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LAWBIZ COACHES CORNER: Give clients service a robot can’t

Ed Poll is a speaker, author and board-approved coach to the legal profession. He can be contacted at edpoll@lawbiz.com. Also visit his interactive community for lawyers at www.LawBizForum.com.

Ever since the debut of The Jetsons, a TV cartoon show that featured a world of futuristic technology and robots, most of us have been aware of the impending death of many jobs and careers.

A recent story by Connor Radnovich about the effect of artificial intelligence in the next decade focuses anew on this possibility.

The story discusses the two scenarios imagined by respondents to a survey (conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center) about how artificial intelligence will affect jobs: (1) there will be fewer jobs because robots will take the place of some human employees, or (2) technology will create more jobs.

On the one hand, some respondents felt that jobs would fall prey to technology. For example, truck drivers would be replaced by self-driving cars. On the other hand, some respondents felts that technology would create new opportunities. For example, although technology has taken over some secretarial work, it has created new work for online marketers.

In terms of the future of lawyers, the important takeaway from the article is that positive human traits can help you retain your clientele regardless of technological advances. According to Aaron Smith, a researcher for the aforementioned Internet Project, some of the survey respondents felt that “jobs that don’t require specifically human traits — such as empathy, ingenuity or resourcefulness — are at risk for being replaced.”

Low-skill blue-collar jobs are certainly at risk, but so are white-collar jobs that involve repetitive sorts of activities. The unspoken conclusion here is that jobs that do require specifically human traits — the good ones, obviously — are likely to be safe from the existence-quenching consequences of technology. This seems to be a no-brainer.

So, for you lawyers out there, the other no-brainer is that you need to exhibit those good human traits to make sure that you don’t become obsolete.

Already, there are plenty of legal forms available for free on the Internet that allow people to do tasks such as making a will. Of course, it is always a good idea to get legal advice for such tasks, but not every potential client agrees — especially when financial savings are at stake.

What an Internet form can’t do, however, is provide advice about choices based on a client’s particular situation, lend a sympathetic ear when the client is going through a divorce or a bankruptcy, or help prepare a client for trial. In other words, a machine has limitations.

In order to attract and retain clients, lawyers need to exhibit at every meeting and during every interaction the traits that technology can’t provide. For example, lawyers should always give total attention to their clients. They should answer all phone calls promptly. They should instruct their staff to familiarize themselves with the clients so that the clients feel special when they call. And they should attend functions where they can socialize with their clients outside of the office.

By doing these things, lawyers will inspire loyalty from their clients and be the kind of people that clients are happy to pay, even for those services that they could have fulfilled via technology.

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