AI A Harsh Reminder to Focus on Personal Service

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Take out your crystal ball, wave your hand over it, chant a few words for effect ... and look closely at what the future will bring in terms of the profession of law.

What did you discover in the depths of that sphere? Did it seem a bit murky? It doesn't have to be. You can ensure that your own future is crystal clear.

Ever since the debut of "The Jetsons," a cartoon that featured a world of futuristic technology and robots, most of us have been aware of the impending death of many jobs and careers.

A recent story by Connor Radnovich of the Associated Press on the impact of artificial intelligence in the next decade focuses anew on this possibility. The story discusses two general scenarios imagined by respondents to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center's Internet Project and Elon University's Imagining the Internet Center: (1) there will be fewer jobs because robots will take the place of some human employees (e.g., truck drivers will be replaced by self-driving cars); or (2) technology will create more jobs (e.g., although technology has taken over some secretarial work, it has opened the job field for Internet marketers).

In terms of the future of lawyers, the important takeaway from the article is that positive human traits can help you retain your clientele, regardless of technological advances.

According to Aaron Smith, a researcher for the aforementioned Internet Project, some of the survey respondents felt that "jobs that don't require specifically human traits — such as empathy, ingenuity or resourcefulness — are at risk for being replaced."

Low-skill blue-collar jobs are certainly at risk, but so are white-collar jobs that involve repetitive sorts of activities. The unspoken conclusion here is that jobs that do require specifically human traits — the good ones, obviously — are likely to be somewhat shielded from the existence-quenching consequences of technology. That would seem to be a no-brainer.

For attorneys, the other no-brainer is that they need to exhibit those good human traits to make sure they don't become obsolete. There are already plenty of free legal forms available on the Internet that allow people to complete tasks like making a will (of course, it's always a good idea to get legal advice for such tasks, but not every potential client agrees — especially when financial savings are at stake).

What an Internet form can't do, however, is provide advice about choices based on a client's particular situation, lend a sympathetic ear when the client is going through a divorce or a bankruptcy, or help prepare a client for trial. In other words, a machine has limitations.

In order to attract and retain clients, lawyers need to exhibit at every meeting and during every interaction the traits that technology can't provide. For example, lawyers should always give total attention to their clients. They should answer all phone calls promptly.

They should instruct their staff to familiarize themselves with the clients so that the clients feel special when they call. And they should attend functions where they can socialize with their clients outside of the office. Of course, these are just a few of the many ways in which attorneys can make their clients feel special.

Don't get too comfortable behind that law degree. There isn't a single profession from music to medicine that automation doesn't have in its sights. But by emphasizing their human traits instead of just a machine-like work ethic and cold precision, lawyers will inspire loyalty and be the kind of people that clients are happy to pay, even for those services that could soon — or already can — be fulfilled via technology.

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