By Robert Hadley
Kiosks are replacing fast-food workers, driverless vehicles could trim the transportation workforce, and videoconferencing is threatening to make routine doctor’s office visits a thing of the past.
But how has the automation revolution changed the legal profession?
As The Lane Report has written about, computerized video technology is standard operating procedure to record trials and present evidence to juries across Kentucky. Genesis of today’s system can be traced to 1982, when Madison Circuit Judge James Chenault was the first to use video recording technology in lieu of traditional court transcriptions.
Today, digital video preserves Kentucky courtroom proceedings and has made the art of electronic presentation more or less essential to most litigators’ arsenal of skills.
But other less outwardly visible technical advancements are quietly changing the legal profession.
Charles Byers, chief information officer of the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts, said CourtNet 2.0, an online system of court records, is the linchpin in a number of projects planned for the commonwealth.
“The Kentucky Court of Justice continues to tackle multiple technology projects on the path towards moving from paper to electronic court records,” he said. “To approach paperless transactions in a traditionally paper-heavy world has required statewide network, security and computing upgrades, the implementation of an enterprise content management system for secure storage, the development of a replacement case management system, and wireless access for all courtrooms.”
James Frazier III of McBrayer, McGinnis, Leslie & Kirkland PLLC said his firm has implemented a number of technical advancements.
“We’ve upgraded everything about the way we do business internally to take advantage of technology where it can improve our delivery to clients,” Frazier said.
MMLK uses digital document management and communication, web-based tracking of deliveries, an IT firm to maintain hardware and software, and online records to monitor billable time.
“While these changes have resulted in savings through efficiencies for clients, we only consider upgrades that enhance our client experience, which cannot be outsourced,” he said. “Using the latest technology while keeping the human touch remains top-of-mind.”
Rather than researching cases from scratch, the stockpile of briefs, memos and other legal byproducts from cases can be stored in a firm’s document database and readily referenced when similar issues are dealt with. The fact that documents are on a firm’s servers rather than in a paper file makes them much more accessible.
For example, boilerplate documents that can be borrowed from one case to another are often able to drive efficiencies in the courtroom preparation process.
David Brennen, dean of the University of Kentucky College of Law, said tech-savvy lawyers have an advantage.
“The ability of software to read and comprehend legal documents can generate powerful results for attorneys who are willing to learn and capitalize on these advancements,” Brennen said.
David Owen, a member with the Lexington office of law firm Dickinson Wright, said that despite the ease of searching past documents a firm has compiled, the core skills of being a lawyer remain intact.
“The practice of law at any significant level requires the lawyer to evaluate the specific facts and tailor a solution,” Owen said. “Accordingly, those databases would be very likely to be misused by an attorney who did not have experience in the discipline required.”
Soft market for jobs at firms
Although newly minted attorneys raised in today’s high-tech world may find the use of computers familiar and comfortable, there’s one thing they may have trouble finding: a job.
The Central Kentucky Market Review for 2015 documented Central Kentucky’s somewhat soft job market for new attorneys, blaming the dearth of jobs on technological shifts and the recession. Today, although things are somewhat improved, jobs for candidates with J.D. in hand are not guaranteed.
“The job market for UK Law’s recent graduates has not changed significantly over the last year or two,” Brennen said.
Most of UK’s law grads, he said, take one of three career tracks: private practice, state and federal clerkships, or government jobs.
At MMLK, Frazier attributes the market changes to consolidation among firms and “lateral hires,” or filling open positions with internal candidates.
“Even in entry-level candidates we look for proven, practical legal experience that may include moot court participation or judicial clerkships – anything that provides an indication that these individuals have a working knowledge of the practice of law beyond the standard legal education,” Frazier said.
The tight job market may also reflect dispute resolution trends. Many clients find it more cost effective to arbitrate cases rather than bring them to trial.
Jason Ams, an attorney with Bingham Greenebaum Doll’s Lexington office, said the trend toward arbitration, which became popular a few years ago, appears to be cyclic.
“Both litigation and arbitration have pros and cons, in terms of expenses,” Ams said. “It’s hard to say whether arbitration is growing or receding (permanently). It’s still a strong component of dispute resolution. We certainly see it a lot.”
Timothy Dunn, an attorney with BGD’s Lexington office, said, “I do think firms tend to be pretty selective and strategic on who they are hiring compared to maybe a decade ago. At the larger firms there’s an emphasis on gaining a more practical understanding of the legal practice early on.”
Toward that end, Dunn said BGD offers a training course on how to develop a legal practice and establish a referral network to fill its workloads.
“It explains practically, ‘how do I get certain things done with the legal world outside doing research and writing memos,’ ” he said.
Bingham Greenebaum Doll LLP
Boehl Stopher & Graves LLP
Bowles Rice McDavid Graff & Love LLP
Delcotto Law Group PLLC
Dickinson Wright PLLC
Dinsmore & Shohl LLP
Fogle Keller Purdy PLLC
Fowler Bell PLLC
Frost Brown Todd LLC
Gess Mattingly & Atchison PSC
Golden & Walters PLLC
Goss Samford PLLC
Harris Federal Law Firm
Jackson Kelly PLLC
Kinkead & Stilz PLLC
Landrum & Shouse LLP
Miller, Griffin & Marks PSC
Morgan & Pottinger PSC
Rose Grasch Camenisch Mains PLLC
Steptoe & Johnson PLLC
Stites & Harbison PLLC
Stoll Keenon Ogden PLLC
Sturgill, Turner, Barker & Moloney PLLC
Ward, Hocker & Thornton PLLC
Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs LLP