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Hannah Gannagé-Stewart

Deputy Editor, Solicitors Journal

What it means to be human

What it means to be human


Nicola Laver looks at the facets of practice that remind us that technology cannot replace the human touch

Money makes the world go round, if the lyrics in Cabaret are anything to go by. A present day rendition might more accurately be “technology makes the world go round”.

But it’s neither technology nor money (cost) that truly satisfies your average law firm client – rather, it’s trust and reputation.

That’s not to downplay the critical importance of both technology and money to your firm, and by implication your clients.

Maintaining and growing a healthy profit is a given, and without embracing modern technology, firms will fall well behind the competition.

There is a direct correlation between the size of a firm’s profit and client satisfaction. It should therefore come as no surprise that fresh research reveals that client satisfaction is critical to the true success of a firm.

LawNet has just published the results of extensive research involving 70,000 satisfaction surveys and 5,000 anonymous experience reviews.

It’s both remarkable and very revealing that the responses show a mere 4 per cent of new business is won on price alone; with two-thirds generated through reputation and trust (see page 28).

But should this surprise us? After all, issues of trust and confidence are emotions and inherent needs that lie at the very heart of what it means to be a human client.

While the cost of any service is an important consideration, consumers also need assurance they will receive a good and effective service.

And that’s just the start: clients most value communicative lawyers who keep them updated as to costs and progress throughout a case or transaction.

Failure to maintain a good level of communication can jeopardise the level of trust which has already been built; the relationship between you and the client can quickly deteriorate; and your chances of repeat business or being recommended to potential clients will dissipate.

A key theme that emerges in this issue is the centrality of the human: the client, the lawyer, apprentice solicitors (see our cover feature on page 22). Humans have an inherent and overwhelming need to be listened to.

Research necessarily involves listening to client feedback – but what then? Firms have vital lessons to learn from the conclusions that organisations such as LawNet have reached following their research.

For instance, utilising client insights which firms can derive from online reviews and social media comments – if they apply the resources to look.

On a more poignant note, one solicitor featured this month considers how brain injuries teach us what it is to be human: that she is in the business of helping very vulnerable people; clients for whom trust is a big issue.

Flexibility is a key requirement. It means asking the client what works for them; and if they find that speaking at a particular time or in a particular way suits them then find a way to do it.

An overwhelming message is that culture fuels change. While the quality of legal advice and professional expertise given to clients should be a given, the profession needs to up its game and never lose sight of the reality that clients are humans and need to be listened to and empathised with.

The evidence of sincerely listening to clients and their needs is a proactive response to hearing what they say – and that is a truly human response that technology can never replicate without a human touch.

Let’s turn that on its head for a moment. Can technology in the form of artificial intelligence (AI) faithfully replicate a human author?

AI is increasingly omnipresent in the legal and business world and is already being adopted successfully by the mainstream media.

The provenance of AI-generated articles may not be apparent to the unsuspecting reader – but the question is whether that really matters.

What’s more important: whether the writing has been produced by AI or written by a human; or the accuracy and trustworthiness of the subject matter itself?  Turn to page 42 and you can consider that conundrum for yourself.