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Five Stages Lawyers Need To Embrace In a World of Robots
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The Kübler-Ross model describes the five emotional stages experienced when faced with impending death or death of someone. The five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Similarly, change is an irreversible and unapologetic event. Here are 5 alternate stages for legal professionals to help navigate change in the legal market.

1. Acceptance
In Suriname, a mourning process is accelerated by having a party during and after the burial. It is believed that one should celebrate death. This is taken literally as coffin bearers joyfully dance with the deceased until they reach the final resting place.

Legal professionals aren’t shy about adopting new technology. Just look at smartphone and tablet adoption rates among lawyers in the past 4 years. I believe the pager, cell phone, and blackberry enjoyed similar successes.

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5-3However, adoption is not the acceptance of a new reality. The technology examples above just empowered existing workflows; it did not fundamentally change the dynamics of the marketplace. Technology like smartphones, just enabled lawyers to communicate more efficiently not necessarily differently.

We are now in the midst of a revolution whereby the core value of a legal professional(providing legal counsel) is shifting towards platforms, algorithms and data (Robolaw).

It’s not a faster way of drafting an agreement, it’s accepting the fact that you do not ever need to draft one.

Acceptance of the new reality should be a feast: a celebration of the fact that thetedious & repetitive have died and made way for the joy in legal work.

2. Trust
My faith in technology is derived from a belief that it has saved my life. Yet faith alone may not suffice in winning the hearts and minds of legal professionals. We’ll need evidence that robots can do a better job before we trust them.

Proof is mounting that platforms (crowdsourcing) and algorithms outperform humans in predicting legal outcomes. However it’s not like IBM’s Watson has already passed the multistate bar exam and is now a licensed attorney.

Legal work isn’t a chess match or an equation, but a complex nuanced construct of emotions in text. And herein lies the problem: the sheer amount of ambiguous texts.

 

5-4Due to data overload, it has become humanly impossible to find justice without the assistance of algorithms.

With Predictive Coding we have effectively conceded that the days of manually reading through stacks of documents have come to pass.

Trust in technology can be derived from either faith or evidence. However, in trusting legal technology, we may have already passed the luxury stage and ventured into necessity. Ultimately, we may not have a choice but to trust robots.

3. Mobility
I read this inspiring story: ‘Barefoot’ Lawyers Teach Ugandans Their Rights.’ It seems 97% of lawyers serve a population of 2 million people within the capital. The remaining 3% are left to serve a population of around 36 million in the rest of Uganda. In order to alleviate the travel burden covering an area of 241,038 square km, Ugandan lawyer, Gerald Abila, uses volunteers and a range of technologies like social media to educate and provide legal advice.

I’ll compliment Gerald on embracing technology to bridge the gap and his story highlights a fundamental principle about legal work: it is most effective if served in person. Mobility is the cornerstone of the legal profession. It is one of the main drivers of technology adoption among legal professionals.

If only the mobile tools were as good on the road as they are at home. I have dedicated most my writing in the last 4 years on this subject. I even went as far as to declare the death of legal research on desktop. I believe the cause of this imbalance has many factors. A root cause may also lie in the very nature of legal professionals (see stage 5).

4. Simplicity
#Robolaw: A World Without Law elaborates on the necessity of simplicity. Driven by the rise of digital currencies, the world is moving towards a frictionless reality – one where simplicity is handsomely rewarded and complexity is not welcome.

Yet, any legal framework is built upon barriers. The law revolves around setting rules and exceptions. Its goal is to avert risk and minimize misunderstandings. It is there to protect us from ourselves.

Nevertheless, legal products, and services need to become as clear and simple as a hand Shake. Actually, it may become invisible, even in the event of disputes. This future is more likely to happen if we let robots do the negotiations and dispute resolutions- just like we will trust them to drive our cars. We may only need a notification or a glance.

5. Adventurous
In the search for simplicity, one characteristic will truly serve us: experimentation. There are penalties for failure in every profession; in some the consequences are far more severe than others. However, I believe this new era is giving us a license to try new stuff. This era of relentless change has set us free from a stigma of dumb and has opened a world of daring.

One time a customer, a jetsetting lawyer, had an extreme request. He wanted me to create a product only he would use, custom made and tailored to his needs. I told him I could not because I couldn’t justify the costs versus return. I stated that if we had more customers like him I may be able to justify it. He said, “No, I hope there aren’t any. I want to be unique and my calling card is using these special tools.”

By now, you may have guessed what he asked for. He was clearly a risk taker and dared to be different.

My best friend and godfather to my youngest is a physician. He’s my reminder: I am allowed to dare & fail. Some really do not have that luxury.

I’m Bondrew and I Build Robots for Law
1024 577 Raymond Blijd
 It was a hot and humid Saturday and I really did not want to spend my time in a dark damp dungeon in the middle of Amsterdam’s Redlight District. But I had to. We, a small community of charity lawyers-in-training, were granted access to only a single computer which resided on the University of Amsterdam campus. I decided, no more…I’ll build a robot.

My First Lesson Building a Legal Product

Back in the late nineties, I was a 3rd-year law student and I volunteered to work for a student-led NonProfit Legal foundation. We focused on providing free legal counsel to low-income groups. In the evenings I’d travel to an infamous neighborhood in Amsterdam called ‘Bijlmer’ with pencil and paper to do interviews and intakes on client issues. In hindsight, I realized these cases weren’t earth shattering, complex nor unique. Yet there were to me.

