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MCLE Self-Assessment Test

Market forces lawyers to stay current with legal technology

By Laura Ernde
Staff Writer

State Bar Trustee Michael Colantuono is a general practice lawyer who has written countless contracts for clients. But when he needed to contract for his own homebuilding project, he turned to an online source instead.

Colantuono said it was faster and cheaper for his family to use Rocket Lawyer.

Michael Colantuono

The story illustrates both the challenges and the opportunities that technology presents to the legal profession, he said, which is one reason the Board of Trustees chose it as the topic for the plenary session of its strategic planning session last month.

As regulators of the profession, it’s important for the trustees to keep up on the latest trends.

“The world is changing, and we have to also,” he said.

The trustees heard from Rocket Lawyer founder and CEO Charley Moore, USC Gould School of Law professor Gillian Hadfield and Dan Pinnington of Lawyers’ Professional Indemnity Company (LAWPRO), an insurance company that provides malpractice coverage to Canadian attorneys.

Trustees Colantuono and Dan Dean moderated the session called “Unregulated Space?: An Interplay of Technology, Legal Services and Access to Justice.”

“Technology has transformed how we do almost everything,” including providing legal services, Hadfield said.

Technology can provide efficiencies in everything from internal processes at law firms to document analysis previously done by attorneys.

Gillian Hadfield

“We shouldn’t underestimate the artificial intelligence,” Pinnington said.

Moore said those in the profession are taking advantage of mobile apps and other tools to help with documenting compliance, gathering evidence and signing documents.

Even more complex legal processes such as dispute resolution are moving online, as companies such as Modria and eBay have shown, Hadfield said.

Moore said Rocket Lawyer, which provides legal documents and information online as well as an online attorney directory, is living proof that innovation is possible in the current regulatory climate.

But he said rules restricting fee-sharing with non-attorneys can be an impediment to making legal services more affordable.

Hadfield, who advocates easing attorney regulations to bring down the cost of providing legal services for the public, pointed out that most businesses work on profit-sharing models that aren’t available to the legal profession.

Because it’s so expensive to hire a lawyer, only 15 percent of the legal services are being met by lawyers, Pinnington said. Those who can’t afford to hire a lawyer are turning to non-lawyers who aren’t regulated by the bar.

Colantuono asked the panelists what type of harm regulators should be protecting against, given the new technologies.

Pennington said one-third of the claims LAWPRO sees are the result of communication issues between lawyers and clients. The two most other common issues are time and deadline errors and inadequate investigation and discovery of facts.

“It’s not law that’s critical. It’s basic client commitment. People and systems break down,” he said.

Moore argued that regulators should not take a paternalistic approach and instead rely more on market forces to weed out the bad actors.