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Humane Technology

Mauricio Duarte
October 21, 2020

Between technology, alternative legal service providers (ALSPs), and legal tech companies, the legal industry's future is exciting. Attorneys will remain essential players in the legal industry—but attorneys that embrace "humane technology" will thrive.

As Nicole Abboud said, we have to inject humanity into technology.

"I don't know if this applies, but I think a trend that I would like to see, and hopefully it's coming, is just injecting more humanity into the tech that we use. I think we can all get so lost in the tech aspect of things that we forget who's supposed to be on the other side. We forget that tech is really just supposed to facilitate our communication and connection with the people on the other end. So I think the more human our technology can become, the better." Nicole Abboud

In other words, technology alone will not replace lawyers or make them a relic of the past. Technology will undoubtedly accelerate change, but the most impactful innovations in law will result from a profound transformation in how technology is centered around our clients. We don't refer exclusively to "end-users" in business to client (B2C) model. Clients can also be attorneys that need technology for their practice and contract with another company (B2B). As the recent 2020 Clio Trend Reports suggested:

"Legal professionals rank technology as a high priority to their firm's success."

2020 has accelerated technology adoption for attorneys and their clients. However, we must never forget that technology has to be centered around the experience's end-user. Let's give an example.

When someone approaches A2J Tech for a document automation project, the client wants to know an estimate. Depending on the number of documents, variables, time needed, and format of the documents, we can give a proposal for the project. At first glance, the clients believe our estimate is based only on the assumption of strict automation. However, all of our projects have a component of humane technology. In other words, we invest the time to create a product that is accessible and has the final user in mind.

For a document automation project, using our principle of "humane technology," we draft all the questions ("interviews") in a way that an ordinary citizen can understand. For example, let us imagine a product that automates divorce forms, similar to the work we did for Hello Divorce in California and Colorado. Instead of asking: "What is the Respondent's name?" or "Where are the premises to serve the summons?" we could reword it and make it more understandable for the user. This would mean we would ask something like this: "What is the name of your ex?" or "What is the address of your ex to deliver the divorce petition?"

We have attorneys and human-designers that work jointly to create understandable content for the user. That is why, for any project, big or small, we take a serious approach when it comes to making it user-friendly. The scope of "humane technology" is not limited to questions. We go beyond that requirement. At A2J, we focus on the user experience, the product's flow, and how everything fits together. At the end of the day, we thrive on delivering technology products that anyone can use, regardless of their technical skills.

We get asked why, as a technology company, we do that. The simple answer? Technology alone has a limit. Technology is a tool to enhance human connections, services, and products. We cannot expect to only focus on developing technology without thinking of the user, its needs, interests, and objectives. In our experience, these are some steps to adopt the principle of "humane technology".

1. Ask questions. Always go to your client or stakeholders and ask relevant questions about the problems, issues, concerns, dislikes, and interests. You have to invest serious time knowing your users. This goes from asking how their day is to asking how filing for bankruptcy under Chapter 7 usually works.

2. Research. Even if your questions get answered by the prospective users of a specific technology project, you will have to do some additional research on your own. You have to understand the problem of your users. This exercise will improve your empathy towards the user, making it easier to create a better solution.

3. Constant communication. For any software development or document automation project, you will need to keep constant contact with the prospective users. Try to get feedback early on to make the necessary adjustments. There is nothing worst for a client than receiving a project that needs profound changes.

4. Avoid "legal" prose. As an attorney, I know we tend to use complex words or phrases in Latin. However, most of the time, the prospective user of the technology is not necessarily an attorney. Trying to make content understandable is critical for any project. It is not always fun to change the "traditional" legal language. However, we have to put our effort into it. That's why we have our designers, attorneys, and human-centered designers work together.

5. Test, test, and test. Always test any technology. This goes from focusing on a simple "typo" to something more complex of changing the user's workflow. For example, for a document automation project, testing could throw results that signal you need to improve how you frame questions or design the output documents.

Final Thoughts

Access to justice can only be accomplished when we create products and services around the user. Access to justice, at its core, remains a human need. Technology alone cannot understand or relate to human emotions.

Dan DeFoe once said:

"When lawyers become more person-centered, and not exclusively problem-centered, the lawyer/client relationship can blossom and improve."

We can agree with that premise. However, if we go one step beyond, once the technology becomes user-centered, the legal industry's technology adoption will flourish.

Legal services will remain based on trust. To improve that trust with technology, the human-centered design will take center stage. Technology must work in tandem with our human needs. Remember: we must embrace the unique, emerging value of technology while reinforcing the importance of humanity.

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