The Task Code Conundrum

[Ed. Note: Please welcome guest blogger, Keith Lipman, President at Prosperoware. Keith is a long-time friend of the Geeks, and well-known leader in the information management field of the legal industry. This post originally appeared on June 24th on LinkedIn. - GL]

What’s in a word? Lack of precision often. The terminology in the legal industry around phases, task codes, and tasks can drive you crazy. The word “task” is particularly imprecisely used. Generally in our industry, the term task does not actually apply to a task in the traditional sense of the word but actually applies to work performed during a phase or a sub-phase of a matter. Confused? So are many of us. Let’s de-bunk the most common misuse of this terminology and get everyone on the same page.

The root problem dates back to the design of the ABA task codes and the Uniform Tasks Based Management System (UTMBS). The purpose of these coding systems was to enable electronic invoice processes. The primary use of the code set are in the areas of litigation and the cost codes around managing expenses and disbursement.

Take the example of discovery in the ABA Litigation Code Set. The phase code for “Discovery” is L300, which represents the discovery phase and the task codes include “Written Discovery,” “Document Production,” “Depositions,” “Expert Discovery,” “Discovery Motions,” and “Other Discovery.” However, these labels all represent sub-phases not tasks. The “real tasks” lie underneath.

Things got worse when many clients and law firms decided they didn’t like the ABA labels and changed them to fit their needs. For example, the official label for L200 is “Pre-trial Pleadings and Motions” but some clients want it to read “Pleading and Motions.” As a result, within a single firm the same code can have slightly different meanings for different clients or for internal firm purposes.

The problem with all these codes is that a significant number of lawyers don’t use them accurately. Anecdotally, I’ve been told on many occasions that 60 to 80% of time entries have inaccurate codes. Much of the problem stems from the fact that there are over 29 codes in the litigation code set. A choice of 29 codes is a lot, especially when you need to enter codes all the time. If a lawyer bills 8 hours per day, they’ll need to make somewhere between 8 and 20 time entries per day or 2,000 to 5,000 time entries per year.

My general experience with look-up lists on frequents activities is that they should ideally number less than 5 entries and no more than 10. After 10, the accuracy of picking the correct choice diminishes pretty quickly. I based this conclusion on best practices that emerged from my experience designing and managing document management systems, which have exactly the same problem.

While the UTMBS tasks codes are good for billing, they actually don’t help you effectively price or estimate a matter. When you go back and look at a prior matter, there is little information about critical details. In most U.S. litigations, the critical details that make the difference in cost is number of motions, number of documents, and number of depositions. This is next to impossible to find out because traditionally no one tracks the “real tasks” underneath the sub-phases.

To understand this better, let’s turn back to the task label that are really sub-phases, such as “Document Production,” a sub-phase during which carry out many specific tasks. Examples of these tasks include collecting documents, processing documents, planning for document review, reviewing documents, quality assurance about the reviews, and producing the documents. Some sub-phases are simpler but still problematic. For example, in the area of “Depositions,” you have two fundamental tasks, take a deposition and defend a deposition. These are very different things, but under e-billing they all get grouped under “Depositions.”

If you notice, all tasks start with a verb. Under each of these tasks are a multitude of activities performed by a multitude of people. Let’s take the example of taking a deposition:
  • Schedule the deposition (secretary/paralegal)
  • Pull the hot documents (associate)
  • Review the documents (partner)
  • Build an outline (partner)
  • Take the deposition (partner)
  • Update the factual timeline (associate)
As you can see, we have three people involved in this one task, which means that process improvement may simply need improving the speed with which one of these activities gets done.

Measuring and getting to this level of detail is the nirvana. However, to get there, your current technology needs to evolve, and the partners in your firm will need to agree on the list of tasks and activities in each phase and sub phase. I believe I have the answer to this and will present it in the Fall.

What you should do in the interim is setting up a limited set of tasks codes in any matter and use a time entry system that can limit the list of available codes to those that are available for a particular matter. This is going to create more work in setting up matters, but it’s the price you’ll have to pay for better data. The other critical interim step is to create a scope or assumptions that go with any budget and write a post action report on any matter to understand the difference between your assumptions and reality.

