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The Bar Bulletin
Jax Daily Record Monday, Feb. 5, 201809:13 AM EST

Tech can save time, but robot lawyers can’t do everything

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Speaker says cybersecurity also requires a human touch.

By Tad Delegal

The Jacksonville Bar Association had a fascinating January luncheon with a presentation by IT expert Mark Lanterman about how criminals are hacking into data systems and selling all kinds of illegal stuff on the dark web.

Lanterman, chief technology officer at Computer Forensic Services LLC, discussed cybersecurity and how easily we can be hacked and tracked in the digital age. The presentation was pretty scary, and made me wonder about the wisdom of serving food while discussing such matters.

It also made me think about the recent history of technology in our profession.

When I started practicing, we were just beginning to use word processing. Wite-out was ubiquitous, and no lawyer I knew regularly used a computer (except when permitted to occasionally get clearance to use Westlaw or Lexis for a high-priced case). Today, the courts will not let us practice without computers.

I try to keep up with reports about the future of the legal profession. For the last decade, we have been hearing about how social media and LegalZoom are taking over our profession. I’m sure that technology will continue to change the practice of law, and that some practices will change dramatically, but I also believe that most of the basics will continue to apply.

I’ve always been amazed at the willingness of lawyers to adopt technology. In a profession in which billing is done by the hour, efficiency can actually harm the bottom line rather than help it, but attorneys have steadily implemented improvements that help lower the costs for our clients.

Technology does have its downsides. As we become more efficient, we take less time to think about our actions and we risk working faster but dumber. Using templates and forms and e-filing makes it easier and quicker to file a motion, but it may cause us to spend less time thinking about whether it should be filed. 

I think we also need to be choosy about the technologies we select to use. While some of them appear to save time and permit us to better serve clients, we have to think through whether they truly help the representation process.

At some times, it may be unavoidable to engage in text conversations with clients, but just how serious can a discussion be via text messaging? If we want our clients to treat our advice seriously, should we use a communications system that invites the use of “LOL” and “OMG,” and is primarily used for trading joking comments with friends?

I think serious matters should be discussed in a serious format, and client meetings and letters (even if they are sent as email attachments) are most effective at conveying the gravity of legal advice. 

As to the coming of the robots, we are going to continue having more of our tasks performed electronically, but there are some things that a computer or robot simply can’t do. I don’t see a robot replacing Howard Coker before a jury, and I don’t see how a computer program can replicate the experienced advice that Susan Erdelyi gives her clients.

While online document creation systems can handle boilerplate matters, somebody like Ray Driver is much better able to craft contracts that protect clients from serious liability.

Lawyering requires too many human traits to be completely taken over by machines, but we can use the machines to help us provide better products and services. 

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