Last week, I wrote about the current state of voice technology in legal as I prepared for my speaking session at ILTACON in Washington DC, one of the largest legal technology conferences of the year. This week I’m reflecting on that experience: Why did I think it’d be a good idea to bring my two-year-old toddler and seven-week-old newborn on a cross-country flight? (Yes, we turned the DC trip into a family vacation.) More importantly, given the current state of voice technology in law practice, where will things be heading in the future?
Voice assistants will not replace lawyers
Let me say this again, just so it’s clear: I do not believe that voice assistants and robots will replace lawyers. Why? Because I believe that lawyers are more like bank tellers, and less like long-haul truck drivers. Let me explain.
When the ATM first came out, everyone thought that bank tellers would quickly become unemployed. While numbers dwindled initially, ultimately tellers gained the capacity to do higher-value activities (like selling more profitable products such as loans and credit cards) and banks were able to open more branches and hire more tellers. Just as ATM technology freed tellers from the administrative task of dispensing cash, voice assistants will free lawyers from the administrative pieces of their workflow so they can practice more law (and there is certainly more legal work that needs to be done, as nearly 80% of legal needs go unmet).
In contrast, long-haul truck drivers drive a truck from point A to point B. If an autonomous vehicle can do the same thing, is that truck driver needed? Are there higher-value activities the driver can do while an autonomous truck does the job of driving? Probably not, which is why I do believe the number of employed truck drivers will decrease with the rise of autonomous vehicles.
Smart speakers around the office
Voice assistants won’t be replacing attorneys anytime soon, but I do see smart speakers and other voice-activated hardware making their way into law firms. Smart speakers replacing phone systems in conference rooms is a great example. How many meetings have you had that started ten minutes late because of troubles with the dial-in instructions? Or what about booking meetings and reserving conference rooms? These things become exponentially easier with voice.
How great would it be to walk into a conference room and just say “Alexa, start my meeting”? No dial-in required!
Client-facing assistance: am I talking to a robot or a human?
Google showed off the future capabilities of Google Assistant at its developer festival Google I/O in May, when Google Assistant called a salon and booked an appointment. If you heard this conversation without seeing the video, you’d probably think it was an everyday conversation between two people, not a robot and a human. I think there’s an opportunity for this same type of interaction within legal.
Wouldn’t it be great to have a voice assistant handle some of the evaluation process in consultations, so you only meet with potential clients that are a great fit for your services?
Or what about your client intake process—how much of that process is currently done manually by your staff, that could instead be done by a voice assistant?
More complex workflows
In addition to helping with administrative tasks, voice assistants also have the potential to alleviate problems related to more complex workflows. For example, think about how you could couple voice technology with your legal research process. Tools like ROSS Intelligence (ROSS) already use artificial intelligence (AI) to make the research process more efficient.
Imagine if you could take that functionality away from the screen, and just ask Alexa “When is secondary liability with respect to copyright infringement established?”
We may be in the early days of voice, but the technology has the potential to transform the way law is practiced, and for the better. Lawyers are some of the hardest working people on the planet—I know this because I’m married to one (my wife practices civil litigation in Portland, Oregon). Yet she and other attorneys spend much of their day doing administrative work, like timekeeping and time entry, rather than practicing law.
In fact, in Clio’s 2017 Legal Trends Report, it was reported that attorneys only bill 2.3 hours of their time every day. This isn’t because they only work three hours a day, but rather that their time is spent on other administrative, non-billable work. This is exactly where voice technology and voice assistants can help—by taking the administrative burden off of the attorney so they can practice more law.