General practitioner Kathleen Robichaud discusses the importance of human interaction in legal services, particularly in this age of automation.
There is no doubt that the world of the general practice lawyer is quite different from what it was just 20 years ago, with the Internet changing how non-lawyers access legal information.
Online products for drafting wills, employment agreements, incorporation documents and various types of contracts, to name a few, have made legal information more accessible to the public. Most lawyers agree that this is a good thing; however, it has also been a worrisome thing, with people reading information that is incorrect, misleading or just difficult to digest.
These typically low-cost services may be helpful to some, but might, do, and in fact, have, caused a great deal of anguish to those who unwittingly end up producing something that is not at all what they wanted.
I agree that more people are probably going to automated non-lawyer providers simply because they are there and in some cases because that is all they can afford. For some, it is a less intimidating way to (hopefully) receive the product they are looking for.
There is no automated service that can come close to competing with a competent lawyer, however, especially one who is also a good person and willing to be a real person.
Those who want a standardized and/or automated service are not people who care about my service and the service of small firm general practice lawyers like me. People come to me and lawyers like me because we take great care of them; many of us provide service in friendly and inviting environment and take away much of their worry about whatever it is they need help with.
We can deal with their individual needs in a way that no automated interface ever could. The positive response I get from people just from meeting with them in person or speaking with them by phone is both nice and a little bit sad - there is no automated service that can come close to competing with a competent lawyer who is a good person and who is willing to be a real person.
From a business perspective, I think there will always be people looking to move into a market to take whatever money they can from people who don't know any better. Some non-lawyer legal service providers will provide a useful service that some people might not otherwise have had access to; unfortunately, however, many of those services will take advantage of people, and once they have suffered enough, will eventually push them out of the market.
It is important that we as lawyers believe in what we do, listen to our clients and find ways to meet their needs in a cost-effective and responsive way. Fo example, I bring my dog to work, as many of my clients tell me it makes seeing a lawyer more comfortable.
Lawyers are developing their own methods to allow them to provide more efficient service to their clients. Ottawa lawyer David MacLean started The Mobile Lawyer, providing legal services to clients in their own homes and offices. Estates lawyer Donna Neff’s wills and estate package, Smart Will Pro operates at a lower cost with better outcomes. Megan Cornell at Momentum Law tested a beta version of a do-it yourself-platform for standard form agreements but found that her clients still wanted a lawyer’s advice. She has incorporated aspects of the platform into her practice and is serving her clients even more efficiently.
The world is changing. Many of us bury our heads in the sand and pretend we don't need to do things differently than the lawyers of the 80s. Some of us will try to compete with the automated service providers. Some of us will specialize. Some of us will try to crush each other, some of us will work together and others will just leave the profession. Some of us will find new and innovative ways to provide new and innovative services and to continue providing standard services to those who still want human contact and an individual and personal approach.
Technology is nothing without wisdom. While many feel that automation is inevitable and eliminating human interaction is worth the temporary convenience, I do not take it as a given, nor do I take it as a good thing. Not all of us feel that we should be quick to create a world that separates us from each other.
Throughout history lawyers have had a role and a responsibility to at once create, preserve and protect a world that is just, fair and worth living in. We still have a right, a need and even a responsibility to think about the kind of world we want to have. We general practitioners have something special and important to offer and I hope many of us will continue to do so in the best way we can.
About the author
Kathleen Robichaud is a sole practitioner in Manotick, Ontario, with a solicitor’s practice that focuses primarily on real estate law, business law and wills and estates.