A fear of tech, of the unknown, holds too many lawyers back from considering and adopting legaltech.
Being scared of new technology and seeking its elimination isn’t a new fad. In 1779, the apocryphal weaver Ned Ludd is said to have broken two stocking frames, a type of mechanical knitting machine, in a fit of rage.
He certainly wasn’t the first to rail against unwelcome new technology and he won’t be the last. To be a Luddite was to court potential disaster. Rushed through as an emergency measure, the UK Parliament passed the Destruction of Stocking Frames, etc. Act 1812 which made breaking frames punishable by death. As Charlotte Brontë noted about the widespread disorder in her novel Shirley, ‘the throes of a sort of moral earthquake, were felt heaving under the hills of the northern counties.’
In an early variant of the ‘dog ate my homework’ excuse, when frames were smashed people would say ‘Ned Ludd did it’. The antics of the Luddites fired the public’s imagination and, as we know to this day, the stereotype stuck: technophobes. Although in fairness to the Luddites they weren’t so much against the technology itself, rather the group were more upset about working conditions in the factories where the technology was used.
It is true that many lawyers use the ‘L’-word as a badge of honour: ‘I’m a bit of a Luddite at Excel, I’m afraid’. Many have been tempted to follow the advice of the Luddites when their computer crashes for the umpteenth time in a day. But is a fear of technology and its implementation —‘I don’t ‘do’ tech’ — putting the brakes on growth in the legaltech sector? Perhaps.
As psychoanalyst Stephen Grosz reminds us, ‘we resist change’. ‘We want to know what new story we’re stepping into before we exit the old one’. Of course, the future is unknowable. We’ll never know exactly what this ‘new story’ will be. And therefore we fear it. There’s the fear of breaking any new technology, looking stupid, lacking control and, ultimately, losing power: ‘I’m not going to let any old computer take away my job’. Fear of change can also be a fear of loss: a loss of a known and liked way of working.
US President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) in his first Inaugural Address famously declared ‘the only thing we have to fear is fear itself’. But it is sometimes overlooked that he also qualified what he meant by fear, calling it the ‘nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into advance’. In other words, fear can be destructive, but it can also be constructive: it can be quantified, rational and justified. Fear keeps us alive and allows us to thrive.
In the past, lawyers were undoubtedly discombobulated when they moved from quills to pens in the 1820s, from pens to manual, electric and electronic typewriters from the 1880s onwards, and then onto the computers that we know today from the 1990s onwards. And yet the profession moved on each time. Lawyers are still here. Fear didn’t win over then and ultimately it is unlikely to win over now.
Hindsight bias — where the past always seems more certain that it was, which makes the future feel even more uncertain — means we can often feel frozen in the present and uncertain what to do. It is time for us to be more aware of this bias and the often anaesthetising nature of fear. Once we understand the symptoms, we can recognise them for what they are. We can, in the words of FDR, convert retreat into advance, building thriving legal teams ready for the years and decades to come.
Earlier in the summer, we launched the New How, our long-term strategic project, to build a smarter, better, faster new normal through innovation and people-focused tech. The New How is how your business could —and should — be doing things now. Over the past few years we have been working hard developing innovative products, processes and working practices at Shoosmiths like matters+, Live Working and now Cia (our new AI contract review platform), to name a few. These exciting products don’t change what is done, but they radically change how it is done. Let us help you with your #NewHow. so you can be smarter, faster and better.