Reports of Lawyers’ Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

In the legal industry, the Engineer versus Druid dichotomy is an interesting one.  These names come from a familiar aphorism: ‘There are two kinds of fools: one who says this is old and therefore good, and the other who says this is new and therefore better.‘ The former are called Druids and the latter Engineers. (Keep in mind that not all Engineers are engineers: they are so named for their interest in innovation, not their degrees.) As Kenneth Grady points out, these polar perspectives are deeply ingrained: Engineers can’t understand why Druids reject what’s new, and Druids can’t fathom why Engineers want to throw the baby out with the bath water.Engineers vs. Druids in Law

But in his analysis, one characterization of Engineers struck me as a bit unfair: most Engineers are not gunning for a time when “computers will take over much of what lawyers can do, leaving us to hold our client’s hand and commiserate when things don’t go their way.” In my experience, Engineers are more likely to want lawyers to be solving interesting problems, not leaving all problems to machines. After all, Engineers favor innovation in part because problem-solving is interesting and its results are rewarding. So, why wouldn’t they want lawyers to reap those same rewards?

Put another way, if Engineers really thought that computers could replace lawyers, wouldn’t they also think that computers could replace them at writing programs and producing innovation? That they do not is more than myopia: it is the Engineer view of technology. The mentality of ‘new is always better’ pre-supposes that there will always be something new. That means that the innovation they aim for is dependent on an active legal field with increasingly-complex challenges.

You can think of it like a team of sous-chefs in a professional kitchen. They handle the basics, like chopping or basting, so the chef can focus on menu creation and taste profiles. Legal technology aims to do the same. Just as the chef is still necessary – despite any number of sous-chefs, so are lawyers necessary – even when legal technology is employed. The support team enables a chef to avoid prosaic work like slicing; similarly, legal tech allows a lawyer to avoid mundane work like compiling data.

For Engineers in most fields, the goal is for technology to cut the drudgery, leaving practitioners to solve the fun challenges. In the legal space, this means reducing the time spent converting documents to PDF or manually scouring files for similarities—so lawyers can figure out new ways to help a case go the client’s way.

Of course, being at either end of the spectrum – Engineer or Druid – is extreme, since neither new nor old is always better. But however outlandish the Engineer viewpoint, it doesn’t include the elimination of lawyers any more than the Druid view includes the elimination of all technology. And that makes finding a middle ground just a bit easier.