As I said, look for a follow-up on this in the Fall.

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AALL Special Interest Section Name Changes: Expanding the Base… Broadening the Appeal

The American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) announced two name changes for its Special Interest Sections (SIS) this morning. These changes represent a broadening of the SIS appeal to law librarians and information professionals, as well as a modernization of who the SIS represents, and the mission it serves. The two SIS changes are:
  • Government Law Libraries (GLL-SIS) formerly the State, Court, and County SIS.
  • Private Law Librarians & Information Professionals (PLLIP-SIS) formerly the Private Law Libraries SIS.
I've been a member of both of these Special Interest Sections and like where both are going with the name changes.

The GLL-SIS has a continued focus on supporting those within libraries or other government information services with the Access to Justice (A2J) issues that these members work every day to promote on the local level.

The PLLIP-SIS name change represents the changes in the basic structures of our profession. Turning the focus away from libraries as a place, to the librarians and other professionals that contribute to the overall gathering, compiling, analyzing, and distribution of information and knowledge resources found throughout the private legal practice profession.

These may be subtle changes on the surface, but are really leading indicators that the profession has changed, and the association that represents the profession is beginning to change in order to meet the needs that its members face. I see these changes as foreshadowing upcoming changes in other parts of the organization. More focus on individuals rather than maintaining traditional facility models; more focus on supporting services, processes, and strategic missions of the groups, and; more focus on expanding the base of the organization to include those who align with these missions and goals, rather than simply looking at the department in which they work.

It's a new day for the profession. I am happy to see the changes and look forward to seeing more.

Below is the official statement from AALL HQ:

Contact: Cara Schillinger
Director of Membership, Marketing, and Communications


CHICAGO, June 18, 2015 — The American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) announced today
that it has approved the name changes of two special interest sections (SISs) — member groups
with specialized areas of interest in law librarianship and legal information.

The AALL Executive Board approved the following SIS name changes:
• Government Law Libraries Special Interest Section (GLL-SIS) is the new name for the former State, Court, & County Special Interest Section (SCCLL-SIS).
• Private Law Librarians & Information Professionals Special Interest Section (PLLIP-SIS) is
the new name for the former Private Law Libraries Special Interest Section (PLL-SIS).

The SIS name changes reflect the interests of their members and required member votes, SIS bylaw
amendments, and final approval from the AALL Executive Board.

“AALL’s special interest sections represent the interests of more than 2,800 of our members who
belong to one or more group,” said AALL President Holly M. Riccio. “It is important for our SIS
members to feel that the names of their sections represent the types of institutions in which they
work, their areas of expertise, and their roles within those areas.”

“Changing our name to GLL-SIS reflects the multiple levels of government where our members
serve the public, the practicing bar, and the judiciary,” said GLL-SIS Chair Maryruth Storer. “Maintaining access to justice is imperative to a democratic society.”

“The PLLIP-SIS name change reflects the expansion of new roles undertaken by legal information
professionals in law firms including competitive intelligence, practice alignments, analytics,
knowledge management, pricing, and business development,” said Jean O’Grady, immediate past
chair of the PLLIP-SIS. “As the legal industry has changed, our members have been at the forefront
of driving innovation in the development of information strategies and the delivery of knowledge to all facets of the business and practice of law.”

AALL will gradually implement the name changes on the AALL website and in forthcoming
publications and communications.

For more information about AALL Special Interest Sections, visit bit.ly/AALL-SISs. For more
information about AALL, visit www.aallnet.org or contact AALL Member Services at membership@aall.org.

About AALL
The American Association of Law Libraries was founded in 1906 to promote law libraries’ value to the legal and public communities, foster the law librarianship profession, and provide leadership in the legal information field. With nearly 5,000 members, AALL represents law librarians and related professionals who are affiliated with law firms; law schools; corporate legal departments; courts; and local, state, and federal government agencies. For more information, visit www.aallnet.org.

