Business of Law

The Internet Can Revolutionize Legal … If We Let It

By Dan Lear
July 26, 2018

In the last post I wrote here on the LAWCLERK blog, I discussed connections, technology and lawyers. I talked about a few specific ways the internet is building connections to democratize legal expertise. 

In that post I specifically identified online marketplaces as one way legal expertise is being democratized. Online marketplaces vary. I think many in legal tech are still waiting for the emergence of a true legal marketplace between buyers and sellers of legal services, but many different types of tools have emerged to democratize legal expertise among lawyers including lawyer-to-lawyer marketplaces. Lawyers must embrace the following four mindset shifts, among others, to effectively capitalize on the potential for the democratization of legal expertise that lawyer-to-lawyer marketplaces offer.

1) Delegate! Whether it’s worship at the altar of overwork, biases that it’s always easier to do something oneself or that the work that one does is intrinsically better than others’ work, or the fact that lawyers score in the 89th percentile for autonomy (making being managed but also working with and relying upon others hard) lawyers can struggle to trust others with their clients’ or their work. However, lawyers who want access to expensive expertise, either specialized or general, must learn to let their perfectionism go and delegate work.

2) But, you can’t do that!” As they have done with most new technological advancements, lawyers will first reject and poke ethics holes in the practice of procuring freelance legal work over the internet. While many of these types of limitations are actually structural problems of the American legal sector in light of an increasingly boundaryless society, lawyers must and regulators will (hopefully) overcome their initial hesitation so that lawyers and consumers can realize the benefits of democratized legal information on the internet. 

3) Plan. This sounds basic, but it’s crucial: attorneys must plan what they want to outsource. The attorney who waits until the 11th hour to hire their first freelance lawyer for an urgent item will, almost certainly, be disappointed with the outcome. While lawyers are not trained in project management or process development, they must deploy some of those skills to insure they have a successful freelance engagement.

4) Don’t wager more than you can afford to lose. Finally, lawyers can and should do small scale experiments with hiring a freelance lawyer before going “all in.” Deciding to engage a freelance lawyer once doesn’t mean that a lawyer can or must continue to do so. Instead lawyers can and should carve out a small piece of their work that can be easily delegated - and even might be highly repeatable, such that it could be tested against an internal resource and/or readily outsourced in the future - and send that to the freelance resource as a test. While the experiment is unlikely to be a complete “win” (few seldom are) the results can be examined and used to tweak the experiment and try again. 

Listen, the internet is not magic and it can’t solve many of society’s problems - in some cases it’s making some of them worse. But it’s also an amazingly powerful societal force. One of the things it does very well is make previously costly information more broadly accessible. The legal sector can benefit immensely from these increased connections that internet technology affords so long as those involved in it, and especially those legal professionals at its helm, can shift their thinking and seize the opportunity.

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