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AI? What about NI? Enhancing Natural Intelligence Makes Better Lawyers

Seth HallemA good lawyer helps you see around the bend. In my experience over the years as a client, I have found that each time my attorney points out something in a contract or business decision that I had not anticipated, I ignore the next bill when it comes in and I pay it gladly. When I feel that my attorney is simply a contract factory, I look at each bill closely and start to wonder if there is a better way.

I recently had this experience with my company's attorney and, as has become my custom, I did not pay any attention to the forthcoming invoice. I did, however, stop to think about how my company, as a legal technology provider, could facilitate more such interactions for our customers and their clients.

A few months ago, I read an article summarizing a survey conducted by Clio. The headline of this survey is that lawyers bill only 2.3 of every 8 working hours, instead spending the plurality of their day on administrative tasks. This article jogged my memory of another article from the American Psychological Association (APA) that outlined the significant productivity lost due to context switching and distractions. If my attorney is to be a source of insight, he or she cannot be compromised by distractions that lessen her effectiveness.

Technology plays a substantial role in enabling focus or in distracting, and not necessarily in the ways you might anticipate. Certainly, communication tools like social media, chat, and email can be distracting. But technology distracts in many other ways: for example, switching to a Windows PC when you are an avid Apple user is a distraction; typing in your password or an extra pincode is a distraction; switching from your mobile device to your PC is a distraction; waiting for slow software to load or to respond is a distraction. All of these distractions interrupt the most valuable type of thought - uninterrupted, focused thought. Exactly the kind of thinking that creates insightfulness.

Too often, technology is designed to do a sliver of a task without any thought to where that task starts and where it ends. Suppose an attorney receives an email from a client on her mobile phone. There is a distinct cost in productivity lost for each context switch required for her to respond. If she needs to access a document to respond to that email, this may require switching apps, opening a virtual desktop client (e.g., Citrix), or opening a laptop to access that document. Each such switch may trigger an authentication event, perhaps with a second factor token required to conclude that authentication event. Adding up the time it takes to switch apps or devices, authenticate, and then find and open the document there is a significant lag introduced in her work process. 

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More damning than the time lost, though, is the lost focus. As the APA noted, up to 40 percent of someone's productive time may be lost due to the overhead of "brief mental blocks created by shifting tasks." This loss of focus is something we hear from our customers in a variety of ways. Just last week a customer complained off-handedly about "all those passcodes" required to get to a document when she was out of the office. Another of our customers decried the 10 minutes it takes to "load all of the plugins" to Outlook. These attorneys are not technology luddites - they understand the value of security and the capabilities of the software their firms adopt, but unlike IT they experience these "mental blocks" viscerally in their daily workflow. The loss of productivity is frustrating. 

As technology providers, we must balance competing goals. Technology solutions are invented because there is an opportunity to enhance customers' productivity or to increase their effectiveness by using that technology. At the same time, technology plays an increasingly important role in protecting sensitive data and in controlling access to sensitive systems. Technology is also the primary medium of communication. 


A well-crafted technology solution places all of these different roles into a sensible order and implements sensible connections between them. This means that an attorney can, for example, receive an email, review a document, markup changes to that document, and forward that document to a client without an unnecessary context switch and without spurious distractions. The more technology does to enable uninterrupted work, the more technology does to enable insightfulness. And insightfulness is an attorney's greatest, and most unique, value to her clients.

Seth Hallem is the CEO and Co-founder of Mobile Helix, the maker of the LINK app for lawyers. Seth has a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from Stanford University. Seth heads up Research and Development of the LINK encrypted app which provides secure end-to-end mobile workflows for reviewing, modifying, and sharing documents. 

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