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Highlights from the ABA's National Summit on Innovation in Legal Services

[Ed. Note: Please welcome Holly Riccio, AALL President and long-time friend of mine, as today's guest blogger. Recently, Holly attended the invitation-only National Summit on Innovation in Legal Services and she asked if we would allow her to give an overview of her experience at the event so that she could share it with our readers. Holly originally wrote this for the AALL Spectrum blog, but since many of our readers here at 3 Geeks are not members of AALL, we thought this would put it in front of many people that would otherwise not see the original writing. The theme of the summit caught my attention immediately:
[C]hallenge thought leaders both from within and beyond the legal profession to...spark fresh thinking about the delivery of legal services and to find new, actionable ideas that are not constrained by traditional models and are rooted in the essential values of protecting the public, enhancing diversity and inclusion, and pursuing justice for all.
After reading Holly's review, I wished I would have gotten an invitation.

I hope you enjoy Holly's highlights of the Summit. - Greg Lambert]

Earlier this year, ABA President William Hubbard established the Commission on the Future of Legal Services to improve the delivery of—and access to—legal services. The Commission published an Issues Paper, requesting that key stakeholders submit written comments, which the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) did. The Commission also held hearings at the ABA Midyear Meeting in Houston, in February, and, in my role as AALL President, I was able to attend on behalf of AALL and testify—along with other bar leaders, judges, law firm practice managers, and legal service providers—focusing my remarks on libraries’ integral role in expanding access to justice for all individuals and communities.
The culminating event for this Commission was the invitation-only National Summit on Innovation in Legal Services, which took place last month at Stanford Law School, assembling 200 participants, all proven leaders and innovators in the legal profession.

AALL was invited to participate in this event, convened to “challenge thought leaders both from within and beyond the legal profession to...spark fresh thinking about the delivery of legal services and to find new, actionable ideas that are not constrained by traditional models and are rooted in the essential values of protecting the public, enhancing diversity and inclusion, and pursuing justice for all.” The two-day event—packed with inspiring keynote speakers, panelists, and TED-style mini-lectures, and combined with ample time for breakout sessions organized around the key areas identified in the Issues Paper—was not only a great opportunity for AALL to start developing richer relationships and collaborations with the ABA in the access to justice arena, but also reflective of the commitment by the ABA leadership to bring about real change in the way we define and deliver legal services.

I can’t possibly condense everything that I heard or learned into this blog post, but I will share some of what I considered to be the highlights.

Sunday morning kicked off with a panel of innovators from outside the legal world, including Judit Rius Sanjuan from Doctors Without Borders, Ron Dolin from Stanford Law’s Center on the Legal Profession, and innovation and design strategist Denis Weil. Sanjuan told us that “9 out of 10 lawyers are trying to maintain the status quo” and that the most creative thinking has to come from those working in other professions. Dolin focused on metrics, telling the audience that the legal profession is not really running on quality metrics. “General counsels want to see return on investment,” he said. “Law firm reputation is just a stand-in for ROI metrics, but it is not a good one.” Sanjuan echoed this sentiment by stating that “corporations don’t want to stop legal spending, they just want to quantify what they’re getting.” Weil, formerly Corporate Vice President, Concept and Design, at McDonald’s, argued for focusing on leading indicators (customer satisfaction), not lagging indicators (ROI metrics), and urged lawyers to stop “backcasting” and start forecasting. “Teaching innovation is not enough,” said Weil. “Lawyers have to find comfort with ambiguity…and be serious about giving clients choice and control.” The panel got a round of applause when Dolin said he didn’t know why we are still producing court opinions and contracts without XML markup. The panel, while inspiring, was also realistic about the challenging road ahead, with Dolin stating that “we have an ecosystem of barriers” to overcome.

The next panel addressed some of the challenges to innovation. Moderated by Deborah Rhode, Summit Co-Chair and Director of the Program in Law and Social Entrepreneurship at Stanford, it included two professors, USC’s Gillian Hadfield and Marshall Van Alstyne of Boston University/MIT, and the founder and CEO of Avvo, Mark Britton. Van Alstyne emphasized the need to create an innovation ecosystem and encouraged openness to allow outsiders to come in and innovate, solving the legal profession’s problem of having “a homogeneous pool of potential innovators.” He also talked about platforms, arguing that platforms beat services almost every time and that “platforms drive innovation through openness, modularity, and enabling of third parties.” Britton organized his remarks around three things the legal profession needs for future success: the right mindset, the right support, and the right rewards. He encouraged the audience to be opportunity-focused, think big, accept and reward failure, share knowledge, cultivate innovation, and create rewards that are personal, qualitative, and quantitative. His goal is “to make a legal check-up as regular as a medical check-up.”

