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Automation: Basic Overview

By January 8, 2019October 28th, 2020automation, Law Firm Operations, legal technology

Automation is amazing

(if you can leverage it properly, that is).

The promise of automation is seductive, especially for busy solo lawyers. And that’s understandable.

And yet the common reality is so elusive. Let’s examine that reality more closely so we can better understand the seduction in more detail.

Let’s peer inside the fantasizing minds of those hope-filled lawyers…

If I could automate parts of my practice that force me to pay staff salaries and benefits things would really be better…

If automation could help me dramatically lower my overhead, I could work less and take home the same amount of money, and then I’d be happier…

Or, this one that encompasses the entire aspiration…

If I could use automation to streamline workflows and tedious, boring (but necessary) tasks then I could spend less time managing my practice and more time relaxing and doing fun things besides practicing law…

Where do theses fantasies originate? In many cases they get perpetuated by tech-zealots.

Wild-eyed tech zealots effusively rave about the power of automation (and artificial intelligence and blockchain, and rocket travel to Mars etc.). And they are certainly right that automation can help improve your law practice.

But if you live in the gritty trenches of day-to-day law practice you know there’s a deeper truth that’s left unexamined by tech zealots.

Automation seems promising in theory, but in reality (at least as far as you experience it) automation is a lot harder than it seems.

Still, it would be good if you could take advantage of automation like some of the other lawyers who are using it well.

And that begs the big question…

What’s the big secret to effectively leveraging automation?

First of all the #1 key to have a proper approach, so you can make good decisions about how to leverage automation effectively.

The proper approach that will lead to success requires that:

1. you keep a proper perspective on every important area of your practice and every decision that you make that affects it (especially as regards automation and technology), and

2. you are realistic about what it takes to stay on track (and meet the inevitable challenges) as you move towards your ultimate goal.

Once you understand the need to (1) have proper perspective, and (2) be realistic, then you’ll be better prepared to avoid getting sabotaged by people who seem well-intentioned (and usually are), but are actually insidiously dangerous.

They’re dangerous because they’ll distort your perspective and create unrealistic expectations.

And that in turn will lead you to making poor (or sometimes even disastrous) decisions.

So anyone who gives you advice about the three key areas of your practice needs to be carefully vetted before you reflexively start taking their advice.

Just as a reminder, here are the 3 key areas of any modern law practice which you and your consultants need to keep in perspective:

1. Operations

2. Marketing

3. Technology (which mostly affects operations, but also can help automate some of your marketing)

Proper perspective

The kind of person you want to take advice from regarding technology should have a proper perspective on how technology affects your entire firm, not just one isolated part of it.

So they need to understand how technology relates to your overall operations, or your marketing initiatives (depending on what their consulting expertise is).

Some tech consultants have this ideal perspective, especially the ones that used to practice law (preferably for a significant period of time).

But the mere fact that someone is a practicing lawyer (or used to be) isn’t a guarantee they’ll have a fully developed perspective.

For example, if you ask your close lawyer friend for technology recommendations he’s going to make recommendations based on what worked for him. He’s not likely to have the wisdom (earned from experience) to know that maybe his perspective is too limited to be safely proclaiming what other lawyers should do with technology.

Tech consultants will have a much broader experience to draw from than your tech-loving lawyer friends.

But there’s another hidden issue with the perspective of many tech consultants.


If a tech consultant makes money recommending software or services, then obviously they’ll be biased to making recommendations that create a sale. They aren’t likely to steer you away from something they make money on, right?

If a tech consultant represents multiple companies they’ll still likely be biased, but at least not in a hyper-limited way.

There are some tech consultants with exceptional character who are able to override the natural tendency to be biased in one’s own self interest. These are rare folks who will recommend what’s best for the potential customer even if it loses them a sale.

But even if you find a consultant or guide who is unbiased, you still have to contend with that other problem.

Not being realistic

Too many people are unrealistic about what it takes to adopt technology, even tech consultants.

The main barrier to adopting technology is the same barrier that exists whenever any type of social change is attempted. And that barrier is…

Human nature.

People don’t like change, and they don’t like feeling uncomfortable or awkward. And adopting new technology triggers all three of these deep-seated human reactions:

– Aversion to change

– Avoidance of discomfort

– Avoidance of feelings of awkwardness

So when you are attempting to incorporate automation or any kind of new technology into your practice carefully consider all of the things discussed so far.

But there’s one more thing to consider, and this is perhaps…

The most important tip

In deciding what to automate, it helps to break automation options down into categories based on (1) how powerful the result will be, and (2) how hard will it be to achieve that result.

A lot of lawyers don’t want to hear the brutal truth (because they’re too busy chasing shiny tech objects with the delusional belief that this is how you harness the power of technology).

But I know you’re not like most lawyers, so here you go…

Brutal truth

The most powerful results will almost always come from technology that’s hard to set up and hard to get comfortable with (i.e. not the shiny objects).

Whenever you evaluate tech options figure out which of the following categories they fit into.

Five Categories

1. Useful benefits & easy to implement

2. Very useful benefits & mildly challenging to implement

3. Super powerful benefits & incredibly challenging to implement

4. Marginal benefits & easy to implement (aka “shiny objects”)

5. Marginal benefits & challenging to implement (usually “recommended by self-biased tech consultants that you pay to perform the challenging implementation)

Whatever decisions you make about improving your law practice remember to keep things in proper perspective. And remember to evaluate the realities of any new initiatives you are looking to implement.

This is especially true of anything involving automation.

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