How tech can improve the lives of junior lawyers
William Dougherty is a Technology, Media, and Telecommunications Associate at Dentons in London and Co-Founder of Capacity.
In January 2020, an article on Chambers Student wrote: “…firms were offering 1,357 training contracts per year – and receiving a total of more than 70,000 applications. That translates to a 2% success rate [in respect of the 82 firms listed in Chambers Student Guide’s 2020 edition].” It has always been difficult becoming a junior lawyer and these stats were before the onset of a global pandemic.
But, for the 2% that were successful, the difficulties don’t end there – a different set of challenges are just beginning. Junior lawyers are in a high pressure environment where they are trying to learn, but the more mistakes they make the less opportunity they will have to gain exposure to more complex tasks. They often spend most of their time doing administrative work and can feel frustrated by the lack of opportunities to get a wider range of experience. Many are also overworked and tend to have very little control over the work they do day-to-day.
Some junior lawyers who have experienced these issues have decided to solve these problems with technology, in an attempt to make a positive impact on the industry. In this article we will look at three such software solutions: Define, Avvoka, and Capacity.
One of the skills that is most revered in junior lawyers is attention to detail. Only upon getting the “simple” stuff right will you gain the trust of your team and get the opportunity to move on to more complex work. However, when you are dealing with contracts which can run into several hundred pages and subject matter entirely alien to you, without mental stamina even the “simple” things can present their own challenges.
Define is a tool which optimises contract drafting and reviewing for lawyers. It allows users to instantly access all defined terms and references in documents without ever having to leave the clause or provision they are working on. Aside from the obvious efficiency savings, Define helps to take some of the burden off your working-memory, making proofreading and document review less mentally taxing and more accurate. Traditionally, lawyers would have hard-copies of contracts and multiple screens to solve for this issue. However, with the rise of remote working and the desire to minimise paper-wastage, this product has arrived at the perfect time! The tool is also a big improvement on these work-arounds because you can navigate to the right definition/clause with the click of a button, rather than wasting valuable time finding every single reference.
Often junior lawyers do not get stuck into the main legal documents on a transaction or case. Their role is, at times, limited to more administrative functions, such as due diligence and managing data rooms — an aspect of working as a junior lawyer which can cause firms to lose talent.
Avvoka is an online document automation platform. The tool encompasses end-to-end document automation: everything from automated first drafts, to online document collaboration, negotiation, e-signature, and data analytics. Avvoka brings efficiency and transparency to the contracting process, which frees up time for lawyers to do more high-level advisory and technical work. Most other tools on the market involve ‘coding’ to create automated documents. However, Avvoka’s “no-code” platform allows anyone to learn automation in hours, not weeks, with no need for external consultants. As such, junior lawyers can automate a variety of legal documents. This not only hands them responsibility, but also cuts down the time they spend on the more administrative elements of contract drafting, allowing them to focus their time on strengthening their understanding of the documentation at hand. This adds more value for clients and is important for long-term career development.
Generally law firms do not have efficient processes in place to manage workflows. This lack of oversight/process can result in unfair and uneven work allocation – like Define, the issues Capacity seeks to address are further compounded by the rise of remote working.
93% of junior lawyers surveyed by the Junior Lawyers Division reported feeling stressed in their role, with almost a quarter feeling severely/extremely stressed. Over 77% said that their firm could do more to support stress at work and cited high workloads as the leading cause of their stress.
Capacity is a work-allocation tool that seeks to solve a raft of issues experienced by junior lawyers, including reducing work-related stress. Capacity allows its users to communicate their availability with their team in real time, which can help ensure that work is more evenly distributed and junior lawyers are not overworked. It also has a unique tendering process allowing junior lawyers to self-select their own work. Scientific research has found that autonomy over tasks is more than twice as likely to improve job satisfaction than salary, working hours, and working environment. Moreover, control over work flow reduces levels of work-related stress as well as increasing job satisfaction. Job satisfaction strongly correlates with improved quality of work, which in turn translates into increased profits for the business and so is a win-win all round.
Traditionally law firms have been slow to adopt new technology. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated digital transformation within the industry. For many junior lawyers, who are finding themselves working longer hours in their home-offices, legal-tech may prove to be a lifeline.