I used to have a partner who was fond of saying a lawyer spends half their life worrying about having too much to do. And the other half worrying about not having enough.
If true, then most lawyers are in the first half right now: more and more demand for legal work and fewer and fewer people around to help get it done. (For a good summary of the situation and the links some firms will go to to retain lawyers to do the work, see this excellent article by Lizzie McLellan.)
One possible result of this mismatch is a technology revolution among lawyers. It’s no secret that for years, lawyers have largely resisted technology. Particularly technology that would reduce the time spent on billable matters. Less time spent on billable matters, less revenue.
But there is one thing lawyers fear more than reduced billable hours. Not being able to get their work done
But there is one thing lawyers fear more than reduced billable hours. Not being able to get their work done. The fear of not being able to meet client or court imposed deadlines. And when they can’t throw more bodies at a project to get it done, they will look to other solutions. And right now, that’s often technology.
We saw lawyers shift how they got work done as e-discovery exploded a few years ago. At first, lawyers tried to review the mountains of e-discovery spawned material by bringing in associates and paralegals to pour over the material the old fashioned (and billable) way. It often didn’t matter that the associate or paralegal didn’t know much about the case. The material had to be reviewed, and the only way to do that in time, it was thought, was to throw bodies and billable hours at the problem.
But as the mountains of material got bigger and harder to scale, lawyers began to recognize that the only way to meet deadlines was to turn to outside entities. Entitles with more e-discovery expertise to do the review. And more recently, these ediscovery entities have the technology to cut the review time.
In the beginning, who would have thought lawyers would so quickly give up their e-discovery billables. It wasn’t necessarily an interest to be more efficient that did it though. It was blind panic that the review could not get done in time without resort to other means that happened to be more efficient and cheaper for the client.
Work is piling up, and we can’t find anyone to do it
Lawyers may be in much the same situation today, more generally. Talk to any managing or supervising lawyer, and you will hear the same thing. Work is piling up, and we can’t find anyone to do it. So just like with e-discovery, lawyers may be forced— or relieved— depending on their desperation level to embrace new tools. Tools such as those offered by technology, outsourcing, ASLPs, and anything else that can reduce the time needed to get legal work done.
Combined with the fact that lawyers are starting to see how technology can help them be more productive and save time (as this week’s MyCase Survey confirmed, see my post of Wednesday), we may be on the cusp of the most significant tech change in legal yet.