I was recently listening to an episode of Without Fail called “The Tragedy Expert.” Kenneth Feinberg talks about how he has become the expert in administering funds that are distributed to victims and families of tragic events like 9/11, or the Newtown shoot, or the Boston Marathon bombing. He talks about becoming an expert, but that each case is unique and has to be handled like it is the most important case he’s ever handled before. The show’s host, Alex Blumberg, asks Feinberg if having gone through these cases so many times, does he feel like he’s the expert and can give some type of guidance because he is an expert at what he does. I really liked his response.
Absolutely not. It’s as if it’s the first time I’ve ever done one of these. Be careful about confusing the substantive terms and conditions of the program, where we’ll build on what we’ve done before, from the emotional response of victims and myself, to the individual cry that comes from the victim.
In other words, it doesn’t matter how well you know your topic, if you can’t apply it to the specific situation you are currently handling. You have to engage with the client, who may be going through one of the most important (and expensive) events in their lives.
While Feinberg’s expertise is on handling a very sensitive situation where emotions are raw, and people are experiencing significant challenges in their lives, it’s really a microcosm of what the legal industry does every day. Feinberg is an expert and understanding the ins and outs of a particular legal topic. A very sad and tragic legal topic, but nevertheless, a legal topic. He’s streamlined the process, but he’s focused on the needs of those he is helping. To process 3,000 claims of abuse, he has to be efficient, but he doesn’t need to be disengaged.
The same can be said of an attorney representing a contract dispute, or a criminal defendant. You need to be efficient in the processes so that you have time to engage in the individual needs of your clients. Most of us do this through efficient uses of technology.
One of the sayings that I’ve hear a lot since entering the legal industry over twenty years ago, is that technology will make you a better. A better lawyer. A better librarian. A better researcher. While that phrase holds true in most cases, there is some definite nuances to what it means to be “better.”
If you’re a mediocre to terrible lawyer, technology won’t be your saving grace. It doesn’t matter that you’ve created a bad brief in two hours versus four hours, it’s still a bad brief. Technology makes people who are good at their jobs to be better. Technology only makes people who are bad at their jobs create bad results at a faster pace.
If you are a good lawyer, meaning that you know your topic, you know the terms and conditions of the legal issues, then technology can help you become a better lawyer. It magnifies your value because you are able to engage more with the client, and spend less time on the individual processes of creating work product on behalf of that client. Technology helps you streamline the processes so that you have more time with the client, or with the next client.
It magnifies your presence… or it magnifies your absence.