If you listen to the tech-savvy pundits, the age of the transactional lawyer will soon be coming to an end as cloud-based artificial intelligence software will soon be producing all the legal forms a person could ever want at prices so low, no lawyer could ever compete. The thing is, this is not what a law practice, especially a rural law practice, is about.
A rural law practice is not about the “product” – those forms, those missives of legalese we lawyers produce on behalf of our clients – if it were, law firm size would be measured in terms of the number of paralegals rather than the number of attorneys. I have no doubt that software can produce a form that is correct in all particulars, that clever engineers can gin-up an interface that will ask all the necessary questions to have the form comply with statutory requirements, and that this cheap, elegant, correct form will be totally unsuited to a client’s specific situation.
Practicing rural law is not about asking the necessary questions, it is about asking the right questions and understanding not only what the client wishes to accomplish, but why as well and only then moving on to the how. The oft-told stories among family law lawyers about spouses asking and getting the family home in the divorce settlement who turn around a sell the property within the year simply because they could not afford the property on a single person’s income are classic examples of understanding the what-a-client-wants part of the equation while ignoring the why; understanding the why allows the lawyer to function as councilor not just as advocate and opens up the possibility of other options that may provide a better outcome and a better service to the client. Technology will always get the “what” part, but it is unlikely to ever get the “why” part and therein lies its weakness.
A rural law practice (or most solo or small firm practices for that matter) is about service – service to clients, service to community. Technology, even the most sophisticated artificial intelligence software, can’t provide service – it simply cannot make that intuitive leap that uses both “what” and “why” to get to “how”. The lawyer who forgets that his true value lies in service not in product will not last long in rural practice. If you provide quality service and market your practice on the value you provide you need not be concerned about being replaced by CheapLegalForms.com any time soon.