Driverless cars: Not a good (role) model for law firms

Edward Poll
BridgeTower Media

BOSTON, MA - Driverless cars have been in the news lately, making people think about a future world in which power is not in the hands of the people. Although technological advances are often good, lawyers should not allow driverless cars to color their view of how a legal business should be operated.

Driverless cars are just that - driverless. The technology allows cars to drive themselves, presumably eradicating most accidents because most accidents are apparently due to human error.

The technology has been tested on the streets of four states already. And according to a June 15 Business Insider article by John Greenough, approximately 10 million of these cars will be sharing our roads by the end of 2020.

Other similar technology has invaded our lives, too. We have vacuum cleaners that skim around the floor by themselves, picking up dirt and debris, ovens that clean without our elbow grease, and sprinkler systems that turn on by themselves.

So, a lawyer might ask himself, is it possible to let a law firm run itself?

The answer to that is a firm negative. The lawyer always has to be behind the wheel, so to speak. Even after establishing the firm and gaining a strong client base, a law firm needs a human driver for many aspects of the business.

For example, even in terms of planning overall goals for his or her firm, a lawyer can't plan just once and then set the firm on cruise control. A lawyer always has to have presence in order to continually evaluate and revise the plan.

This is true of the marketing plan, too. Simply evaluating the success of a marketing plan takes a human being. Situations change, and the marketing plan might need to change, too. How can this happen if the human presence is absent?

The financial plan also needs a human driver. Given changing conditions of the economy, competition and client base, it would be a bad mistake to create a financial plan and then put your firm on autopilot. The lawyer or lawyers in charge constantly need to evaluate whether the financial plan is working.

Billing and collections require a human presence. If you aren't billing and collecting, you might as well not be practicing law (unless you happen to be independently wealthy). In terms of collections, it is easy for uncollected bills to get out of hand. You can't simply send out bills and expect the money to come rolling in. Unfortunately, there are clients who will avoid paying, and your job is to monitor the situation constantly.

Even something as presumably straightforward as insurance needs the human touch.

Insurance needs change as your business grows and as the world around you changes. Due to increased terrorist activity, you might decide that you need more business interruption insurance. If your staffing changes significantly, you might need to reexamine your employee benefits.

These are activities that require human intervention.

As many of you may have read, an accident involving a driverless car resulted in the death of the occupant of that car earlier this year. Clearly, driverless cars are not without flaws at this time, and they may never be. Do you want to risk your business in this way, or do you want to stay firmly in control?

Edward Poll is the principal of LawBiz Management. He coaches lawyers and is the creator of "Life After Law," a program that helps attorneys plan for profitable exits. He can be contacted at

Published: Mon, Sep 12, 2016