What followed these two panels was a series of short, rapid-fire presentations focusing on the client and illuminating disparate experiences with the legal system from a variety of client perspectives. A few of the highlights for me included:

• Rebecca Sandefur, associate professor of sociology and law at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, shared many illuminating and enlightening statistics, including that when the general public is asked to explain why certain problems happen in their lives, only 9 percent think of these problems as legal. She suggested that bridging this gap could be solved, or at least improved, by advertising: connecting problems to law and people to legal services. “We need to be timely, targeted, and trustworthy,” she said, “and meet them where they are.” Sandefur suggested a few solutions where law libraries could play a role: co-located services that can extend our reach and “human handholding” with the use of Internet and technology legal resources.

• The executive director of Bay Area Legal Aid, Alex Gulotta, made sure no one in the audience was dozing off, as he wore the passion and commitment he has to access to justice issues on his sleeve. “We need a single point of entry to the legal justice system,” Gulotta stated, “but there are hurdles to overcome, the first of which is fear.” Echoing what others speakers had shared, Gulotta said that we need to find ways to incentivize the creation of such a system, then left us with one final thought: mere access to the justice system does not equal justice.

• What Pima County (Ariz.) Superior Court Judge Charles Harrington is doing to bring the courts to the people is a great model, one that I see as being ripe for law librarian input and collaboration. Because the Grand Canyon cleaves Mojave County, Judge Harrington explained that residents on the north side have to drive great distances to get to the county courthouse on the south. To address this, the Superior Court set up the North Canyon Kiosk, an automated booth at the Mojave County DMV that allows users to file papers, speak with court clerks, and pay fines…all remotely. (I could easily see county law librarians providing input on ways to incorporate links to their resources for self-represented litigants from these remote kiosks.) Another project originating from Judge Harrington’s court is a collaboration between University of Arizona English majors and law students called Simpla Phi Lex. The two groups worked together to create an easy-to-use workflow around common court forms and also provide easy-to-understand explanations and form language.

This took us to the first of two sessions with our assigned breakout groups. I was in one of the two groups focused on access solutions for the underserved, and in our first session we were tasked with identifying the challenges that stand in the way of providing better access to justice, and then prioritizing our ideas to come up with the top five challenges. When we came back together later in the day, we took those top five challenges and brainstormed together to offer some possible solutions. Based on what came out of our group alone, there are definitely some potential areas for law librarians to partner and collaborate with the ABA as these solutions take more shape and become a reality.

In between our two breakout sessions, we enjoyed lunch and another keynote presentation, this time from author and legal consultant Richard Susskind, who focused on how technology can make the legal process quicker, cheaper, and better. Susskind spent quite some time describing the recently launched Online Dispute Resolution project he developed for the ODR Advisory Group of the Civil Justice Council. Echoing what others had already shared, Susskind described the ways in which our legal system is outdated and urged us to embrace technology from a customer’s perspective. His PowerPoint slide that got the most laughs? The one that said, “It is not the purpose of the law to provide a living for lawyers.”

Following lunch, there was another series of TED-style talks, this time focused on real-world examples of programs that are bridging the justice gap. As with the mini-presentations in the morning, the presenters shared a plethora of innovative programs and inspirational stories. The common denominator among all the programs is that these individuals saw a problem, challenge, or deficit and came up with a creative, proactive, and often no- or low-cost solution.

• In Oregon, Judge Aiken created a re-entry program that employs wearable technology that can track whether individuals show up for appointments and other court-required activities. The program has resulted in a 16 percent decrease in recidivism, and Aiken estimates that the 160 re-entry court graduates have saved Oregon over $1.6 million. “We don’t take services away when they fail,” Aiken said. “We increase them.” Her motto for the program: truth, transparency, trust, and trying.

