Just the other day I was making the case for practice management and workflow automation (aka Document Assembly), and I was given a novel reason for investing in such solutions. Novel, of course, is a matter of perspective. The reason offered was that practice management and automation would counter the issue of “this work is beneath me” proffered in a law firm.
It is many years since I left the hierarchical practice of law (I once worked at Cravath, Swaine & Moore), where it really really mattered where you were in the pecking order … more so it seemed than how you practiced law.
The argument advanced is that no-one has trouble delegating work to a “computer”. If the computer “does it”, it doesn’t matter whether the senior partner gives the computer instructions directly or the lowliest new employee (you supply the word here) does the work. In this sense, the computer is a “democratizing” influence and corrupter.
And so, the computer with full automation cuts both ways. It allows the senior partner to be more productive (get work done by delegating it to a computer program instead of a staff member) and the most junior staff member to be more productive (by doing sophisticated work through a rule-based automation system that used to be done by junior attorneys).
In the words of Thomas Friedman in “The World is Flat”, it flattens the hierarchy by enabling productivity on both ends of the spectrum. The only people hurt, it seems are the people in the middle, with middling skills and training. In the super-empowered organizations, it is now up to the people in the middle to TAKE OVER these automation projects. It is for them with the capability and energy to design and shape these processes, to own them, to become the masters, to build new fiefdoms efficiency.
And so, the call for “This Work is BENEATH ME!!!” should be a call to arms for a new direction, a new energy, a new focus.