In this article, we explore the automation landscape, barriers and benefits of an automation specialist lawyer and the future landscape for legal resourcing and specialised roles.
In Lander & Rogers' Technology and Digital practice, we advise clients across all sectors on their digital transformation projects, contractual arrangements and regulatory obligations. We advise on the rapid adoption of cloud services and emerging technologies, from AI and facial recognition through to crypto assets and NFTs.
Because of the nature of our practice, we see first-hand the transformative impact of technology across all sectors. The legal services sector is no different. While the legal profession may be one of the oldest professions in the world, it must be a frontier profession to support the current global sociotechnological paradigm shift. With the rise of virtual reality, augmented reality, economy-wide gamification and the metaverse, a new breed of lawyer and technology-based 'law as a service', is needed. Accordingly, we are very focussed on building future-fit lawyers.
What is an automation specialist lawyer?
An automation specialist lawyer has two defining characteristics:
- they are a senior specialised lawyer with deep industry knowledge;
- they have the capability to translate this expertise to automate documents, streamline processes and develop workflows using automation software.
The skill set of an automation specialist lawyer includes considering the context and logic of variables in legal documents, legal requirements and legal processes. There is some obvious crossover with developing a library of precedents: both involve thinking about variables and applying logic or rules when those variables are triggered. The difference is that an automation specialist lawyer also has coding expertise, which brings more scope for automation and sophisticated logic than traditional word processing software has permitted.
What is the automation landscape in which automation specialist lawyers operate?
Automation technology is shifting and becoming more user friendly as no-code and low-code automation platforms mature and expand into the legal market. This is not to say the technology is limited or overly simplified - there remains much to master in order to carry out sophisticated automation work. That is why aptitude and interest is so important in the automation space. The barrier to entry has been lowered but there continues to be a vast scope of things to learn to be really good at it.
The automation space appeals to lawyers because we see ourselves first and foremost as problem-solvers, and using technology in new ways provides us with a complex challenge to solve and simplify.
What are the barriers to becoming an automation specialist lawyer?
If there is a need for future-fit lawyers, what is stopping them? Many law firms are locked into time-based billing - and as cash-flow businesses, it is their licence to operate. This makes it difficult to focus on "non-client" (i.e. non-billable) work.
It is also rare for lawyers to have the time to learn the required skills while also being recognised and rewarded for becoming an expert. To become an expert in this space takes time and experience. This presents a chicken and egg scenario: you won't be given the specialised work until you are good enough to do it, and you can't become specialised without the experience. New revenue models that allow for this investment of time and skills in new areas in the form of 'law as a service' is fundamental to the pathway needed to develop automation specialist lawyers.
Persuading your business to invest in automation platforms, and developing an understanding of what each of those platforms can do, is a tech procurement exercise requiring due diligence. Further, having a deep understanding of your clients and their businesses will help you to be more effective. Efficiency can be gained by identifying and solving problems common to multiple clients (i.e. to know where value can be shared), thus maximising your return from bespoke technology-based solutions.
How are the barriers overcome?
Lander & Rogers is overcoming the barriers in collaboration with legal education advocates and institutions. This approach is born from the recognition that both developing expertise in automation can, and should, happen early, and that experience comes later. Our three-way collaboration with student-led organisation Botl and individual law schools -reconciles the two.
The program allows law students at Monash University or University of Technology Sydney to complete a law-tech subject as part of their legal education. In this program, students learn how to use legal tech by applying it to a real-world problem that our experienced lawyers or clients' in-house counsel have identified. This experience is helping to build lawyers of the future.
What are the benefits of automation specialist lawyers?
At its core, developing automation specialist lawyers is about better serving our clients, in partnership with them. Developing a deeper understanding of a client's requirements and the way their business operates allows automation lawyers to use this knowledge to develop more sophisticated platforms for and with the client. As a result, the legal service provider becomes more valuable to the client and a stronger relationship emerges.
As we continue to advance automation solutions, it also becomes easier to 'spin-off' different versions, while also reducing development overheads - often templates or blueprints can result and be re-purposed. While there are higher costs upfront for both learning and development, this tails off as expertise is consolidated. And, whereas an initial build can take nine months of development, subsequent related projects can take just weeks.
The future of automation specialist lawyers
An automation specialist lawyer brings together the unique combination of legal and automation expertise. Not only can automation specialist lawyers immediately understand a client's legal challenges, but they can then apply this deep legal expertise to streamline and improve their businesses processes. This is the key difference between an automation specialist lawyer and a non-lawyer automation specialist.
Working with a non-lawyer automation specialist can result in considerable time spent working through issues with the client and in gaining the understanding required to build the solution. Not only will it take longer, it also leaves greater room for error.
If you have someone with that expertise already, you can shortcut the process. It is powerful in terms of reducing the build time and building trust, and in strengthening the relationship with the client.
The future of legal resourcing
The legal technologist is a relatively new career path for recent law graduates or tech-savvy lawyers looking for something different. It may appeal to those with creative and/or people-facing skills and a strong technology background. In some ways, the role is similar to a business analyst in that they bridge the gaps between technology and the business - in this case, law firms or legal tech providers. Although a new role, there are options to expand within and beyond the legal technologist role with links into other positions such as product manager, customer success manager etc.
The future will not be one where lawyers are redundant. It will be one where digital lawyers who speak, write and code will be indispensable to their clients doing good business and competing in the global digital economy.
This article is a summary of Lander & Rogers Corporate Partner Lisa Fitzgerald's address at the 2022 Law Tech Summit in Sydney.