Back when I started practicing law, fax machines were just coming into vogue. This was an extremely useful development, especially since email had not been invented yet.
The timeline for the introduction of fax machines into law offices had two distinct markers.
The first was when clients or other lawyers would ask, “Do you have a fax machine?” Either “yes” or “no” were perfectly acceptable answers. “What is a fax machine?” was also a reasonable response.
The second marker was when the question became “What is your fax number?” There was only one correct answer, which was to recite your fax number. If you replied, “I do not have a fax machine” the response might be, “When do you plan to enter the modern era?”
It only took about twelve to eighteen months to go from one stage to the next, during which timeframe there was a “tipping point.”
In his book, “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference,” Malcolm Gladwell introduced the theory of the “tipping point,” being “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.”
In today’s vernacular, the tipping point would be the moment that something goes viral.
Many other tipping points occurred during my career. For example, “do you have a cell phone?” quickly became “what is your cell number?” Before that tipping point, it was fine to wait to get to the office to retrieve your messages and return your calls. After the tipping point if you did not have a cell phone, you were a neanderthal trailing the market instead of leading it.
Generally speaking, it is good business to recognize tipping points as they develop, instead of becoming aware of them after they have occurred and then scrambling to catch up.
I am not suggesting that it is always a great thing to be the earliest adapter to new technology. My firm once made the mistake of joint venturing with a software developer to digitize minute book documents, thinking that it would allow us to get the exact software features that we wanted. We found out that this type of project can be both labour intensive and frustrating. Often it makes more sense to wait to acquire a more mature product.
So if you want to be seen by your clients and the legal community as being a leader in the profession, the ideal time to adopt new technology is after the bugs have been worked out and before the tipping point. Of course, figuring out when the tipping point is going to happen is a whole other thing.
Which brings me to document automation and artificial intelligence. We all know that it is here, and that the tipping point is coming. But when to jump in? I have absolutely no idea. But I do think that if I were still running a law firm, I would make sure that it was someone’s job to know all about this stuff, and I would be budgeting to jump in at the right moment.
For an interesting perspective from a document automation software company on these issues, see what Appara has to say here: https://bit.ly/3MUeptI