August 16, 2021
There’s plenty of speculation and discussion surrounding the growing influence of technology on the future lawyer role. The growing sophistication of various platforms, AI and other applications is adding kudos to digital transformation in the legal space. On the one hand, this is accelerating adoption of automation and other tech-powered processes. But on the flipside, we’ve all also heard claims that digital transformation poses a threat to newcomers to the profession. Is it depriving new lawyers of vital learning experience? Is technology going to replace the role of junior lawyers?
However, most of what you’ve probably seen written on this topic is from the perspective of senior people in the industry and scare-mongering legal commentators. All are somewhat detached from the day-to-day experience of a junior or mid-level lawyer.
Gareth is over six years qualified. This means he’s experienced first-hand how the growing use of technology in recent years has transformed the day-to-day tasks and expectations of lawyers.
“There’s a perception that lawyers are the last to embrace change, so it's nice that we seem to have caught up and are moving forward in terms of innovation,” he says. “A few years ago, there simply weren’t the tools to click a few buttons and have a draft document generated for you.”
But now the LegalTech market is flourishing and new, digitally-enhanced processes, such as Clarilis, are becoming a mainstream part of the daily life of a lawyer. Gareth suggests this is changing the expectations of newcomers to the world of law.
“If I was coming into the profession now, I’d be questioning the need to spend hours making manual changes to a document when there is clearly a more efficient process,” Gareth adds. “These tools are really intuitive to junior lawyers – it comes naturally to them. And because they’re only used to doing it in this new way, asking them to follow an old-fashioned process doesn't work.”
Although digital lawyering is the natural expectation of Millennial and Generation Zedders rising through the ranks, it seems there are still some mindset barriers lingering in the more traditional corners of the industry.
“At some more old-school firms, there’s a perception that you need to do the hard yards in the office, almost as a rite of passage, but that's definitely not the culture at Burges Salmon,” says Gareth. “There's a recognition that, particularly in transactional areas, there will be natural peaks and troughs, so you need to enjoy the downtime when it comes. There's definitely no sense that you need to be spending hours and hours every day poring over documents just to cut your teeth, so tools that improve efficiency are embraced.”
In practice areas such as banking and finance lengthy documents abound, so even making basic structural changes can have hundreds of consequential impacts. Processing these amendments could involve a junior lawyer spending a long evening sifting through the document, but at firms like Burges Salmon, there’s a recognition that the drudgery of this more administrative side of drafting is now an avoidable part of a lawyer’s learning journey.
“I definitely don’t see that you miss out on much of the learning experience by using a tool like Clarilis,” Gareth adds reflecting on the learning curve of a lawyer. “It is easy to still look back and see how the answers you input into the questionnaire affect the shape of the document. You don’t lose out by not learning how to change a hundred references from ‘lender’ to ‘lenders’.”
Given the impact of technology on the work life and career path of lawyers, it’s no surprise that a firm’s attitude to technology is a key area of scrutiny when lawyers are considering new roles. This gives firms with a genuine commitment to innovation a competitive edge when attracting talent.
But innovation is more than the nicely worded blurb that you post on your website. New lawyers today want to feel empowered to have a voice and an influence on how technology could be used to enhance their working life.
“Burges Salmon has made innovation one of its top priorities – the Innovation team regularly comes to our team briefings to talk about the projects they're working on and how we can assist,” Gareth explains. “However, Clarilis was driven specifically for our team. Because our particular area [banking and finance] is so document heavy, automation has a massively positive impact for us. Sometimes firms will just implement broad brush solutions that can be rolled out easily, so having a tool that's been specifically tailored for our team is particularly progressive.”
It’s clear that junior lawyers can see how technology is enhancing the role of the lawyer. The question is, is your firm ready to re-engineer how it works to satisfy the expectations of incoming tech-savvy legal talent?