Becoming a techno-lawyer can you set you apart

Today, technological competency is an ideal addition to a lawyer’s skillset, says Daniel Lo

Becoming a techno-lawyer can you set you apart
Daniel Lo

The legal industry is a conservative and unchanging profession. After the financial crisis, the legal industry started to feel the need to transform as clients began demanding cost-effective solutions to their legal problems. Client frustrations around the high cost of legal services include the billable-hour model, charging out of trainee hours, the high cost of preparing simple agreements and regular box-checking exercises such as due diligence.

We have seen an acceleration in technology adoption in traditional areas of law such as legal research, e-discovery, document storage and automation, billing and accounting and case and practice management. Recently we are seeing the focus expand to areas such as tools or marketplaces that connect clients to freelance lawyers, tools that allow clients to complete legal matters and documents by themselves, use of legally binding digital signatures, data and contract analytics, law practice optimization and much more. With the advent of blockchain, smart contracts and artificial intelligence, this pace of technological adoption does not appear to be slowing down, with many eyeing the US$600 billion global legal market. Although most legal technology out there right now is nowhere near perfect and still requires human supervision, it is only a matter of time that it is sufficiently perfected and becomes commonplace.

Deloitte predicts that around 114,000 legal jobs are likely to be automated in the next 20 years. Most of them will be junior roles.

Automation of routine processes and specifically defined legal tasks have made for more efficient delivery of services. Automation has reduced the need for lower skilled roles such as legal secretaries (as we are seeing the prominence of virtual and AI-based assistants), while new high skilled technologists roles have risen to manage the implementation of new technologies. There is further scope for even highly skilled roles that involve repetitive processes to be automated by AI and self-learning algorithms. The further proliferation and acceptance of legal tech in the wider legal industry will mean that future skill requirements for lawyers will involve some form of data analysis and technological acumen. Law firms will likely scale back on hiring on the junior end, and instead will focus on lawyers that have a solid grasp of using legal tech tools and the ability to understand and adapt to new legal tech, enter the "techno-lawyer."

The impact that technology will continue to have on the legal industry is wide reaching. Law firms and in-house departments will see the growth of more non-lawyer roles and hybrid legal roles that involve the management and analysis of data. The number of traditional lawyers needed will decline, which creates an opportunity for those willing to learn and adapt to new technological requirements to progress faster than the traditional lawyer.

Career-path-wise, partners at a law firm can now choose to focus on an alternative path of managing teams that develop technology applications and initiatives in addition to choosing the typical streams of a technical ‘grinder’ or the ‘rain-maker’ business development path. This also opens doors for junior or mid-level lawyers that are looking for alternatives to legal practice but also want to keep one foot in to leverage their legal training.

Since legal tech is in such a nascent stage, how do you become a techno-lawyer?

1. Develop into a cross-functional lawyer

Being a lawyer just isn't enough, purely legal roles will begin to dwindle (at existing legal tech companies this has already happened). As a first step of expanding your value proposition as an adaptable lawyer, consider pursing skills and experience that you enjoy and legal-tech companies or tech-optimized law firms can leverage, such as event planning, marketing, data analysis or market research. Develop these skills alongside your legal know-how to show you adaptable and able to learn new non-law skills.

2. Stay up to date and engage

Trying to break into a new industry means there are few experts in the space, the knowledge base will continue to grow exponentially. Subscribe to industry experts and stay on top of the latest legal tech tools and developments. Share your knowledge and develop a familiarity with the subject by writing articles, blogs, producing vlogs and posting on social media. Attend legal tech and blockchain conferences and seminars where you can network with other legal tech enthusiasts. Get the dialogue going with those interested on how you can get involved and throw around ideas on how legal tech can improve your practice. Become a matter expert and start to develop a reputation as the go-to techno-lawyer.

3. Learn how to code

Learning code isn't for just computer science majors anymore, many post-secondary institution are making it mandatory for first year students to learn it (think Harvard University and their introduction to computer science class).

I believe that learning code should be mandatory for law student and lawyers to learn and should be part of any law school and articling curriculums. Learning the new literacy of code will give you a significant advantage when it comes to advising legal tech businesses or working within one. It also gives you the distinct edge of being able to translate between the two equally daunting languages of code and legalese. After delving a bit myself, to my surprise I even found similarities in the two languages (Assigning a variable in coding is basically setting up your defined terms in legal speak). The two main programming languages lawyers should consider learning are either Python or Javascript. However, I was advised that Python is the default language these days. There are many services out there that you can use to learn on your own for free or for a fee, such as through Udacity, Coursera and Codeacademy.

If you are willing to learn and embrace this new career path, you will be well prepared for the disruptions that lay ahead and will lead an exciting career as a techno-lawyer.

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