The need for speed

Posted by Ross Birkbeck, founder and inventor of Legal Futures Associate Casedo, and a barrister at Old Square Tax Chambers

Birkbeck: No wait for paper

I was struck the other day by a complaint about the software, Casedo, that I have designed to help barristers and other lawyers like myself. It was, apparently, too slow.

Given how much time I know Casedo saves me on a daily basis, this struck me as unfair. It’s easily the fastest way to get my job done. A few follow-up questions, however, helped figure out exactly the issue: it was not that Casedo did not, standing back, save the barrister in question hours of time. They conceded that it did.

The problem was just that the documents were not displayed instantly: that they had to wait, for all of three seconds sometimes, before their documents were loaded and displayed; that they sometimes had to pause and let the software catch up with them.

Why the impatience? Why the need for such speed? The answer, as it so often is for us advocates, was an impatient judge. Or, perhaps more fairly to the judge, the feeling that the court was waiting, that they were not ahead of the room, that their answer was not ready as soon as the question was asked.

In an industry renowned since Jarndyce v Jarndyce for taking an interminable amount of time to deal with most things, both in and out or court, the sudden demand for speed might seem odd. But lawyers are not alone in this.

If you’ve ever spent any time on a film set, your first thought will be ‘who are all these people standing around doing nothing for so long?’. A question which will finally be answered – if you stick around and pay attention long enough – by the realisation that they are waiting to act quickly and decisively when their time comes.

A soldier will tell you the same story – things move very slowly until they don’t, but it’s those moments that count the most.

Lawyers, in court especially (but not only there – negotiations and client conferences can also demand that same instant readiness), are also working in an environment that demands high performance and also cannot afford to be waiting for their laptop when it is having a difficult moment.

I suppose this is another of the reasons that paper has stuck around for so long in courtrooms in particular: since it doesn’t do anything, you never get the feeling that you have to wait for it. It just sits there, reliable, delivering its data to your eyes at the speed of light.

To truly satisfy its audience, courtroom legal tech needs to be just as instant.

But it’s a reaction, too, that can be seem more widely in the legal sphere, and in legaltech generally. I have often heard lawyers complain that they don’t like a tool because it gets in their way.

Often this just means that things take too long to find, that there are too many buttons to press before they can get started on the substantial work.

That complaint is a reminder that the problem of complexity in legaltech is not just about tools being too complex to figure out (though some tech definitely has that problem), it’s that tech solutions are often so complicated that they can slow things down just at those unfortunate moments when speed is most important.

So it won’t matter to a lawyer if your powerful tool can shave an hour off their day when there is no pressure, if it occasionally leaves them sitting useless trying to bring up the right page, and apologising for the short delay to their client or colleague or judge.

I’m not sure there is a total answer to this. ‘Be better prepared’ might be one. ‘Buy a faster computer’ is another, but just as unfair.

For now, I was just pleased to be able to tell our disgruntled user that our latest Casedo release is at least twice as fast as the current version of the software. Let’s see if it’s fast enough to keep the judge off their back…


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