Professor outlines how technology is changing the practice of law

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

As robots and computers entered factories, manufacturing became “advanced manufacturing,” bringing increased production at a lower cost.

 That upheaval, the result of innovations in technology, is now being felt within the legal profession. William Henderson, professor of law and director of the Center on the Global Legal Profession at Indiana University Maurer School of Law, explained that the growing legal services industry, populated largely by nonlawyers, is mechanizing and automating the work attorneys do, creating products that can be sold for a relatively cheap price.

henderson-bill Henderson

Henderson outlined the fundamental changes computer hardware and software are making to the legal profession when he addressed the Evansville Bar Association’s quarterly luncheon Aug. 29. About 120 attorneys attended the mid-day event held at the Tropicana – Evansville.

During his presentation, Henderson showed two photos. One picture depicted a mental artisan using 1700-era technology of an anvil and hammer to craft a nail. The other showed a modern-day high school graduate in an advanced manufacturing plant, running computer-controlled machines to produce inexpensive, environmentally friendly drive trains.

 “What’s happened to industrial arts is about to happen for all professional services including law,” Henderson said, referencing author Richard Susskind. “We can’t stop it and we don’t do ourselves any favors by resisting it or running it down.”

After the luncheon, attorney Lane Siesky, founder of Siesky Law Firm P.C., credited technology and the ability to hire contract workers with enabling his two-lawyer office to take bigger cases. For medical cases, he can temporarily hire a nurse paralegal, and to review 150,000 pages of documents on DVDs, he can enlist the aid of an information technology department to put the papers in a searchable format. Having the ability to connect with outside resources allows Siesky’s firm to ramp up to meet the needs of any particular case without taking on tremendous overhead costs.

siesky-lane Siesky

Even in its daily operations, Siesky’s office makes use of technology. It has swapped a traditional server for case management software that is based in the cloud. Now Siesky can open his laptop wherever he is and work on any file. With the case management system, he can see all who accessed the file, when it was opened and what was done.

Still Siesky tempers his use of new technology, not wanting to be the earliest adopter who has to work through all the problems the new gadget or system brings.

“We don’t want to be a trailblazer to the point where we’re making trouble for ourselves or our clients,” he said, “but we do definitely want to embrace and tweak certain aspects of what’s going on and then be ready to capitalize on what becomes a little bit more mainstream or accepted.”

Siesky founded his firm in 2006, about the time, according to Henderson, that the legal profession’s golden period was ending. Henderson drew upon statistics and studies to show how lawyers flourished over the past several decades as the complexity of business and government regulations increased. Beginning in 1978, the portion of the Gross Domestic Product allotted to lawyers grew from 0.4 percent to 1.8 percent by 2003.

That growth is now flattening, Henderson said, but the practice of law will not become obsolete.

“Law is so important to our future,” he said. “It’s so important to knitting together a globalized world, so important to avoiding civil unrest and so important to solving our complex problems of famine, energy shortages, water shortages; but the problem is we can’t afford to pay for it on a kind of time-and-materials basis. Our clients don’t want to pay for it.”

The legal services industry is providing an answer to consumer demands by working to make legal help better, faster and cheaper, Henderson said.

Some of these services, like LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer, target individuals who need legal help. Other vendors are vying for corporate customers. For example, Axiom markets to general counsels by offering to do sophisticated legal work like small mergers and acquisition transactions.

Henderson ended his presentation by showing a folksy video advertisement for Modria, a web-based company that offers online dispute resolution services.

Laura Scott, partner at Bamberger Foreman Oswald & Hahn LLP, found the video interesting but not surprising. And she does not anticipate online alternative resolution forums will eliminate the need for lawyers.

However, she does expect technology will change the way she practices and her approach to clients. In the past few years, her office has been integrating new software into the work flow and figuring out ways to use new computer products to deliver services more efficiently.

But more efficiency doesn’t necessarily mean fewer people. Day-to-day work created by the new technology has led to changes in the composition of the firm’s staff. Now, the office includes a three-person IT department. Ten years ago, no such department existed in-house.

“That’s one example,” Scott said, “but I think the human component will always be there, just maybe a little different expertise than what we’ve had in the past.”

Henderson underscored Scott’s point in his address by noting that to compete, knowledge of the law along with other expertise will be necessary. The practice of law will have to draw on other sources of human capital from such areas as information technology, system engineering, finance, and product management.

 “So we’re going to become more like a manufacturer as a profession than a service profession,” Henderson said. “The law is definitely important, but I emphasize collaboration and teamwork because I want them (students) to get used to listening to other people, tapping into diverse perspectives.”

Reiterating his point about the need to embrace interdisciplinary teamwork, Henderson told the EBA, “I think that lawyers are always at their best whenever we put our economic interests secondary to society and client and we kind of think how can we make this thing work and then we back our fear, we back our livelihood out of it,” he said. “But I think … there’s an opportunity here to collaborate to build better mouse traps to better serve the citizenry.”•


Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  2. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  3. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.

  4. rensselaer imdiana is doing same thing to children from the judge to attorney and dfs staff they need to be investigated as well

  5. Sex offenders are victims twice, once when they are molested as kids, and again when they repeat the behavior, you never see money spent on helping them do you. That's why this circle continues