There are three categories of intelligence in the legal vertical–intellectual, emotional, and artificial. Many lawyers have elevated IQ’s, though relatively few seem to possess high EQ’s– commonly called ‘people skills’. Only the best lawyers—trusted advisers– have both. Artificial intelligence (AI), a recent entrant in the legal vertical, scores high on IQ, but the jury is still out on whether machines can develop comparable EQ.
What kind of intelligence is required for legal delivery? The simple answer is: it depends upon the task. Identifying an appropriate division of labor–who does what—now involves not only human resources but also machines. What, then, makes a human lawyer different from a machine version, and what are the core strengths and limitations of each?
Lawyers Are Brighter Than Most People Think
Lawyers have amongst the highest average IQ’s of all job categories. Note: that’s analytical not emotional intelligence. They also have significant formal education and professional licensure–neither of which make them practice ready. But it does provide a degree of analytical rigor. Let’s stipulate that, as a group, the million-plus U.S. lawyers are reasonably intelligent.
How is human intelligence—IQ and EQ– applied to legal practice, and what functions require specialized training and social skills that cannot be performed by machines? Put another way, what are the core functions that lawyers perform, and what attributes differentiate effective human lawyers from machine ones? Short answer: lawyers have analytical skills that enable them to identify client challenges and to apply legal expertise that produces solutions commensurate with client risk tolerance and objectives. Great lawyers have a combination of IQ and EQ. They combine intellectual agility with an ability to read people. And while some of the rote chores that support the work they do—legal research, discovery production review, statistical analysis—can certainly be performed by machines—only human lawyers can synthesize it and communicate it to others in a way that evokes confidence (“I’m sure glad she’s my lawyer!). This requires EQ as well as IQ. Trial work requires this melding of IQ and EQ, but it applies to other practice areas, too.
The Power And Prevalence Of Persuasion In Law
Lawyers are in the persuasion business. They must be persuasive to prospective clients, clients, colleagues, opposing counsel, and the arbiters of disputes. What makes an attorney persuasive? There are several common elements—legal expertise, command of the facts, knowing the client’s objective and risk tolerance, appreciating the other side’s case, and an ability to present a cogent, convincing synthesis. That’s the IQ side.
Then there’s EQ– the lawyer’s personality and style. That’s unique to the individual. It might also be at the core of what separates humans from machines. Robots are being programmed to have personalities and moral compasses, but the ability to connect with others is something that only humans have. Machines eclipse humans in their ability to mine data, but humans bring data to life by applying it usefully and persuasively. Machines cannot instill confidence as a great lawyer can. Consider medicine where machines have been used for decades. Robots sometimes perform surgery, but it’s the doctor that is the ultimate decision maker and the one in whom the patient reposes confidence. That relationship between doctor and patient—as well as attorney and client—is built upon trust and is something that cannot be replaced by machines.
Emotional Intelligence Is More Important Than Ever
EQ—the ability to read people, to establish credibility, and to connect with them–is grossly undervalued in the legal industry. Paradoxically, as technology has emerged as a key component in legal delivery, emotional intelligence has become more important than ever. That’s because technology has spawned disaggregation and a supply chain. Integration of the supply chain requires collaboration between and among different providers, disciplines, and cultures. This, in turn, requires EQ-oriented skills that most lawyers have neither been taught at school nor honed on the job.
Collaborative skills are important as the boundaries between law and other professional services become blurred. Lawyers must be able not only to collaborate with other lawyers—inside and outside their organization—but also with staff, paraprofessionals, other disciplines, and even machines. Inter-generational collaboration is also essential in today’s marketplace Lawyers must have the ability not only to relate well to younger generations but also to be open to providing them—and the new skill sets and perspective they bring– a seat at the management table. Cultural sensitivity and awareness is also important as society and the legal workplace becomes more diverse and global.
EQ has long been regarded by lawyers as ‘squishy’ ‘feminine,’ or largely irrelevant. That’s when the world—and legal delivery—was very different. EQ is a vital form of intelligence–and always has been– the legal industry would do well to prize, teach, promote, reinforce, and reward. It is the major differentiator between humans and machines.
Artificial Intelligence: The New Smart Kid In Class
Artificial intelligence (AI) has emerged as a third form of legal intelligence. It has already been ‘employed’ by a number of in-house legal departments and law firms. Technology is rapidly moving from data collection and the creation of benchmarks to substituting for certain human functions—including those once performed by lawyers. And if you are skeptical about machines performing legal tasks because of their ‘complexity’, don’t be. Consider that Accenture, provider of high-level strategic services to the Fortune 500, announced in December, 2016 that 5% of its workforce is not human. And that percentage is certain to grow.
It’s understandable that AI evokes dread, fear, and uncertainty. But it also has great potential to improve the delivery of legal services. For example, AI can play an important role ameliorating the access to justice crisis. That’s not to suggest that it will replace lawyers, but it can certainly be leveraged to reduce their price tag that is out of reach for most people requiring ‘retail’ legal services (divorce, housing issues, immigration, etc.). AI can be used to address important but relatively simple legal problems. Take, for example, DoNotPay, a robotic online service that’s already serviced hundreds of thousands of customers. Its initial application was defending parking tickets— now it also provides Government housing assistance in the UK, deploying bots. What’s important here—and equally applicable to the corporate segment of the market—is that AI is another resource to make legal resources more accessible, cost-effective, efficient, and measurable. How, when, under whose supervision, and at what cost it is deployed is another issue.
Will lawyers be working side-by-side with robots? Yes. Technology is already an integral component of legal delivery, and AI is simply the next phase. The challenge will be for lawyers—or others managing the legal delivery process—to find the right mix and level of supervision for human and humanoid. My friend Ken Grady, an astute observer of the legal industry, envisions the ‘augmented lawyer,’ one made more efficient, effective, and affordable by collaboration with machine. That sounds right to me.
Legal expertise remains a lawyer’s core skill, but it takes more than that to thrive in the current marketplace. Today’s lawyers also require other skills— technological proficiency, project management, and financial basics to cite a few. They also need ‘people skills’ to complement professional ones. Being a lawyer involves earning client confidence and trust. That requires not only technical competence but also an ability to understand, communicate, and manage relationships with others in the legal delivery process–most especially clients. Lawyers that combine IQ, professional skills, and EQ will never be replaced, no matter how smart AI becomes.
About Mark A. Cohen
I have had a forty year career in the legal field. For thirty years, I was a civil trial lawyer and tried 57 major civil cases. My clients included the United States of America (while serving as an Assistant United States Attorney), four foreign sovereign governments, and approximately 60 Fortune 500 companies. I also served as outside general counsel to three insurance companies and as Receiver of an international aviation parts company overseeing operations on four continents. I then became an entrepreneur, focused on driving greater client focus, efficiency, and value in the delivery of legal services. I founded Qualitas, an early legal process outsourcing company, and later became a Co-Founder and Managing Director of Clearspire, an internationally recognized law firm and legal service provider. Teaching—especially skills necessary in today’s marketplace—is another passion. I am a Distinguished Lecturer in Law at Georgetown where I devise and teach professional competency courses and mentor students. I have spoken widely at educational institutions, global legal conferences, and private companies including: Harvard Law School Speaker Series, Reinvent Law, and 3M’s Global Legal Alignment Summit. My writing focuses on changes in the legal ecosystem and, more particularly, on the melding of legal, technological, and business process expertise in legal delivery.