The evolving legal profession

NH Bar panel discussion looks at technology, competition, changing consumer preferences

In the not-so-distant future, will robots replace lawyers in advising businesses and other legal services consumers about probable outcomes in their cases? Will a software application detect, by reading micro facial expressions, whether a witness is lying during deposition or trial? 

Probably not, says Andrew Arruda, co-founder and CEO of ROSS Intelligence – maker of ROSS, an artificially intelligent legal research program that is already assisting some law firms with bankruptcy cases.

Arruda, a panelist at the Oct. 28 annual meeting of the NH Bar Association held in Portsmouth, contends that technology is much more likely to enhance the abilities of attorneys and make the legal system more efficient. 

“I think what we need to really start thinking about is how (artificial intelligence) can … actually make us more competitive and lead to more work,” Arruda said. 

The panel discussion, organized by NHBA Immediate Past President Mary Tenn of the law firm Tenn and Tenn in Manchester, was moderated by NH Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Gary Hicks. Other presenters included James Sandman, president of the Legal Services Corp.; Rebecca Love Kourlis, executive director of the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS) and a former Colorado Supreme Court justice; and Paul Lippe, former CEO of OnRamp Systems, a web-based knowledge-sharing platform for corporate legal departments.

The program was part of an effort by the Bar Association to lead discussions on the evolution of the legal profession, as technology, competition and changing consumer preferences are causing lasting shifts in the business of law. 

Liberalizing the profession

As is the case with many professions today, medium-sized law firms are being increasingly squeezed in terms of market share and profitability. By loosening restrictions on the practice of law, attorneys could increase the size of the overall market, which would work to their advantage, said Lippe, a lawyer and Silicon Valley entrepreneur in the legal tech space. 

“In the majority of states, we see bars opposed to change … and that’s against their self-interests and, more fundamentally, sooner or later, it will result in the world saying, ‘Well, you’re obviously only doing this to your benefit. You’re not really thinking about why you’re there, so you’re not going to get to make these decisions anymore,’” Lippe said.

Lippe stressed the advantage New Hampshire has in being a small state with a single law school and a unified state bar association – circumstances that could enable collaboration and see the state lead the changes happening in the legal system and profession. 

A more liberalized and distributed legal profession could also help to increase access to legal services among New Hampshire residents and businesses, said the LSC’s Sandman, the nation’s largest provider of funding for civil legal aid. 

“Experienced paralegals can provide very meaningful assistance to clients, and it’s time to loosen up the rules and let them do more,” Sandman said. 

Sandman points to legal education as the place where a shift in lawyers’ mindsets can begin. “Law schools pride themselves on teaching students to think like
lawyers, but I wish they’d spend more time teaching them to think like clients,” he said. 

Foundation and infrastructure

Kourlis, founder of IAALS, a national, independent think tank based at the University of Denver, talked about the value of experiential legal education, a field in which New Hampshire is already at the forefront, thanks to the Daniel Webster Scholar Honors Program at the UNH School of Law. The DWS program was the subject of a detailed study by IAALS last year, and its graduates are sought after for their ability to hit the ground running as new legal hires. 

Kourlis also discussed how state courts are using technology to sort out which cases require the most attention by judges and to enable parties to electronically file legal documents. Many state systems are moving toward the model of the federal court, which makes case documents publicly available online, she said. 

The legal system is evolving to provide consumers with more online dispute resolution options and information resources, similar to WebMD in the medical field, and the courts will eventually become more transparent, said Kourlis. 

“I view it as a more porous and more accessible system over time,” she said, adding that she also envisions an increasingly striated profession that integrates more with other disciplines.

“For example,” she said. “I think divorce lawyers should practice with counselors or psychologists or financial advisors and offer those services as part of what they can provide to the client.”

Justice Hicks, who moderated the NHBA panel, said he’s not sure what the future holds, but he looks forward to finding out.

“I don’t think that facial recognition software will determine who’s lying on the stand and who isn’t,” he said. “I don’t think that’s going to happen, but we’ll see.” 

Kristen Senz is editor of NH Bar News, which is where this article originally appeared. 

Categories: Law