Bogdan Petrovčič explains why Legal work is still paper-first

In Meaningful work interviews I talk to people about their area of work and expertise to better understand what they do and why it matters to them.

Bogdan Petrovčič is a lawyer with a strong interest in Technology, Consumer Rights, and Personal Data Protection. We chatted about the intersection of law and technology and what the IT industry should know about modern regulatory practices.

How would people that you work with introduce you?

I am happy when I hear them say “he’s not an ordinary lawyer” or “he’s a cool type of a lawyer”. Sometimes people also mention that I’m a co-founder of Ljubljana’s Legal Hackers chapter.

What does it mean to you to be a cool lawyer?

The usual path for a lawyer in Slovenia involves going through a highly standardized way of ever-increasing specialization. It’s a very labor-intensive path and you end up with very field-specific knowledge aimed at handling criminal or civil law cases in court proceedings. My method instead is to approach the field of law from a more problem-centric perspective. Meanwhile, I’m mainly trying to understand the pain points of technology and IT-related businesses and what the legal needs of people in these particular areas are.

What kinds of needs do you see in your clients?

Initially, they’re trying to understand the basic legal framework. After that, they’re looking for legal certainty around their business ideas. They know what they want to build and they’re trying to ensure that there are no legal obstacles to their work.

Generally speaking, you could say that fears and desires usually underpin human reasoning and decision-making. You can therefore also make a similar argument in law and business. I often see the law as a way of managing client expectations (i.e. fears, opportunities, etc.) with the legal outcome of a real or hypothetical situation. For instance, legal advice typically changes depending on which mode of thinking the client is in at the moment (i.e. fear/desire). I find that addressing fear is at the heart of most legal advice.

 What kinds of fears and worries do you see in business owners?

The inversed and causal nature of the relationship between the ease of setting up an online business and the sheer amount of regulation that you need to understand to be compliant amazes me. You can create a Shopify store with a few clicks and start selling in minutes. At the same time, there’s no easy way to find all the regulatory requirements for such a business. Most entrepreneurs operate with a fear of not complying and also not knowing how to fully comply while still running their business.

What I’m noticing is that when you’re opening a physical business you’re automatically in contact with many contractors, business owners, and potential clients. You’re also usually a part of a local community of practice for your specific field of business. All of these people will help you understand the existence of different legal requirements and usually even help you implement them in practice. This support network is usually not present for new online businesses. Because the friction involved in opening an online business is low, it’s very unlikely that you would even be aware of all the different requirements that you need to follow. 

What kinds of popular fear and desire tendencies do you usually see?

The cynical answer is bitcoin and cryptocurrency-related schemes. Generally, anything that’s supposedly offering an immense and nearly immediate payoff is usually just a new business model that is trying to capitalize on the more evolved variants of fear and desire, namely the lust and greed of the user or end consumer.

What do your clients fundamentally want from you?

People with a compliance or legal issue generally want to know three things. How likely it is for them to succeed (i.e. not get fined, win a case, etc.), how long achieving success will take, and how much it will cost. 

As a part of answering the last question, we once ventured into prototyping a Legal Calculator (sl. Pravni kalkulator) that tries to estimate the cost of filing a basic claim in civil court.

These types of tools are already really popular in bigger countries. You can also clearly see a trend of legal startups launching advanced (i.e. case filing, case prediction, etc.) tools for the US market. As such tools become more accessible and reliable, this creates new ethical questions for law professionals. Popular focus is usually placed on the question should advanced legal AI decide on moral issues and classical “trolley-lever” problems? But I find that there a lot of other real and practical issues. For instance, is it ethical for an attorney to recommend the filing of a claim to a client, who’s “calculated success rate” for his case is low? 

How do you see technology concerning Law in Slovenia?

I published a few interviews on the Ius-Info portal and had a lot of private talks with Slovenian attorneys on this subject in the past year. I think the consensus is that the assumption, that digital transformation of law in smaller countries that have their language like Slovenia will naturally come from the private sector, is wrong. For instance, our judicial system generally only accepts claims that are filed in the physical form (lightyears behind their counterparts at the HM Online Court in the UK, the European Patent Office, etc.), when passing the Slovenian bar exam, you are not allowed to use a computer (with or without internet access), the access to case law is limited, work on digital systems and processes is (in my view) non-existent, etc. Within this kind of environment, it’s hard to see general practice or overall legal digitalization as a priority even if it has shown to save time and reduce costs.

How do you see the new generation of legal assistance tools such as contract drafting and AI-assisted research?

I think they’re going to make some existing legal work easier for lawyers. But everyday work will stay mostly the same.

At the same time, it opens a very real possibility that lowering the cost of producing such systems will create a disproportionately large amount of work for our judicial system. We can already see parts of this happening as it’s becoming easier to identify and find different offenses and automatically generate fines and notices (for instance, software-supported automatic copyright breach detection in Germany). I thereby predict a clear limit on the scope and number of AI or “machine learning assisted” claims one is allowed to file soon.

Where do you see opportunities for people with IT-related skills that are not lawyers?

If they’re motivated by potential monetary gains, then it’s fairly straightforward. They can make an analysis of where and how parts of our “legal bureaucracy” are failing or can be automated and build services that will replace the middlemen with technology. If they want to do this as a free “public” service, they can also get in touch with the Legal Hackers organization in their area, as this is typically the type of project that its members are working on. For instance, a friend of mine helped me launch a simple input-output query site for Covid related government grants last year – www.robokrat.si.

That being said, I tend to find that it gets even more interesting if your initial motivation isn’t a potential monetary gain. For instance, I don’t generally think or recommend that the Slovenian legislation or market should be the focus of anyone who wants to deploy technological innovation in the legal field. The GDPR provides individuals different rights to control how and where their data is or should be used. The market for serving people as a way of actually exercising their rights is fairly undeveloped and there are opportunities to create new “free” data brokerages and additional tools to better manage individual and communal relationships between users and companies.

You can also think about law as a general-purpose language processing problem. If you have the capabilities to work with large sets of natural language data and this gives you new capabilities around existing legal documents and procedures.

We’re also operating within an increasingly complex regulatory environment. For instance, there are ever-increasing opportunities for environmental activists to use open data and their crowd-sourced measurement networks to detect when the conditions from enacted regulations are not being met by a particular company or country.

What I learned from talking with Bogdan

Digital transformation of modern office is still ongoing and there are a lot of opportunities by just sharing our remote first and IT centric workflows.

With global digital market it’s going to be increasingly important to have a good lawyer or a legal subscription to help navigate the complexity.

Technology will allow us to create cheap denial of service attacks on our judiciary system. There are abusiness opportunities in this and also new ethical questions.

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