This family lawyer (with an IT degree majoring in big data) says no.
We can hardly make it through a month without the media publishing another article about “disruption” to the legal industry, and this month was no different. The Courier Mail article titled “Online lawyers and digital disruption is shaking up the legal profession” went so far as to say that “technology will make some solicitors obsolete” and that “solicitors in this (new) model are a terminal game.”
Headlines such as these aren’t uncommon in the media of late, and I wish there were less doomsday predictions about the role of technology in the law. Instead of talk of making solicitors obsolete, we should be excited about the technological advances that will enable us to deliver better, more cost-effective services and outcomes for our clients.
Right now, the technology exists (and is currently being used) to develop an engine that could analyse all existing property settlement cases and learn how to predict the outcome of future ones. Such an engine will have an infallible memory and would be an incredible tool for family lawyers when providing advice to clients about their range of entitlements. We’re also seeing an explosion of online resources for self-represented litigants. The Courier Mail article suggests there are also companies working on tools for the production of documents, such as briefs, currently.
While some lawyers predict that this will be the end of the role of family lawyers, I disagree. The important thing to remember is that these are, as described above, “tools.” They will help lawyers, they will help clients, but headlines predicting the end of the role of family lawyers ignore the other skill sets of a family lawyer which go above and beyond those that can be replicated by a computer.
There’s a reason why many people are unable to resolve their property disputes between themselves even having the benefit of advice about their entitlements. Family lawyers are, amongst many other things, negotiators, fact finders, strategists and experts when it comes to navigating the family courts. A computer cannot replace these human functions of a family lawyer.
There are plenty of other sides to family law that do not lend themselves to computation – parenting matters being the best example.
Technological developments aren’t a threat to our industry; they’re simply expanding our tool belt as family lawyers. I expect that the only lawyers who will be left behind are those who cannot adapt to and adopt new technology as our clients come to expect greater cost and time efficiencies from us.