Posted by: johnocunningham | October 19, 2011

Technology Developers Competing With Lawyers

In March of this year, I raised the question on this blog as to whether IBM’s Watson could some day replace lawyers. After all, Watson has proved that it can analyze questions, sort through mounds of data (such as cases, statutes and regulations) and can provide instant answers.

I reasoned that if lawyers are viewed by clients as nothing more than legal experts who can answer questions, then our profession is in jeopardy of being replaced by machines.

Now, an Altman Weil survey of leading lawyers around the country has focused on the same question: Will computers ever replace lawyers?

Only 46 percent of respondents said that “computers will never replace lawyers” while 35 percent said that a computer could replace paralegals within 10 years, and nearly 25 percent said that a computer could replace first year associates within that time.

Given that technology has consistently moved faster than we expected, what should lawyers and law firms be doing to adapt?

A recent post by Jordan Furlong at Law21 suggests that lawyers should get busy figuring out just what they have to sell to clients (beyond answers to legal questions) and how they will go about doing it.

Furlong, whose post was inspired by the recent annual meeting of the International Legal Technology Association, argues that technology producers have already cut into the legal turf more than most lawyers understand.

Noting that clients are already pushing or even demanding their lawyers to adopt automated systems for e-discovery,  document assembly, knowledge management and other tasks, Furlong says that lawyers have already fallen behind the demands of their market.

“Firms are buying these products and services, not selling them… [or] inventing them,” the writer observes.

For those rare law firms that can anticipate market demand and develop their own innovative products and services ahead of the competition, the future looks very promising. For those who can’t, it looks pretty dicey.

Stay tuned to this blog for more to come about recent studies on revolutionary products that come from innovation and teamwork.

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