For those of you who use Twitter there are a number of interesting resources that offer glimpses into the future of law and technology. See, for example, the question posed to Richard Susskind, author of The End of Lawyers? (Take note of the question mark in the title. It suggests the reason the book is so valuable and interesting.) You might want to bookmark Susskind’s website.
The question posed below – how long before online legal self-service is the norm? – reminds me of LegalZoom, which I think of as the world’s largest vending machine. What is the difference between online legal self-service and consulting a lawyer on the other? The answer should be obvious but is it and even if it is obvious now will it be years from now? Is it possible to automate the giving of legal advice? Even if it is not, to what extent will (has) technology made it possible for the client’s use of technology to change the nature and the amount of work that a lawyer does in providing legal services? What will the effect on the cost of legal services be if, to an increasing extent, lawyers spend less time producing documents. Based on my experience the most valuable parts of lawyering are a lawyer and client talking and listening, preferably face to face, especially when the client is not a regular consumer of legal services and is dealing with a problem or subject in which the client is not well versed.
Sophisticated clients who do for a living something that regularly involves the need for legal representation are in a slightly different category but still one of a lawyer’s principal responsibilities is to correctly diagnose the problem and come up with an effective, efficient care plan in partnership with the client. It’s risky, if sometimes temporarily lucrative, for lawyers to follow their clients’ marching orders, just as it would be risky and quite likely malpractice or criminal for a doctor to simply give a patient what the patient demands.
What has any of this to do with online legal self-service? Leaving aside for the moment the possibility of an automated legal services system based on reliable artificial intelligence, which might well provide better “service” than would lawyers who practice without regard to any standards, online legal self service conjures up the image of Florida’s pill mills where “patients” walk into a pill dispensary, “consult with a doctor” and walk out with pain meds. In both cases there is no professional accountability. The client or patient gets what she wants. It’s all so convenient. The lure of convenience and low cost will be hard to resist. I think one of the challenges facing the profession is to find ways to use technology to lower the cost and increase the efficiency of providing legal services while increasing the quality of legal advice and preserving professional accountability. It is easy for many potential clients to see and to anticipate the (quite possibly illusory) benefits of convenience and lower cost. It is not as easy to see and appreciate the value of consulting a lawyer at a somewhat higher cost in time and money. Perhaps the legal profession is going to have to explain and to market the value of legal advice, and to distinguish itself from the online services promising convenient, inexpensive “legal solutions.” But, of course, the legal profession is not an entity. It has no budget. And, of course, lawyers are notoriously independent minded and find it difficult to contribute time and money to benefit the profession as a whole. Challenging times are here.