Now after every intake a lot of drama and stress set in. Why? In order to do research and draft letters for our clients we each needed to schedule time back at the campus. The reason: we only had one computer awarded to our foundation to service all clients. You can imagine scheduling was a nightmare, especially taking into account legal deadlines and in some cases people’s livelihoods.

Because years of knowledge from my peers and predecessors resided on this single PC I got this idea. I would gather all the documents on that computer, categorize them by topic e.g. labor, tax etc, rip some library CDs and online reference materials from our university library. Then I converted and saved everything to a single floppy drive as an HTML website and walla! I had built my first mobile legal knowledge portal. This amazing feat took me a couple of weeks but now I could stick this floppy in any PC and start working. No internet needed. Just look up similar cases, amend and you were good to go.

I made copies for all my colleagues and prepare a Steve Jobs-style presentation for our annual foundation gathering. So I presented this marvel to my peers and then…blank stares and silence…I could sense this wasn’t going well.

Yet, at that very moment, I discovered my purpose and I’ve been waiting for cheers of delight ever since .

Takeaway: It doesn’t take money to build something, it takes ingenuity and passion.


My First Lesson Selling a Legal Product

Moral of the story: instead of devising a clever scheme to outsmart my fellow frustrated ‘friends’, I would rather solve the problem with tech to benefit us all. It was crude by all means but at least it was something portable.

So I waited for a response…any response…and there wasn’t any except the ever so lethal: “Ooh, looks nice”.

Years later I think I’ve figured out what went wrong. First, I did not involve my peers enough in the idea behind the portal. I think they were startled by my effort and couldn’t figure out a proper response.

Second, my pain wasn’t shared by the rest so the value of this product got lost on them. I did use the floppy for a while but I still needed to go update my ‘portal’ at the dungeon with the latest drafts from my colleagues. However, while getting a PC was already a struggle for most, you also needed a printer. I had both at my dorm but most didn’t. Worse, they did not feel the need to buy a PC, books were more important. I figured they would just as well use a PC at a local internet cafe but it seems the students liked the dungeon.

Finally, I did not put any effort in marketing this product. I just assumed I would build and they will come. I did not factor in the story of why it’s useful because it was obvious to me.

I needed to explain it a bit more rather than just show what it does and how it works. In hindsight, I believe it was obvious to most but the why baffled everyone.

Takeaway:Spend more time on the ‘why’ than the ‘what’ or the ‘how’ of a legal product. Understand the pain and amplify it emphatically.

My First Lesson Building a Legal Business

Fast forward 14 years of experience in building digital legal products and I realized something else. Something that dawn on me recently while preparing another “Steve” style presentation about future trends in legal services.

I can preach but do I practice? do not have such a marvelous history to back it up. So if I want my message to come across I’ll need to do more than just preach it.

I’ll need to live it. I’ll need to build more robots. And I need to love doing it.

Everything is easy if you love what you do, even the hard stuff. And believe me, there is a lot of tough, dreary tasks that need to be done. But if you really love everything or at least think is fun, you’ll succeed. Currently, I’m growing my heart immensely.

Takeaway: You need heart, a big heart to love even the dirty side of succeeding.

I would like to take you all on this journey towards achieving my goal. I’ll chronicle it carefully. I’ll record all big (mis)steps and share them with you here. So please to meet you…I’m Bondrew and I build robots for law…

Originally posted on Medium

Legal Research On Your Television Screen
1024 586 Raymond Blijd
A quiet Sunday morning, I’m channel surfing on my big screen when I come across an enticing teaser on the Wolters Kluwer Channel. I carrousel through the Health and Tax panels and select Legal. I start reading the news articles and a particular phrase intrigues me. I spread my arms to zoom in and make a left to right swiping gesture in the air to select it…

Dominator

Now this is not the opening to my upcoming Sci-Fi drama but rather an imminent reality. At the end of 2011, there were 82 million connected TVs in homes worldwide according to research group Informa. By 2016 it forecasts that number will have ballooned to 892 million. I also predict Smart TV’s will be into corporate offices quicker than you can spell: iPad. At Wolters Kluwer’s HQ in Alphen a/d Rijn, Netherlands, you are greeted by the latest news displayed on a large screen in the lobby. These are scattered around the building and in board rooms. The fact is, the TV screen still dominates and it will continue to do so by convergence with the web.

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Domesticated

Actually, my first web-like experience coming to Europe was ‘surfing’ TeleText pages on my TV. I still use it occasionally for looking up flight status from my comfortable couch at home. And it’s not just flight status lookups but also legal research that is being domesticated. While doing year stats analysis on research portals, I discovered that engagement peaks during weekends with hours instead of minutes spent on the site. Imagine you could utilize the biggest screen (TV) in your home for research. It’s the same argument why you would use your smallest screen (Smartphone) for quick lookups.

Dipping toes

Natural interfaces such as the touch on Apple’s mobile devices or motion on Microsoft Kinect are slowly replacing mouse and keyboard. I wouldn’t go as far as using my eyes to control the screen but I think it isn’t farfetched that a minority report style of an interface will enter our television sets. And some in legal technology have already been wondering when it will appear for legal research. Traditional print publishers are already dipping their toes on Apple TV, Google TV or Roku.

In the end, the trick is not looking objectively at what’s happening now but intuitively at what will happen. More after the break…