Affinity Consulting Blog

When I feel like procrastinating from my appellate practice (reading transcripts, researching, writing, etc.), I walk my dog and listen to technology and other podcasts on my phone via a Bluetooth headset. One of the podcasts I regularly listen to paraphrased former Labor Secretary Robert Reich in saying that anyone whose job can be reduced to a simple script with a yes or no answer has just written their own pink slip. How is that relevant to the modern practice of law?

Clearly, no legal job is simply processing input and generating a yes or no answer. But there are some legal fields where much of the work can be automated or handled with one or more fill in the blank or check the box forms. Consumer bankruptcy and workers compensation come to mind. I've a tiny bit of both during my 35 year career, but not enough to be completely certain I am right about the automation potential of each.

To the extent that legal work can be automated (and if it can, you can bet LegalZoom will do it), consumers will find it cheaper and more convenient to bypass lawyers (at least those in traditional practices) for those services. Lawyers who practice in those fields are likely doomed.

To make law great again, lawyers need to focus on those areas that cannot be easily automated or reduced to a set of forms. Clients will hire and pay us to do work that no one else can provide competently. It is the kind of work that requires the application of judgment and experience not easily (at least not yet) replicated by the growing artificial intelligence field. To the extent we must continue to provide easily automated services as a complement to our creative services, we need to make delivery of those services as efficient and cost-effective as possible. That means document automation and management systems continue to be critical for lawyers.

In order to survive, every lawyer has to think about what portion of his/her law practice requires the most thought and creativity, and then focus on marketing that area to the relevant client market. Give up on those things that can be automated or done via standardized forms from LegalZoom and other quasi-legal providers. It is a war you cannot win. There are no more milkmen or elevator operators. Soon there will be no more lawyers in certain areas such as consumer bankruptcy, simple estate planning, small business incorporation, etc.

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