Automation: Does it Have a Place in the Legal Services Industry?
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Automation: Does it Have a Place in the Legal Services Industry?

Automation: Does it Have a Place in the Legal Services Industry?

Law firms are not generally regarded as being on the cutting-edge of technology.  However, a number of firms have taken steps to change this perception by utilizing automation.  In order to stay competitive with other law firms and sites like LegalZoom, firms are increasingly turning to various forms of automation to streamline their own processes.  However, many attorneys cautiously view automation as a threat to their jobs.

Automation in the legal services industry can take various forms and can be used to either replace or supplement existing legal processes.  A good example of software replacing an attorney is legal technology company LegalZoom.1  LegalZoom uses software to prepare legal forms and paperwork for “do it yourself” users.  LegalZoom compiles a user’s inputs into a standardized form, creating a personalized document such as a will.2

Lawyers have complained about legal technology companies such as LegalZoom for years, afraid of losing their work to robot lawyers such as DoNotPay.3 DoNotPay has autonomously contested over 250,000 traffic tickets, winning around 160,000 times.4 DoNotPay allows users to chat online with a bot, which asks questions using simple conditionals such as “Was your car stolen?” or “Was it an emergency?”5 The software then determines the important circumstances of a user’s particular case, finds the relevant case law and prints out an appeal to be presented in court.6

While automated software such as LegalZoom or DoNotPay may seem to pose a serious threat to traditional law firms, practicing law is about exercising discretion and understanding subtleties and nuances in language and fact patterns.  Therefore, automation will ultimately fail to fully replace traditional lawyers, at least in the foreseeable future.  Rather, automation can be used to make a law firm’s processes more efficient, supplementing and improving a lawyer’s work.

Allen & Overy, for example, recently developed proprietary software for their bank clients.7 The automated platform helps banks prepare for an upcoming change in regulations on over-the-counter derivatives.8 To conform with the new regulations, banks will need to re-draft thousands of contracts.9 Proprietary software platforms will automate most of the work, saving thousands of tedious man hours.10 The software platform consists of a series of drop-down menus for a user to input the specific parameters of a deal.  It then determines the relevant regulations as well as the necessary changes to the contract and generates a newly-drafted document.11

By automating their most-used processes, some law firms are able to offer clients a flat-rate quote from the start of a case.12 Spera Law Group, for example, uses automated software to generate the necessary paperwork to create an LLC for a client.13 According to Andrew Legrand, an attorney at Spera Law Group, “[B]efore automation it was a 45-minute process. Now it’s a simple 10-15 minute process . . . .”14

Automation in the law firm context can create numerous benefits. It can save time, reduce errors, and increase consistency across documents. In addition, automation makes it easier to outsource tasks which will no longer require as much attorney supervision.15 Most importantly, automation can free up attorneys to perform more high-level critical thinking tasks.  While automation will not replace law firms altogether any time soon, it can be effectively used to improve a firm’s processes.

Jon Mandarakas

Jon is a second-year J.D. Candidate at Fordham University School of Law and a staff member of the Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal.