Are you training your lawyers differently yet?

Grave concern washes over a partner’s face when you mention the impact of technology on junior lawyers. Mostly it's not out of concern for the junior. Just the rivers of gold junior lawyers are relied upon to produce in the highly leveraged mega-firms of today.

But one other concern might linger – how do you train juniors when their “work” gets automated away?

What “work” do junior lawyers get?

For the uninitiated, work in this context means unnecessary proofreading, weeks of mind-numbing document review for a discovery or due diligence and nice to have – but not necessary – legal research. In rare cases there may even be the opportunity to shadow a client meeting or telephone call, taking copious notes and otherwise being seen but not heard.

For most junior lawyers, document review comprises the vast majority of their day. It’s repetitive, process driven and requires little critical analysis. With instructions like ‘review all the contracts in the dataroom, find any that contain change in control clauses, make a note of the document ID and extract the relevant clause into a table’, there’s not much opportunity for real on-the-job learning. Learning how to read a contract and learning how to tell good drafting from poor drafting overstates the practical benefit junior lawyers actually get from doing that “work”.

A long time ago, my boss asked ‘aren't you glad you spent 5 years at law school for this?’ None of this work requires someone who is legally trained. It’s why technology is posing such a threat to junior lawyers. If only I could have automated my job back then.

The Problem

Technology-assisted document review platforms and artificially intelligent legal research systems are developing rapidly. Proofreading, document review and research – the quintessential components of a junior lawyer’s training – are being automated away:

They’re marketed as cheaper, faster and more accurate than a junior lawyer. And the most innovative firms are already experimenting with the technologies. How do you train someone when the existing method of training them disappears?

The Solution

Many lawyers have grappled with this “problem”. I think it’s simple. Incorporate the new technologies on offer into your training regime.

Many firms are reimagining how legal advice is delivered. King & Wood Mallesons have developed a Foreign Investment Review Board approval application. Hive Legal offers a compliance application for superannuation funds. Simmons & Simmons offers ‘MiFID2 Manager’, targeted to financial services providers seeking to comply with new European Union regulations.

As the most technologically savvy generation ever commence graduate programs, junior lawyers can be more effectively trained by developing and maintaining similar software solutions. They might even learn something by being exposed to real law. Not to mention the feeling of actually adding value through their work and actually being able to use their degree. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a cost drain either. Each of the solutions offered above are either sold to clients under licence for a fee, or used internally to drive efficiencies.

It will, unfortunately, be a while until this vision is realised. Many senior lawyers responsible for overseeing existing training processes are technologically challenged. There’s another reason why junior lawyers are stuck doing research. They’re the only ones who can use online research databases.

Would you like to know more?

Many of the themes we have touched in in this article are more fully analysed in our other articles, ‘Country Focus: How Australian firms are disrupting the legal market’, ‘5 tools irreversibly changing legal research’, ‘Country Focus: How English firms are disrupting the legal market’, ‘Dismayed by the quality of your graduates’ writing? Some intelligent solutions’ and ‘A future vision of law – Dare you look?

How do you think junior lawyers will be trained in the future?