• Judge White started her talk by sharing some startling statistics: 1 in 75 Louisianans is incarcerated, twice the national average. “Louisiana can’t arrest and incarcerate our way out of this problem,” she said. White launched a re-entry program that matches felons sentenced to terms of 10 years or less with prisoners serving life terms, the latter acting as teachers of professional trades as well as social, spiritual, and personal mentors. Judge White monitors the former inmates for five years after their release from prison and requires monthly visits to her office to check on their progress. She screened a video of the program for the audience and, when the video ended, concluded her talk with a “mic drop” moment, leaving us with the following as she prepared to exit the stage: “This program receives no funding and costs the taxpayers nothing.”

• Other inspiring ideas included Suffolk’s new Accelerator-to-Practice program, the legal entrepreneur incubation program at the Chicago Bar Foundation, and the ODR model that Modria is currently providing.

The day concluded with a reception at the Stanford Faculty Club, where attendees were encouraged to learn more about the novel approaches to access to justice being taken by the exhibitors in the Innovators Showcase. At dinner we were treated to an emotional and inspiring speech from NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund President and Director-Counsel Sherrilyn Ifill, fresh off her appearance on Face the Nation as part of the panel “Searching for Solutions in Baltimore.” Ifill called on lawyers to help preserve democracy and fix a broken legal system, stating that “whether we deserve it or not, people look to lawyers to be leaders.”

Monday took us into the home stretch, starting with a hot breakfast and more speakers from both inside and outside the legal profession sharing their advice and insight, kicking off with ABA President Hubbard in conversation with Richard Barton, founder of Expedia, Zillow, and most recently, Glassdoor. Barton told the audience that he sees “an information asymmetry” between the consumer and the services being provided. He urged lawyers to give “power to the people to bridge the information gap,” inciting a sense of urgency by adding that “transparency is an efficiency generator.”

What followed was a stellar panel, moderated by Monica Bay, now a fellow at CodeX at Stanford, focusing on innovations from within the legal sphere. One of the most intriguing presentations came from Margaret Hagan, a fellow at the Center on the Legal Profession and lecturer at the Stanford Institute of Design, who is leveraging both her law and design school education to devise better ways to provide access to legal services in a mobile environment. She is taking the design process, which is focused on how to generate new solutions, and applying it to law. If we could get Hagan together in a room with legal hackers and law librarians, I can only imagine the kinds of platforms, apps, and portals we could develop.

The morning concluded with a presentation by Renee Knake, professor of legal ethics at Michigan State University College of Law and the official reporter for the ABA Commission, who took all the notes and flip chart pages generated by the 10 breakout groups the day before and condensed them into a series of slides, essentially creating a wish list for the future. The list included a wide variety of suggestions, ranging from permanently altering the law school model, establishing the right to counsel in civil cases (“Civil Gideon”), allowing non-lawyer ownership of law firms, co-location as a means to provide legal services and resources, and the establishment of ABA Technology Innovation Grants, just to name a few.

What followed were comments from a reaction panel moderated by legal consultant and analyst Jordan Furlong. Stanford’s Deborah Rhode stated that “we must open up the regulatory process and change the rules that prevent effective collaboration across disciplines.” Lisa Foster, director of the DOJ’s Access to Justice Initiative, called for each state to develop its own legal help portal, where users could post a legal problem or question and get directed to potential answers. “It’s feasible,” said Foster, “we just haven’t done it.”

The final remarks of the Summit came from Stanford University President John Hennessy and ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Services Chair Judy Perry Martinez. President Hennessy reminded the audience that we can’t solve our current problems with the same thinking used to create them. Martinez, who had earlier stated that “access to affordable legal services…has been [something] that our profession has struggled with…[and] we have not been able to make justice for all a reality,” summed up the takeaways from the event in this hopeful remark: “We have to make a difference, and the time to make it is now.” Or, put in a slightly different way by ABA President Hubbard earlier that morning, “If you don’t have a seat at the table, you become part of the menu.”

