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How Gen Y and Gen Z Are Changing the Future of Legal Research and Technology

Eliot Wrenn
Reference Attorney Manager, Thomson Reuters

During a recent interview with Erik Lindberg, Senior Director for Westlaw Product Management, not only did I get the scoop on the latest emerging technologies from Westlaw, but I also got to pick his brain about how younger generations are influencing advancements in legal technology and the future of the legal industry.

Take a look at his thoughts, and share your own ideas and experiences with us on social media.

How are Gen Y and Gen Z attorneys driving advancements in legal technology?

They’re used to having the world in their pocket and being able to get information much more quickly. They consume and interact with information sources and technology in a completely different way than generations before. This is important to know because they will be seeking out employers who provide them with the tools and technology that make them most effective. They’re not going to want to go to the library to find information because that’s not the way they research. Younger generations entering the legal workforce are going to continue to be key influencers behind innovative tools and technologies made to do legal research more efficiently.

“YOUNGER GENERATIONS ARE GOING TO BE KEY INFLUENCERS BEHIND INNOVATIVE TOOLS AND TECHNOLOGIES MADE TO PRACTICE LAW MORE EFFICIENTLY.”

How is Thomson Reuters preparing for these shifts in the way technology is going to be used?

We’re taking advantage of these advancements in technological capabilities and laying the groundwork so we can do more behind the scenes to help our customers - of all generations - get the answers they’re looking for much more effectively. We’re in a period where the real-world benefit of applying new technology is continuing to explode, especially in the areas of machine learning and artificial intelligence. The recent Westlaw enhancements are a perfect example of why we think our customers should stick around to see what’s just around the corner.

Do you expect any resistance to these legal technology advancements?

Change can be hard, especially for veteran attorneys who have an established legal practice and are comfortable doing things how they always have in the past. Up until now, these attorneys have been successful without cognitive computing or artificial intelligence, so they may question why change?  The proof will have to be in the pudding. They will have to see real instances where they would say, “Yeah, maybe I could have figured this out, but it would’ve taken me three days and now these new tools can give that to me in three hours.”

There was some hesitancy around the concept of ‘cloud computing’. Are you seeing any change in attitude toward ‘cloud computing’ as it relates to legal information and technology?

The concern is lessening as people get more comfortable with putting their own information on the cloud. People use Turbo Tax online to file their taxes all the time. Actually, in April this year, I was at a coffee shop and there was a guy sitting with his receipts for the year laid out all over the counter, doing his taxes in a very public place. Expectations are changing. People are less concerned (to some degree) about exactly where their information is stored and better understand that the cloud can be even more secure than their own laptops.

This doesn’t mean we take security lightly. We have dedicated teams that are focused purely on data privacy and data security. While we pay attention to what you’re doing as far as running a particular search and looking at specific issues so we can recommend additional documents related to the same things you’re doing, people on our team don’t know who the user is. It’s all kept very anonymous and then aggregated to look for patterns to help drive legal research tools, but not in a way that can be tied back to what an individual user is doing.

“BY LEVERAGING THE INSIGHTS AND ANALYSIS PROVIDED BY ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE TOOLS, THE ATTORNEY WILL BE ABLE TO MAKE MORE INFORMED DECISIONS AND HAVE MORE CONFIDENCE.”

Do you think the push for advanced machine learning eventually will replace the job of an attorney?

I don’t foresee this happening generally. While there are some tasks done by attorneys today that could be done by AI processes, I think these new technologies will focus more on augmenting the job of the attorney instead of replacing attorneys. Judgment and creative reasoning are a large part of what attorneys do, and a computer processing system is not going to be able to replicate that anytime soon. The younger generations who are pushing for the advancements in technology still need to learn the foundational human elements required to practice law.

But by leveraging the insights and analysis provided by artificial intelligence tools, the attorney will be able to make more informed decisions and have more confidence in the legal advice he or she is providing to clients. For veteran attorneys to overcome any apprehension about using new innovative legal research tools, they will just need to start trying them out. Once they do, I think they will quickly gain an understanding of how these tools help provide a more complete answer, rather than taking them out of the picture.

It’s an exciting time for legal technology and I encourage attorneys of all generations to embrace and explore these advancements and find a way to use them to their advantage.

At Westlaw, we continuously develop innovative products that improve how legal research is conducted.  Learn how the latest Westlaw enhancements can be used in your legal research practices.

About the author

Eliot Wrenn

Eliot Wrenn is graduate of the University of Wisconsin – Madison and the University of Minnesota School of Law. Before law school, he could usually be found in the wilderness guiding backpacking, canoeing, and kayaking trips and teaching environmental science. He still finds time to explore the local and regional wild with his family. Eliot has been a Reference Attorney with Thomson Reuters since 2007.