The packaging of law

In January Richard Susskind released his new book “Tomorrow’s Lawyers”, which we reviewed in general earlier this year in the blog post “Susskind for dummies and all other legal professionals”. In this post we will focus a bit more on the packaging of law by highlight two specific aspect of Richard Susskind’s prediction on the evolution of legal service – the development from the uniqueness of legal service (or “bespoke”) through different stages of standardization, systematization and packaging to commoditization and how disruptive technologies can fundamentally challenge and change the functioning of the legal sector.

With the information technology developments, the efficiency of legal work can be greatly enhanced not only by the use of standard documents like templates and checklists, but also by proceduralized processes and automated workflows. Systematization can also extend, however, to the actual drafting of documents by the use of documents assembly technology. Automated document assembly is one of the current 13 so called ‘disruptive technologies’ identified by Richard Susskind:

“Two aspects of disruptive technology theory are noteworthy. First, as the Kodak example illustrates, disruptive technologies can help to unseat and bring about the demise even of market leaders. Second, in the early days of disruptive technologies, market leaders as well as their customers often dismiss the new systems as superficial and unlikely to take off. Later, however, as they gain acceptance, customers often switch quickly to services based on the new technology, whereas providers, unless they are early adopters, are often too late to recognize their real potential and never manage to regain ground. /…/ Automated document assembly systems generate polished and customized first drafts of documents. But today’s automated drafting systems do not simply print out a single, standard document. Instead, based on a user’s answer to specific questions about his or her particular circumstances, the documents generated will be one output of countless (often millions of) possible permutations. /…/ These systems, which can be used within legal businesses or made available online, are disruptive for lawyers who charge for their time, because they enable documents to be generated in minutes whereas, in the past, they would have taken many hours to craft. The end result is a tailored solution, delivered by an advanced system rather than by a human craftsman. That is the future of legal service.”

However, many lawyers seem to respond dismissively to the idea of automating and packaging legal services. “They say that they did not go to law school to package their knowledge, they are not publishers, and they are certainly not software engineers.” But need the idea of legal packaging really be that hard to embrace? Most law firms have (or should have) a forms bank of standard documents and that the next step in the process naturally would be to systematize these pieces using some variety of document assembly. In fact, lawyers use standard documents to produce an almost final document by asking the client relevant questions, which easily could be done by the lawyer via an automation web-interview or even by the client himself through the same interview on-line.

We are definitely believers of Richard Susskind’s predictions on the legal evolution from bespoke towards standardization, systematization and packaging, and how technology will change the way legal service will be provided. We are also true enthusiasts of the possibilities of automated document systems to replace repetitive and redundant human processes with new technology, processes, and workflow-embedded content. Our approach is however to support lawyers and other legal advisers streamlining their work to meet client demands, rather than providing simple online solutions directly to customers. We believe in enhancing the lawyers work by automating and streamlining key processes in the practice of law. This has also been the basis for our online legal service VQ Legal, which provides a new intelligent and efficient solution for creating all relevant documents for a specific matter with a content that is updated and quality assured. By using this service as a tool for producing first drafts, the lawyer can provide efficient, high-quality legal advice while still meeting the legal market trends with new business models and client demands for increased professionalism, efficiency and more value for money. All in line with the obligation as lawyers to help our clients stated by Richard Susskind: “I think if we can find new, cheaper, more convenient, and less forbidding ways of delivering legal service, then we should be adapting the way we work and adopting these new techniques. Our focus should be on helping our clients to meet their formidable more-for-less challenge rather than obstinately holding on the outdated, inefficient working practices.”

Here are some further recommended reading on disruptive technology and legal tech innovation: