Can Artificial Intelligence Move Your Attorneys Toward the Results You Care About? (Part 1 of 3)

Business people care about results.

That was the biggest lesson I learned upon crossing to the client side of the lawyer / client table.

After spending a decade as a practicing attorney.

Kind of a “duh” factor for my friends who’ve lived and died by the P&L all their careers.

But for a lawyer whose career had been devoted to the analytical preoccupations and time-honored how-to methodologies that occupy 99.9% of a lawyer’s education and daily focus — it was a revelation.

Until I shouldered executive responsibilities, I was tone-deaf to what business “results” actually were.


How to get the results-oriented legal services that business clients need — if their attorneys can’t seem to see beyond their “lawyer tasks”?

This is where Dr. Richard Susskind‘s recent insights — and artificial intelligence (AI) — might help. Susskind is a British lawyer and computer expert.  His work emphasizes the ways in which information technology and the Internet can improve lawyers’ effectiveness on behalf of business clients.

In the British Academy Review’s Autumn 2018 edition, Dr. Susskind argues that all professionals need to plan for a future in which their clientele don’t care so much about the how-to of their methods. Just about results.    

The disconcerting message here for all professionals is that our clients don’t want us. They want the outcomes we bring. And when these outcomes can be reliably delivered in new ways that are demonstrably cheaper, better, quicker or more convenient than the current offering, we can expect the market to switch to the alternatives.”


Dr. Susskind’s take on “results”:

“A mind-set I call outcome thinking.

“Outcome-thinking can be invoked when considering the future of all professions. Take the world of architects. People don’t generally want these experts either. What they really want … are buildings that are durable, useful, and beautiful. Nor do taxpayers want tax accountants. They want their relevant financial information sent to the authorities in compliant form. Fifty million Americans are now using online tools to submit their tax returns. Few seem to be mourning the loss of social interaction with their tax advisers … The same point holds in quite different fields. Patients don’t want psychotherapists. Roughly speaking, they want peace of mind. Litigants don’t want courts. They want their disputes resolved fairly and with finality ….”  

But my fellow lawyers and other professionals like to see themselves as the stars of the proverbial show — irreplaceable — necessary to any “result” in their field.

Dr. Susskind again:

“Many professionals and commentators balk at this line of outcome-thinking. They insist that what a client surely needs, and will always need, is a trusted adviser – an empathetic and expert human counselor. But this is to confuse means with ends, to muddle up how we work with what we deliver. It is to assume that there is something intrinsically valuable, indispensable even, in our current ways of working ….

“… I am questioning whether the working practices of these and other professionals, in and of themselves, are of such value that they should be retained at all costs in the face of alternative services that clients and customers find preferable. I find myself, in other words, favoring the interests … of clients over lawyers ….”  

So Dr. Susskind uses the phrase “outcome-thinking” to denote a focus on “results” in lawyers’ and other professionals’ work.  What’s this got to do with AI?

Dr. Susskind — a Scottish lawyer who’s also an Oxford PhD in computer science — sees AI’s predictive capabilities as a means to perform “lawyer tasks” by machine: 

“In the face of this potential assault, many professionals take comfort from task-based thinking. They analyze the work they currently do, they break it down into a set of component tasks, and then identify those that they think might be undertaken by machines and those that seem to be beyond the foreseeable capacities of the most advanced systems. When they reckon that a significant proportion of their current tasks cannot be taken on by machines, they feel safe ….”

In Part 2 I address Dr. Susskind’s vision for the future: How AI’s solutions could leapfrog attorneys’ blinkered focus. How AI’s solutions could bypass some of today’s “lawyer tasks” and their equivalents in other professions. And how AI’s solutions could get clients’ desired “results” or “outcomes” faster, more accurately, and more cheaply.


Part 2

Part 3

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