Now, the hard work really begins, with the Commission taking all the inspiration and information from the Summit and creating and prioritizing action items to implement change in the legal profession. Judging from what I experienced in my breakout session and the reports from the other breakout groups, there are definitely possibilities for AALL to partner with the ABA on some of these newly identified opportunities to provide better access to justice.

For additional coverage of the ABA National Summit on Innovation in Legal Services, you can also take a look at the following articles, blog posts, and Twitter roundups:

Summit on Legal Innovation in Legal Services Gets Underway in Silicon Valley
True Innovation in the Legal Industry Requires Outside Views and Thinking, Summit Speakers Say
Legal Innovation Summit Attendees Are Long on Ideas But Short in Data
How a Mexican Kid from the Ghetto Winds Up Hanging with Elite Legal Minds
The ABA Turns Up the Heat on Legal Service Innovation
New Law Strategies Needed to Expand Services to the Poor
ABA on Innovation: Blue Skies Ahead or Pie in the Sky?
ABA National Summit on Innovation in Legal Services Crowdsourced Coverage (Storify)

[NOTE: A version of this summary was originally posted on the AALL Spectrum Blog.]

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Time to Retire the Phrase "Recent Economic Downturn"

It's conference season again for many of us. I get to go to Chicago next week for the P3 Conference and then to Philadelphia in July for AALL. If I get really lucky, I'll sneak in to the ILTA conference in Las Vegas in late August. I enjoy catching up with peers and friends, and attending the sessions to listen to speakers discuss hot topics, trends within the industry, and innovations that will revolutionize the way we provide services. That being said, I want everyone to take out a phrase that has been a trusty standby since 2008.  That phrase, of course, is "recent economic downturn."

You all know how it is used to introduce change:
"Since the recent economic downturn, law firms have significantly reduced / restructured / altered (yada, yada, yada) the way it does business."
This phrase isn't the first of its kind, nor will it be the last. Remember such similar introductory phrases as:
  • Since the collapse of Brobeck/Howrey/Dewey... 
  • Since 9/11
  • Since the Dot Com bubble
  • Since the collapse of the Soviet Union
  • Since the S&L crisis
  • Since the oil bust (insert relevant decade)
  • Since the OPEC embargo
  • Since the Great Depression
  • Since Noah landed the Ark
  • and so on...
I know we are all still feeling the effects of the financial industry failures of 2008 and 2009, but I think it is time to preface our reasons for changing how we conduct business on something other than subprime mortgage loan. This week, I'm starting to use "Since the Houston floods of 2015...".

I am all for leveraging a bad situation to help change bad or outdated behavior. As Rahm Emanual, and other politicians are fond of saying, "You never let a serious crisis go to waste." The problem with "recent economic downturn" is that it has run its course. It doesn't have the punch it had five years ago, and I have started seeing smirks and eye-rolling whenever a speaker starts a discussion with that phrase. (Okay... maybe it's just me that smirks and rolls my eyes.)

So all of you presenters out there who are writing your discussion points and filling in the bullet points of your PowerPoint slides, get out your red pens and cross off the phrase "recent economic downturn." Find something a little fresher to put in its place. We'll all be better for it.

In the meantime, I'll start drafting next year's blog post for outdated phrases. I think I'll start with such things as "iPads" and "Bespoke."

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How Lawyers Can Survive the AI-pocalypse

[Ed. Note: Please welcome Guest-Blogger, Matt Coatney as he gives us some insight on how to deal with the smart machines and AI technologies coming our way.]

Much has been said about how technology will disrupt the legal profession and spell the end of lawyers. From Richard Susskind's End of Lawyers? to IBM Watson, the future does not look bright for those that practice law. Even experts originally optimistic about the technology boom are now more cautious based on new data. With all the doom and gloom, is there anything lawyers can do to at least postpone the inevitable?

A recent HBR article titled Beyond Automation argues that instead of bemoaning automation, we should focus on augmentation: people and smart machines working together. The authors lay out five strategies people can use to not only stay relevant but thrive in areas where advanced technology threatens to replace them. Here are the strategies and how they apply to lawyers.

