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People are priceless – and tech without people is worthless

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People are priceless – and tech without people is worthless

To hear some industry gurus talk, you might be under the impression law firms that don’t invest in the latest bleeding edge technologies are facing extinction. This is twaddle. The law and lawyering are and always has been about people problems – and you need people to help solve them.

Clearly the people involvement varies from private client matters, which tend to be more hand-holdy, touchy-feely, to commercial work, which can be highly homogenised and systemized. With both types of work you also need computers if you are to have any hope of delivering services on a cost effective and profitable basis but that doesn’t mean the people element is in any danger of becoming redundant.

The thing about tech is it’s a tool: an enabling device or solution because technology in isolation has no intrinsic value. It’s not the ownership of IT that is important but what you do with it that counts.

In the world of D-I-Y the electric drill manufacturer Black & Decker spotted this many years ago when they switched their marketing emphasis from selling drills to selling holes. People, they realised, didn’t want one-quarter inch drills, they wanted to create one-quarter inch (or whatever) holes as part of a D-I-Y project.

It’s the same with law office automation. Nobody wanted to buy wordprocessors when they first appeared in the late 1970s but they did want to buy a solution to the problem of secretaries spending forever typing out long documents, only to have to scrap pages and start all over again when a mistake was spotted or a section needed amending. (It was that or liberally applying dollops of Snopake!)

The key was the solution on offer not only met with customer expectations but was also as closely aligned as possible with the results and benefits the customers were seeking – nothing more, nothing less.

Unfortunately in an increasingly technology-oriented economy, where vendors are constantly driven to create new products, enhancements and upgrades to keep fresh revenues flowing in and keep their shareholders happy, the emphasis has shifted so customers – including most law firms – are now being encouraged to buy products rather than solutions.

It is very easy to be swept along by all this marketing spin – you only have to look at the hype surrounding AI/artificial intelligence in 2019 – where the focus is inevitably on features NOT benefits. Ooh look, all shiny, shiny new technology. Fine but what benefits is it going to bring your firm?

If there are no tangible new benefits and it ain’t broke, then it doesn’t need fixing or replacing. IT is just a tool – it’s the people who are the oil that keeps the wheels of a law firm turning. They really are priceless, without them, you have nothing. Just look at all the technologically proficient firms that have collapsed in recent years after major splits and defections by partners and fee-earners.

One final thought: George R.R. Martin, the man whose A Song of Ice and Fire novels provided the basis for TV series A Game of Thrones, still writes all his books on an old DOS computer running WordStar 4.0. This is a wordprocessing application that was pretty much dead in the market by the late 1980s but nobody suggests Martin would write better books if he were running Word 16 on Windows 10. That’s because creative writing – like lawyering – is a people skill that cannot be replaced by technology.