What is Legal Process Engineering ?
It is a role which has startled some, caused many a disgruntled look and made some lawyers stare blankly onto their desks.
On the other hand it has caused some to sit up and take notice, direct their attention from their writs and even pray that this newly created role might, just might be the ‘missing link’ to a new legal profession.
The role itself does not fit in with the traditional perception of ‘what it is to be a lawyer’.
No-one at law school mentioned it. Legal Knowledge Engineering ( our title has been tweaked to fit our firm) is a new term coined by Professor Richard Susskind OBE.
Richard Susskind is an author, speaker, and independent adviser to major professional firms and national governments, and holds law professorships at Gresham College in London and the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. His main area of expertise is the future of professional service, with particular reference to information technology. He has written and edited numerous books, including “The Future of Law” and “The End of Lawyers?”, and has written over 100 columns for The Times.
Professor Richard Susskind is regarded as a true guru of legal technology and visionary predictions for the future of the legal profession worldwide. He has challenged law firms to recognize the market pull towards commoditization of legal services and to source routine and repetitive tasks in a more efficient way, and has predicted changing roles for the legal profession and need for increased professionality and efficiency by combining business development with technology. He has even predicted that computerizing will come to replace some of the traditional work of lawyers in firms and that the new legal career Legal Knowledge Engineer will evolve to meet the new talent demands for lawyers with competence to combine legal knowledge with IT skills. By implementing automated document production to support standardisation, firms will be able to deliver the same quality legal services and yet maintain profit margins regardless of fee structure. However, it is important not to underestimate the level of competence and skills required to understand and implement business support tools, in particular IT solutions, in a way that really enables a law practice to benefit and leverage the business and knowledge resources.
The role of Legal Knowledge Engineer is a key position within the law firms of our future sitting somewhere within organisational charts along side partners, associates and general counsel. When implementing a document assembly tool, legal documents need to be converted and connected in the right way to maximise efficiency. This is not possible for someone from the IT department, who might not have the relevant legal knowledge – and could also be difficult for a lawyer who does not really understand the complexity and potential of the tool.
This observation has also been made by Professor Richard Susskind in his book The end of lawyers?: Susskind says “It is entirely misconceived to think, as many lawyers do, that work on standards and systems can be delegated to junior research or support lawyers. If a legal business is going to trade on the strength of outstanding standards and systems, then it will need outstanding lawyers involved in their design and development. These legal knowledge engineers will also be needed to undertake another central task: the basic analysis and decomposition of legal work that I claim will be required if legal work is to be multi-sourced effectively and responsibly.” It is therefore important for the legal profession to acknowledge the unique competencies required to combine legal knowledge and IT skills to build a business differentiator.
The Legal Knowledge Engineer or in our case the Legal Process Engineer is a role in its embryonic stages which will over the course of the next year draw influences from outside of the profession to equip us with a newly engineered model of practice which we envisage will make us ‘Fit for purpose’ for the future of law. Personally as a pioneering Legal Process Engineer I welcome the challenge to step precariously outside of the legal comfort zone , my own comfort zone and take that leap of faith that we can engineer a new legal landscape.
Let our journey commence.
Michelle Hynes LL.B(Hons) DipLP
Legal Process Engineer