The looming prospect of automation of some of the mundane tasks which have traditionally formed the backbone of an associate-level lawyer’s apprenticeship is a thorny matter.
‘It’s great,’ shout some; ‘it could be a disaster’ fear others. The prevailing legal tech hegemony is that technology won’t take jobs away from associate-level lawyers, it will merely relieve them of some of the grunt work, freeing them up to be a lawyer, in practice as well as in name.
Whilst the old school may worry about a fundamental learning stage being dispensed with, the new school (presuming they definitely aren’t replaced by software) can hope to get their social life back.
This line of thinking is well trotted out, but will it prove correct?
Only time will tell of course so in the meantime it is important that other alternative outcomes are considered. And that’s exactly what Legal Geek got when sitting down for a chat with Ralf-Michael Schmidt, founder of Berlin-based online legal document service Smartlaw, who sees a more nuanced future for lawyers and legal tech.
“Like most industries, the legal field is undergoing a sea change in the age of automation: sooner or later, standard cases will be handled with specialised software, while legal expertise will be most important for more complex cases,” Schmidt tells us.
“However, I would argue that the future is not about an either / or scenario, but instead about merging the on- and offline sides of the business. In real terms, this means customers using online services to complete many and varied legal requirements, yet still seeking legal advice straight from a lawyer whenever and wherever required.”
To Legal Geek this seems a departure from the idea that consumers will engage technology-only services to resolve low-level matters, and only call on the humans for heavyweight affairs. Instead it foresees a scenario where lawyers are the smiling, human face of legal tech, ready to respond to questions from customers, and trouble shoot any problems immediately.
“That’s really our goal,” agrees Schmidt. “This isn’t about automation killing jobs, but about using tech – as well as the real ‘smiling’ lawyers you mention – to increase access to legal services for even more customers.”
Ralf-Michael Schmidt is one of the founders of Smartlaw, which is based in Berlin. The site offers customised legal documents and a full range of additional services to manage and update clients’ documents. Founded in 2012, Smartlaw was acquired by the global information services company Wolters Kluwer in 2014.
This article is a guest post by Smartlaw. There was no fee charged for posting this post on Legal Geek.