Ethics Matters

Mark Dubois: Technology and the Irreversible Trend

, The Connecticut Law Tribune

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Dubois-Mark
Attorney Mark Dubois

Here's more from my recent infection with the tech bug at the ReInvent Law symposium in New York. As a guy who has practiced our craft for 36 years and is about to become president of the state's biggest bar association, I am keenly interested in where the delivery of legal services is going. As a former (and still part-time) legal educator, I am wondering what should be taught to "Next Gen" lawyers who are going to try to make a career in this wildly changed and fluid marketplace.

And as a senior lawyer who keeps trying to retire, I am fascinated by how interesting it might be to develop a new service delivery model and reinvent (again) my career.

It is no secret that the legal profession mirrors our increasingly stratified society. In lawyer discipline circles, we often joke that there is one rule book for the big firms and one for everyone else. That fact simply recognizes that how law is practiced on what Connecticut Chief Disciplinary Counsel Pat King calls "the shiny side of town" is quite different from the solo and small-firm environment.

It was fascinating to be introduced both to those who consume billions of dollars of legal services and the lawyers who run the firms earning them. Most large corporations have now begun to bring legal work in-house, and are treating it as they would any other business unit. Thus, corporate counsel now employ the same tools to manage their legal needs as their business counterparts do to manage their manufacturing, sales and distribution efforts. Innovation, project management, work flow process analysis, innovative supply pricing strategies, performance metrics, flexible sourcing, just-in-time purchasing, data management and other tools are readily adapted to the provision of legal services. Six Sigma meets the Inns of Court.

Firms that can deliver high-quality work on time and under budget survive. Those who hew to the traditional fee model, billing for time inefficiently spent (think first-year lawyers) are quickly replaced. When you think of it in these terms, the only thing that amazes me about the fact that many large clients now refuse to pay for the work of new lawyers is why it took so long for them to realize that they were subsidizing the failure of our present educational model.

At the other end of the spectrum are the thousands of unemployed law grads seeking entry to the legal services industry. Many have embraced technology to create new models where they can deliver small bits of unbundled service to the growing "do-it-yourself" group of consumers who cannot or will not hire lawyers to handle their legal problems.

Folks are now creating programs and apps that allow consumers to draft contracts, wills, pleadings and other legal documents that are as good as any lawyer could create. There are programs that interview clients in their own language, and then create the appropriate documents in English. This technology is being rapidly embraced by a legal services community that has realized its dwindling funding dollars might be much better spent on machine-based intake and triage and providing "just good enough" DIY documents and forms than by hiring lawyers on the traditional "full client service" model. It understands that it is better to provide a little to everyone than a lot to a few.

Some legal educators are beginning to smell the coffee and direct their pedagogy toward training their graduates to hit the ground running in this new environment. Some schools have found this easier than others. A faculty that moves in and out of practice can better teach students what the market wants of them than one that focuses on scholarship and theory. While there will always be a market for appellate justices and philosopher kings, there are few institutions that will survive on a business model that trains only them.

Dan Quayle one famously said: "I believe that we are on an irreversible trend toward more freedom and democracy—but that could change." Somehow, I don't think the trend toward new legal service models fueled by technology will change.•

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