits out there.

  • CMI

    We don’t use it because it is different than what we are used to. I still get letters from 90 YO lawyers typed on an Underwood with a black ink ribbon.

  • This is excellent. Nice especially Carloyn seeing you make these points.

  • E-filing is the greatest thing since sliced bread once you’re familiar with the system. Here in Central Texas, part of the problem is at the county level. District Court Clerks and County Court Clerks can have drastically different e-filing requirements. Some of the requirements are more like booby traps. They’re hard to discover unless you call ahead to the clerks or you know they’re there. I would absolutely love to see more online attorney portals used by the counties. This would make record searches so much easier.

  • Technology could make life/ communication easier and law more accessible, so it can be all about what lawyer can do for people, it is not about us/lawyer –, it is all about our customer.

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