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Earlier this month the Hanseatic Bar Association in Hamburg won a court case to essentially ban AI (Artificial Intelligence) powered consumer legal platforms from providing legal services without lawyer input.   Although the case is being appealed by Wolters Kluwer, it does raise some good questions about the art of modern legal practice. While we’re unlikely to see such a ban in Australia, how much should legal practice be automated?

I am not a lawyer, but I’ve worked in the legal industry for long enough to appreciate how seriously lawyers take legal advice. In my first few years in the industry I assumed that the legal professionals I dealt with were being culturally protectionist of their field of work and that a shift in innovative thinking was the solution to our problems. Almost 10 years on, I still think that innovation is the key to improving lawyer and client experience. However, my opinions around mass automation has shifted considerably. 

While I am still a firm believer that AI and other assistive technologies are essential for the modern lawyer (and profitability!) I see the concerns in removing the lawyer from the “lawyering”. Excluding a professional from their “practising” not only makes for an unhappy lawyer but can also create barriers in customising processes for their clients’ unique requirements. Using data-sets of known factors to create a standardised contract sounds great, but ensuring the contract meets every nuance of a client’s personal or business situation must still be achievable.

Rigid workflows and fully automated systems look great on paper, they reduce the risk of skipping essential steps, key dates and submissions considerably. But how well do they work in practice? How many times have you been directed to complete a step in a workflow that you are not ready for? How often do you find yourself trying to skip ahead on a process because you don’t yet have the necessary answers, only to end up with documents that are incomplete or inaccurate?

This was one of the key factors in the development of DocAssist; giving the lawyering back to the lawyer. Being an interactive yet non-intrusive precedent process, DocAssist gives legal professionals the ability to draft documents without limiting them in their word-smithery.  It is an automation tool that doesn’t automate to the heavens and back, but guides and directs and interacts just enough to enable a lawyer to make educated decisions on a document’s output.  DocAssist understands that requirements change and it empowers lawyers to interact with their document continuously over time. This can be so vital with highly negotiated contracts and professionals that are time poor.

The uptake of DocAssist is often initiated by legal teams rather than IT for this very reason. And we know from experience that the document technology projects which have the highest rates of success are often those that are championed directly by lawyers and knowledge departments (sorry IT!). I no longer see this as a protectionist attitude, rather an understanding that legal professionals know exactly what can and can’t work for their work culture and client needs.

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