The American Bar Association’s Report on the Future of Legal Services in the United States caught my attention last week. It’s interesting to us here at Autto for a couple of reasons. First, because a lot of interest in our legal workflow software is coming from North America and second because – fact – what happens there is coming here next.
The report makes a number of recommendations about how legal services are delivered and accessed. It highlights the bizarre combination of significant unmet demand for legal services coinciding with significant numbers of un and under employed lawyers. The role that legal automation software can play in improving access to justice is the subject of my next blog.
For now, I’m focussing on what the report tells us about the uptake of legal automation software, and innovation generally.
Depressing, but familiar, is the headline that the business model of law firms constrains innovation. This is because the billable hour model bakes in a disincentive to do things more efficiently. All the more so where that model involves leverage by individual partners supervising more junior lawyers.
In the same vein the report tells us the profession’s resistance to change hinders innovation. It’s harder to understand why this – separate from the business model – might be the case and in fact the report doesn’t speculate. Pushed, I would say that the artisanal mindset – as my co-founder Ian Gosling calls it – remains deeply entrenched among lawyers, having taken root at law school.
Nevertheless, and much more positively the report indicates pockets of innovation across courts, bar associations, law schools and among lawyers themselves. So far as technology is concerned, the focus is on document assembly and AI, and delivery through mobile devices. We see to the colossal increase in the number of legal startups from 15 in 2009 to 400 in 2016.
The big question, of course is whether we have reached a tipping point. Has the progressive force of innovation overcome the reactionary pressure of the billable hour? The report is strangely silent on this. My guess is not yet, or not quite. But when it happens over there it will be coming here next.
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Max Cole is a former solicitor at leading city law firms and a practising barrister.
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