Embarrassment from the American Bar Association

As the head of compliance, I frequently call on a team of lawyers for advice on how to interpret the law and move that interpretation into implementation. As a consumer of legal services, I have an interest in innovation and improvements in the delivery of those services. As an former practicing lawyer, I understand the challenges.

The American Bar Association ran a  Legal Rebels contest on the theme of “What innovation will be most valuable to you in your future practice as a solo practitioner?”

I don’t deal with solo practitioners very often for legal advice, even though they represent a big portion of legal practice. Having left a big law for compliance, I’m now more like a solo practitioner (without having to look for clients.)

I was interested to hear what innovations the ABA found interesting. The crop of runners-up was a mixed bag. With some interesting thoughts and some mere statements that technology alone will be innovative.

I was hoping the winner would offer something new and interesting about improving the delivery of legal services, legal skills or the delivery of client service.

The winner thinks a fancy answer machine will be the most valuable innovation: Solo Dreams of Full-Functioning Digital Messaging Assistant.

Kevin O’Keefe and Scott Greenfield already expressed their dismay. I think this one of the worst things to come out of American Bar Association. I don’t see how this would help the lawyer. I don’t see how this helps you be a better lawyer or deliver better client service.

For the most part, lawyers are dealing with their clients at a critical time in their lives: divorce, imprisonment, merger, bankruptcy, internal investigation, etc. A personalized greeting from a robot on the phone is not going to make me think any better of the lawyer.

For me, simple questions can be answered by email. More complicated issues and more problematic issues require a real person. Do you feel better about a service provider because you can handle transactions through voicemail?

Parts of the lawyers day can be handled by technology, but personal interaction between the lawyer and the client cannot.

Maybe the ABA should just stick with selling skateboards.