Our most important tool

If you speak with any legal tech entrepreneur long enough, talk often shifts from cool new technologies to human behaviour.

This month's cover story is all about legal tech. This is an exciting area for investors, and technological innovations such as the cloud, application programming interfaces and artificial intelligence are driving fundamental changes to how lawyers work. The number of products out there can sometimes seem overwhelming, and our story aims to help lawyers make sense of what is driving the changes in how they do work. The tools are often highly complex, but there are broad trends one can identify to make sense of them.

Addison Cameron-Huff, a lawyer and computer programmer who follows legal tech closely, told our writer that one of the biggest things driving change at law firms is not new tools but clients demanding more transparency in how law firms are run. Cameron-Huff says many clients dislike what he calls law firms’ operational “black boxes.”

If you speak with any legal tech entrepreneur long enough, talk often shifts from cool new technologies to human behaviour. While automation can have a dramatic effect on the speed and accuracy of lawyers’ output, the rate of adoption is often very slow. Lawyers will also use new tools sporadically, whereas uniformity is necessary for the benefits to be really felt.

And to really understand the operational “black box,” one must also understand the most important tool that is inside, i.e., the human mind. Lawyers, like all humans relying on their minds, often behave unpredictably. But like all machines, this can often be fixed once you have a better understanding of how the tool works. Once we look inside that black box, we will get a better sense of what went awry.

This is why our profile of Justice Michele Hollins is so enlightening. Hollins, who has spoken candidly for many years about her struggles with depression, was recently appointed to the bench. Rather than clam up, as many lawyers tend to when they become judges, she continues to speak about what went wrong in her mind and how she fixed it. She no longer suffers from depression, but she is full of helpful advice about how to avoid what she went through. Her bravery is commendable, and no doubt her words will help the many other lawyers and judges who suffer silently due to a perception that they will be stigmatized for opening their own mind’s black box for all to see.

And as Paul Paton argues in our Back Page column, many religious lawyers also feel silenced by stigma, due to a misconception that a lawyer’s personal religious beliefs can be easily disconnected from their professional performance. Religious beliefs, like mental health, are part of the hard wiring in the human brain.

Our minds, like the other technologies we use, can be complex and confusing. But like all tools we use as lawyers, we need to understand them if we are to use them properly. Keeping the mind’s complexities in a black box, hidden away from clients and peers, is not a good place to start. We need to open it up and look inside.

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