Lawyers & Lattes: From software developer to lawyer disrupter
Former software developer Dale Barrett knows the promise and potential of technology, especially for lawyers. His first firm was entirely virtual. His next firm, Lawyers & Lattes, was based in a café to offer more accessible legal services to clients. Both upended the traditional model for a law firm.
“Technology has always been important to me as a lawyer, and as a former software developer I have always used technology to have an edge over my competitors,” said Dale, managing partner of Barrett Tax Law. “My first firm, Barrett Tax Law started with no offices. The entire operation was built on software which resided on the web. I was able to have a distributed network of individuals work together, all from home and all on a technology platform which I wrote and developed. This provided me the ability to grow quickly.”
A firm without retainers or ‘outlandish fees’
The success of this business model led to Dale’s next firm, Lawyers & Lattes.
“Fast forward ten years to Lawyers & Lattes – a firm in the form of a café,” said Dale. “Introducing a law firm based out of a café has taken away much of the fear factor,” he said. With the use of technology developed for the firm, Lawyers & Lattes has shifted the typical client relationship.
“We don’t require retainer agreements, outlandish fees or waiting time,” said Dale. “We can service a client on-the-spot and provide most of our services while the client sips a latte in a café.”
Lawyers risk their own extinction
Dale believes innovation alone does not pose a threat to the legal profession.
“Rather, lawyers who fail to embrace change and fail to evolve will ultimately cause their own extinction,” Dale said.
He expects AI to grow in influence and use by lawyers. “Undoubtedly there will be many aspects of law which will ultimately be performed by intelligent systems,” said Dale. “Further there will be many more areas of law which will be made easier and possibly commoditized as a result of innovation and improving technology.”
All of this provides opportunities.
“Arguably there are more opportunities than ever for those who want to help change the way that law is practiced – for the innovators,” said Dale. “There is now a convergence between the level of technological advancement and lawyers’ desires and inclinations to innovate and evolve. It is this convergence which makes now the best time ever for the visionaries and the innovators.”
“There will always be a place for lawyers. It is just a question of what that place is, and how lawyers can go about finding those opportunities.”
Lower costs and intelligent risk assessment
Dale believes that within the next decade, most basic legal services will be commoditized, reducing their costs dramatically. This will in turn reduce the direct involvement of lawyers in these commoditized legal services.
“I also believe that the majority of litigants will consult intelligent systems to determine their likelihood at arriving at a positive outcome prior to going to court. This is already starting to happen in areas such as tax law,” said Dale.
With decreased reliance on lawyers, the number of lawyers overall may decline. “The remaining lawyers are likely to acting in more a limited and focused capacity, in areas which cannot be replaced by a computer – for example, as trial advocates.”
Lawyers ready for a paradigm shift
Dale feels Innovators have often been regarded with suspicion. However, with the advent of autonomous cars, artificial intelligence, and the exploration of Mars, attitudes towards innovation are changing.
“People are seeing the world change rapidly from year to year. New innovations, disruptive as they may be, are becoming less of a shock to people. They are happening more and more often,” Dale said. “I don’t think we need to do anything to support legal professionals to navigate disruption. I think that most legal professionals are ready for the disruption. They are ready for a paradigm shift.”
Educating lawyers in the potential use of technology could assist this paradigm shift.
“The education should begin from the very early stages of legal education and should progress to continuing education for those already in the field.”
Don’t expect to practise law like your professors did
With the pace of change quickening, Dale predicts fewer law graduates will practise law. Those who do will focus on niche areas unlikely to be automated, where they can contribute value.
“New lawyers shouldn’t expect to practise law the way their parents or professors did,” said Dale.
“Find yourself a niche.”
The Centre for Legal Innovation provides a focus point for conversation around how lawyers can best manage technological innovation.
“It is important to have think-tanks such as the Centre for Legal Innovation,” said Dale. “Such think-tanks can help provide focus and context to such change. They also provoke thought.”
“By collecting and making available resources in a centralized space, promoting critical thought, and connecting likeminded people, the Centre for Legal Innovation undoubtedly helps accelerate legal innovation.”