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Why lawyers should learn to fail

“We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten,'' said Bill Gates. I believe the same rings true for the law industry.

Digitalisation, automation and increased horizontal expansion will increase pressure to charges per hour as well as new models for pricing and new suppliers of task traditionally viewed to be solely a lawyer’s domain. So what shall the lawyers do? Shall they participate in this development or just let it happen? Gate’s advice is clear: “Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction”. But in order to take action, lawyers must first learn to fail.

Because there is especially one trait that prevents most lawyers to partake in the development; namely, the fear of failing. Law school taught us to solve big and complex questions. It taught us to identify the most problematic requirements first, then move on to the next. To see all arguments for and against, to always make sure we have considered everything, not overlooked anything, not made any mistakes. We as lawyers are programmed to look for incoherence, misunderstanding and misinterpretation in the reasoning of others. We are quick to point out the weakest link. Who has not been accused of being the devil’s advocate from time to time?

A lawyer’s education is based on the fear of failing, but not the ability to try (and perhaps fail). Wrongdoings are not tolerated, they are never celebrated, never properly examined and never serve as a lesson to learn from. I am not saying that lawyers should start giving wrong legal advice. But I think we are missing something in our pursuit of finding the perfect solution: lawyers do not learn to be creative. They do not learn to play. They do not learn to try something new, to test it out and see if it works or not.

No wonder why most of them are reserved when it comes to testing out new models, new technology and other ways of working. Why is it such a sure thing that what they are currently doing is the only way to work?

Nearly three years ago, when I left the lawyer profession and became an entrepreneur, I learned a new way of thinking and approaching problems and challenges that I believe could be useful for many lawyers.

“Fail fast” is the mantra when you are working in an agile way- this will give results much quicker than striving to always perfecting every solution. The method entails finding the cause of a problem or a challenge one wants to solve or improve, and then try different ways of doing so, in the quickest and most economical manner. Do it “well enough”, test it out, improve the chosen way based on responses, iterate and repeat. Iteration and flexibility before perfection.

The method works for exploring all the different challenges the law industry are currently experiencing and will experience in the future: Why are not more women partners in law firms? How do we target out marketing better? How do you get your clients to recommend you to others? How do you increase productivity? How do we ensure our clients get the best customer experiences for the correct price? How do we reduce a high turnover in employees? How do we meet the increasing competition from other suppliers?

Artificial intelligence, further development in computer knowledge, blockchain and smart contracts are words used frequently by those who predict the future of the law industry. But what technology we use to solve our challenges is not that important. The important thing is that we have a clear purpose in finding these new solutions. That we correctly identify the problems we want to solve.

“Internet. Schminternet.” was Jeff Bezos’, the founder of Amazon, answer when asked about the importance of internet for his company in 1999. “Internet does not matter, in and of itself. The only thing that matters is that we offer the best possible customer experience. Our investors should invest in a company that is obsessed with offering the best customer experience, not the fact that we are an internet based company.”

Bezos is exemplifying “first principle thinking”, which is one of the most effective strategies to break down a complicated problem in order to generate original solutions. For what are we here to solve? Really?

I think the answer to how lawyers will participate in the changes that will happen in the next decade is to be found in the solutions that contribute to the best customer experience. And I also think that lawyers could have a lot of fun testing and failing in finding their way there.

And why not give it a shot, without risk, at the next Oslo Legal Hackaton?

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” - Thomas A. Edison


About the Author Merete Nygaard is founder and CEO of Lawbotics AS, Norway’s’ leading legal tech company.

After working as a business lawyer for almost a decade in some of Norway’s top tier firms, she left her job to resolve the inaccessibility, intransparency and inefficiencies of the business of law, aiming to close the gap between legal knowledge and legal need.

Now she’s enabling legal professionals to give their customers and employees legal superpowers with Lexolve Self-Service and Lexolve Market, an advanced legal self-service platform which allows legal professionals to reach and help more people than ever before. She is dedicated to advocate innovation in the legal industry, and have built one of the world’s largest communities of people interested in the intersection of law and technology and has organized Legal Hackathons in Oslo together with 30 top actors in the legal industry in Norway for two consecutive years.This post was first published on the Norways’ Bar Association’s website.

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