While the legal tech boom of the 2010s has shifted the ice in the legal services industry, it has to turn its attention to the well-being of lawyers, particularly their workload stress.
Back in 2013, a middle-almost-senior American lawyer wrote a painfully detailed confession of his usual working routine and posted it on Quora. In it, he described a job filled with overtimes, burning deadlines, constant pressure from clients and firm partners, and the feeling of pointlessness. According to the author, his daily tasks are “always a matter of fighting whatever fire is burning strongest; never a matter of real project management.” On his relatively relaxed day, he spends “11.25 hours alone in my office proofreading and marking documents without any human interaction.” The post resonated with many legal industry professionals and was eventually posted on the Business Insider.
Flash forward — it’s 2020. The legal tech industry, striving to address the industry’s pain points with sophisticated digital tools, has gained billions of investment dollars since 2013 and has seen more than a thousand companies founded. With such a huge effort behind the cause, the life of an ordinary lawyer should have become a lot easier. It doesn’t seem so, however.
According to the 2019 JLD resilience and wellbeing survey, which collected answers from 1,803 professionals within the legal services industry, 93% of young lawyers felt stressed out in their position, while almost a quarter of respondents reported severe stress. Shockingly, 1 in 15 lawyers indicated having suicidal thoughts. But why are things still so bad in the legal industry’s workplace stress?
Well, there are several factors contributing to this mess. Of course, being a lawyer means a lot of responsibility and expectations from clients. However, when asked directly what could be done to reduce the level of workplace stress, lawyers mostly pointed to better management, more flexible working hours, lighter workload, better collaboration, better remuneration, and lower billing targets. The legal tech industry cannot make sure lawyers are getting paid decently, but we can address many other highly contributing issues. We can provide tools to optimize paperwork and contract management — tasks which constitute the majority of any lawyer’s work. We can introduce tools that improve collaboration and remote working.
While these attempts have been visible since the legal tech boom, it seems that we need to change the entire worldview of these changes. Legal tech tools should not simply optimize the workflow of the legal services industry — they should use the machine power of automation to spare humans’ time for more complicated tasks, freeing lawyers from pointless and stressful routine. Legal tech should prioritize the well-being of lawyers at least as much as it prioritizes business processes optimization and cost-effectiveness of the innovations that we bring.