In Part 1 of this three-part series, I wrote that business people care about results.
And that 99.9% of a lawyer’s education and focus are devoted to analytical preoccupations and time-honored how-to methodologies — “lawyer tasks” — not so much to the results their clients really care about.
Lawyers are focused on the “how” of their professional skill sets to such as extent that it obscures the “why” of their clients’ desired business outcomes.
Also in Part 1, I introduced Dr. Richard Susskind’s thinking on how artificial intelligence (AI) could bypass attorneys’ obsession with those “lawyer tasks” — to target results instead — what he calls “outcome-thinking”.
Here’s Dr. Susskind’s diagnosis of attorneys’ obsession with their “lawyer tasks”:
“… This kind of task-based thought is deeply flawed. Think about legal work. Commentators and practitioners often insist that much of the work of lawyers is beyond the reach of technology. They will suggest, for example, and not unreasonably, that the work of court lawyers cannot be replaced by machines. How on earth could a robot appear as an advocate before a judge? The answer, of course, is that we are light years from this happening. But the story doesn’t end here, because these traditionalists are asking and answering the wrong the question. Mistakenly, they are focusing on current ways of working rather than on whether the outcomes that court lawyers deliver might be achieved in very different ways.”
Question: What does Dr. Susskind mean by lawyers’ “current ways of working”?
Answer: He means assignment of lawyers to tasks.
I described this mindset in a blog post this past March:
“Casey Flaherty, an insightful lawyer who advises corporate law departments, describes attorneys’ prevailing mindset:
“… The key to value is having smart lawyers. Lawyer time is the primary resource and the primary unit of measure even in law departments ….
“Because in-house and law firm lawyers are the same people, they have the same go-to move — stand back and let me lawyer.”
As I say, attorneys-to-tasks.
From the day I began my legal career — to this morning — that has been and still is attorneys’ mode of operation:
Tell me the problem, get out of my way, and let me — or some other lawyer I’ll find for you — fix it.
Dr. Susskind — Scottish lawyer and Oxford PhD in computer science — argues that AI’s potential for business law goes beyond simply replicating the way that lawyers solve legal problems:
“In short, the systems that’ll replace us are unlikely to work like us. In considering the future of work, then, the big question is not whether machines can take on the work that humans do. It is whether the outcomes of today’s human labour can be delivered in different ways with the support of technologies. Task-based analysis of the impact of machines, relying often on the outdated distinction of labour economists between routine and non-routine work, greatly understates the extent to which the work of human beings will be taken on by AI.”
Dr. Susskind’s key word in the above quote?
It’s not: “Lawyers”.
In the British Academy Review’s Autumn 2018 edition, Dr. Susskind concludes by arguing that AI will enable greater accuracy, economy, and speed by a focus on systems over individual professionals:
“… My main point for professionals … is that clients don’t really want us. They want the outcomes we bring. In an AI-enabled internet society, our challenge, by and large, is to think deeply about our telos [ultimate object or aim] and find new ways to deliver long-established outcomes.
“In the long term, we will find that these will increasingly call for systems rather than traditional advisers.”