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Technology does matter, but having an understanding relationship with clients matters more

The following article by Malcolm Mackay appeared in today’s edition of The Scotsman newspaper:

Beyond reasonable doubt, the highest profile legal figure in the news is the fictitious Rachel Zane, of Suits, the massively popular American television series about vertiginous corporate lawyers. Of course, its star, Meghan Markle, is preparing to marry Prince Harry at Windsor Castle on 19th May with around 600 guests at the ceremony.

Rachel’s boyfriend in the series is Mike Ross, who reached the top at the fictional Manhattan corporate law firm by the most unorthodox of legal means: he faked his Harvard University law degree. He was hired by the Managing Partner Harvey Specter, who never loses a case.

In the wonderful world of television make-believe, we can suspend our belief to think that Mike, who has a photographic memory and instant recall, can survive with the biggest beasts of the legal profession. It’s a compelling series to watch but Suits is as real to the legal world as Dragon’s Den is to business dealing. However, it strikes me that there is a grain of truth about the development of relationships – I’ll concentrate on the professional ones here rather than the amorous – and the level of training needed for our future legal people in Scotland.

I recently came across an article by Kelly Twigger, of ESI Attorneys, an elearning and information law firm, writing in the Vanderbilt Law School journal. She argues that law schools need to do more to prepare their students for real life as lawyers. I agree.

This requires a seismic shift away from applying traditional teaching methods. She says it starts with making our lawyers much more technology literate. While highlighting the importance of technology and the use of it to redefine the practice of law, Kelly cautions in the words of Steve Jobs that ‘Technology is not the solution. People are.’

It is important for lawyers to recognise this and to get the balance right.

However, she is scathing about certain seats of learning. “Law school faculties are old school. I’ve seen law school deans who are unwilling to provide learning in this area [technology] for law students due to pressures of the ABA (professional) requirements and the inability to fit them into the program at the purported expense of traditional areas of the law.’’

It might be a point for our law schools in Scotland to consider. Kelly was obviously promoting Vanderbilt’s programme which is bringing in technologists and consumers of legal services to talk about the state of the law and how it needs to change, and where they are going.

I think anyone involved in our legal world will benefit significantly from examining how the Internet of Things, AI and other technologies will impact on the civil and criminal justice systems. And surely the arrival in a few weeks of the GDPR regulations is further proof of this.

But, bringing us back to Suits, technology is only part of the story. It’s brainpower that matters most. We see that the best characters – and I’m taking about Harvey here – have a rapport and deep understanding of their clients. It’s often challenging and rumbustious, just like real life. However, it is always a two-way street. I still see too many legal firms and their lawyers driven by the blind pursuit of client income at all cost. Surely it can only be a personal understanding and a professional relationship with clients that matter in the long term? It’s about listening and interpreting their wishes and needs in their best interests. If you get over all the technology and it is working properly, surely that will give you time to concentrate on the fun part of the job: doing good stuff for your clients. I think Princess Rachel will approve.

Malcolm Mackay is the founder and chairman of United Employment Lawyers, an Edinburgh-based organisation of independent UK law firms that work in collaboration on all legal matters related to the workplace and employment law