1. Step Up

Stepping up in the context of smart machines means to stay ahead of them in terms of quality and sophistication. If technology will one day handle all of our mundane legal work - research, document drafting, and the like - then lawyers can focus more of their attention on business development, running their practice, and handling increasingly complex issues. In other words, lawyers should continue to push down work, but technology will handle more of the associate-level tasks.

What to do: Lawyers need to broaden their skills beyond a firm grasp of the law. They should pursue classes and continuing education in areas like business, marketing and technology. Law schools need to offer and require a more diverse program of classes, and law firms need to make this type of professional development a priority.

2. Step Aside

Smart machines are getting smarter, but for now they do not possess a nuanced understanding of human emotion and creativity (hold the lawyer jokes, please). Stepping aside means leveraging more of our creative, non-analytical thinking. Some areas will remain the purview of people for awhile at least. Take jury trials. Advanced technology will soon take over the role of jury selection by combining big data and predictive analytics. But lawyers will still be needed during the trial, as the complex interplay of judge, witnesses, and jurors requires someone who can relate with people, pick up subtle emotional cues, and control the situation.

What to do: Lawyers should focus on the human aspect of the law, where smart machines cannot compete. Lawyers, schools and firms need to focus education and growth in areas like emotional intelligence to stay competitive.

3. Step In

I have seen people accomplish amazing things working with smart machines. R&D chemists now find new drug leads in hours instead of months, and NGOs enact new policies based on big data findings, without the need for extensive field studies. Lawyers can do the same, and in some cases like legal research already have. Think of what lawyers can accomplish working with systems like the IBM Watson-powered Ross at their side.

Some lawyers, like tech-savvy IP attorneys, will have a leg up on those less familiar with new technology. Lawyers and firms can mitigate this by hiring, training, and leaning on a sophisticated administrative team of technologists and business analysts. But lawyers will need to treat these professionals as equal partners, not subordinates to handle their busy work.

What to do: Lawyers will need to hone their technology knowledge and skills on an ongoing basis. Law schools and firms need to make advanced technology a part of their curriculum and continuing education efforts.

4. Step Narrowly

Thanks to capitalism, there will remain nooks and crannies of the law where smart machines do not go. These niches are too specific for companies to make serious money on their technology investments, and they will move on to bigger opportunities. Lawyers, however, will still be able to carve out a healthy business, especially if they are solo or small firms with little overhead.

What to do: If you are already a lawyer in a high-value niche, congratulations! Stay there and defend your turf. For those in a more general practice, think about what specific areas you are most passionate about and begin to build expertise and a professional brand in that space.

5. Step Forward

As the saying goes, if you cannot beat them, join them. This strategy has lawyers stepping right into the thick of the smart machine revolution. They don't just use the technology, they help build the next generation of tools. Whether working for a software company or remaining a practicing lawyer who partners with vendors, good work will be had for some time training these machines to be smarter and more human. Lawyers that are able to innovate and create new smart applications can also make significantly more money than the traditional billable hour.

What to do: Lawyers that are tech-savvy can explore opportunities with software companies and other corporations that need people with blended skill sets. Others can look to partner with tech-savvy colleagues or technology vendors. Law schools need to teach more courses on technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship. And law firms need to be open to new business models and ways of doing business.

Final Thoughts

Lawyers that embrace change and continually look for ways to add more value can stay ahead of the curve. Which strategy is best will depend on the relative strengths and interests of individual lawyers and the firm as a whole. Many of these strategies mix and match well and can be experimented with to see if they are a right fit for your personality and corporate culture.

One thing is certain though: it is a matter of when, not if, lawyers will be forced to compete for business against those using smart machines. Some say we are already at that point. If you watch what IBM, Google, Microsoft, Baidu and others have accomplished in the last few years, especially in the field of deep learning, you may start thinking the same.

Matt Coatney is an AI expert, data scientist, software developer, technology executive, author, and speaker. His mission is to improve how we interact with smart machines by making software smarter and teaching people how to work (and cope) with advanced technology. Great things happen when smart people and smart machines work together toward a common goal.
Follow Matt on LinkedIn and on Twitter @mattdcoatney. Follow the conversation at #BridgingTheAIGap.

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