The practice of law is changing. Technology and data analytics are penetrating one of the last remaining professions that had, until recently, escaped the disruption that these new ways of doing business and practising law bring. Soon, the unfettered discretion of the general counsel to operate his or her legal department will come to an end. It is the responsibility and obligation of all in-house and private practice counsel to make sure they ride this wave, as otherwise there is a very good chance it will drown them.
Those who see the change coming and are able to take advantage of and master it, and the tools it brings, will be able to avoid the pitfalls of this change and will stay clear of trouble. As noted in the Law Society of Upper Canada's Rules of Professional Conduct, section 3.1-1, a "competent lawyer means a lawyer who has and applies relevant knowledge, skills and attributes in a manner appropriate to each matter undertaken on behalf of a client including . . . (k) otherwise adapting to changing professional requirements, standards, techniques, and practices.”
The attendees at the recent Emerging Legal Technology Forum in Toronto, presented by Thomson Reuters (publisher of Canadian Lawyer) and MaRS LegalX, heard this loud and clear from the speakers. Lawyers will no longer be looked at as experts with specific knowledge in the practice of the law but rather as professionals who can marry their knowledge of the law and data analytics to provide their clients with the best possible services and value. As noted by Daniel Katz in his address to the audience, “You can’t say how great your services are with no real measure of what you’ve actually accomplished.” Similarly, Toby Urwin of Premonition Analytics added that lawyers have traditionally performed their work in a closed and sheltered way, where the system encourages inefficiency, but every “great change will come from [data] transparency.” It is this transparency — the ability to take data, analyze it and then use the analysis to make predictions about the likelihood of success, to demonstrate and measure where value was added and to make changes to the process to minimize risk — that will be at the core of a competent lawyer.
I also had the pleasure of hearing entrepreneur Annette Verschuren speak about her successful career at Home Depot and her recent book Bet on Me: Leading and Succeeding in Business and in Life in October at the ZSA Quorum Club this month. Verschuren gave the audience of general counsel and senior legal practitioners the following pieces of valuable advice for providing services and practising law:
• Take risks, think beyond your current job, be gutsy and see how far this can take you
• Always look for alternative ways of doing things and seek out opportunities to do more and do it better
• Don’t just do a job, create it
• Work together with others to solve problems, do not expect others to solve the problems for you and do not ride solo. Be part of the solution
• You must always be more innovative in how you do things, how you run your business, your country, etc.
• Taking risks pays off!
Data analytics and technology will expose the inefficiencies in our processes and our legal profession, but it will also create opportunities for differentiation and for providing measurable value to clients. The successful lawyer of tomorrow will be the one who is comfortable with using data to perform her services better and to seek out opportunities. Legaltech is no longer a “nice to have” or a gimmick, it is increasingly a tool that MUST be utilized by all lawyers in order to remain a “competent” lawyer.
To all of those junior lawyers who have come to me with questions as to what role they can play within the profession and how they can get their foot in the door, I would point you to the sage advice of Verschuren and encourage you to attend events such as the Emerging Legal Technology Forum and become involved with groups such as MaRS LegalX. We don’t have a crystal ball to see what the future holds, but adopting and using data analytics in our practice is no longer a consideration for the future; rather, it is a critical need in order to succeed today!