Recently, writers and speculators have cried aloud, predicting the end of the lawyer profession. The Atlantic used such inflammatory words as “Rise of the Robolawyers” to title their feature article in April.
Maybe after reading this, images of terminators in suits carrying briefcases comes to mind? No?
For many in the legal profession the onslaught of law-oriented software and online self-help services causes concern. Like filing your income taxes through store-bought or online software, these entities promise to deliver the same quality of legal document drafting (and in some cases, predicative analysis related to litigation) that a live, human attorney delivers. Of course, for a fraction of the fee.
As an attorney that focuses on the type of documents these terminator-lawyer-would-be’s produce, should I be worried? I mean, why would you hire an attorney for hundreds or thousands of dollars to form your company, instead of paying a fraction for similar forms from some website?
Well, in my experience, these robo-lawyers have three major faults: First, they give you EXACTLY what you ask for. Second, they cannot help you explore or evaluate your options effectively. Third, there is no recourse or help from the robot when things go wrong:
They give you EXACTLY what you ask for. Nothing more, nothing less. Sometimes, though, clients often need a little more help to discover what they actually need. I have had multiple clients ask for simple things, like “I need a non-compete agreement” or “we need an indemnification agreement” or some other legal means that is otherwise easily searchable online. Though, after as little as 10-minutes of talk, I often find that what the client really needs to accomplish their end is another type of document or something more comprehensive. A non-compete agreement is one thing – but a document that incorporates non-competition, non-solicitation, and protection of trade secrets and other confidential information is something more.
They cannot help you explore your options effectively. LLC? Corporation? LLC taxed as a Corporation? S-Corp? C-Corp? Partnership? Cooperative? B-Corp? If you login to a self-help website to get your formation documents, you better know what you want from the start. Some websites may have a questionnaire to assist you, but these robots work their way through a flowchart of options that does not properly evaluate the nuances of entity selection. Nor does a computer screen give you the peace of mind, or the completeness of process, that a face-to-face dialogue produces.
There is no recourse or help from the robot when things go wrong. The terminator-lawyer is not coming to save you and your mother when your family owned business gets into a pickle. Simply put, a live attorney working with you through the process of forming your company, drafting contracts and agreements, or advising you on matters will be better positioned and prepared to assist you when issues arise. Not to mention, you cannot sue a robo-lawyer for malpractice.
Does this mean these robo-lawyers are useless or dangerous? No. In the long-run, these bits of software will help attorneys prioritize casework and automate some of the processes we undertake to make the law more accessible and efficient. These efficiencies will lower the cost overall for the consumer, which is a great benefit. However, the human attorney will never go extinct. In the end, legal problems are human problems, and it is always to your benefit to have a real, live person in your corner.