Lawyers are human, not robots: A desire for connection in a remote world | Inquirer Business

Lawyers are human, not robots: A desire for connection in a remote world

/ 02:15 AM May 23, 2023

In a world where technology increasingly blurs the boundaries between work and home, the COVID-19 pandemic has thrust us into a state of remote communication, potentially alienating us from one another. Amidst zoom meetings, online contracts, and digital courtrooms, we often overlook the fact that lawyers are not machines but humans, who seek genuine connection and interaction.

This was particularly apparent at a recent law conference I attended, which had upwards 7,000 attendees from across the globe.


The event, which saw the participation of lawyers, in-house counsels, and company representatives from various nations, had an exhaustive agenda. It included educational events led by expert panelists, tours around the host country exploring local culture, and social gatherings at night after the days’ scheduled conferences have ended. Yet, more than the legal enlightenment, what the participants sought was the quintessence of human connection.

Professional events like conferences, seminars or symposiums are typically seen as opportunities for learning, networking and establishing professional ties. We tend to focus on the educational aspects: the intricate legal talks, the expert panels, and the practical workshops. However, this conference underscored the importance of human interaction.


On the first day, I immersed myself in the flurry of the conference, attending educational talks, jotting down notes, and rehearsing questions for the Q&A sessions. I enjoyed the talks on best practices for game licensing, international law updates, and the legal ramifications of AI use.

After a day of panel discussions, I decided to take a break and join a tour of the city’s Chinatown district.

There I met participants from all corners of the world: Australia, United States, Canada, Germany, Italy, France, Latvia, Malta, Israel, Turkey, South Africa, Brazil, Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam, among others. Beyond their legal expertise, they were individuals with unique stories, personal struggles, and rich cultural backgrounds. They sought opportunities to exchange personal narratives, shared experiences, and learn about each other’s cultures, thus creating a vibrant human tapestry beyond the confines of their profession.

There was Peter from Germany, who shared that he had attended the conference in the past, yet has never attended any of the meetings, talks, and panel discussions. He has found joining the optional tours together with the other participants as the best way for him to get to know fellow attendees and exchange legal insights and experience.

During one reception, I was able to engage in an insightful conversation with Christine, who used to be an in-house counsel with Alibaba, but is now a practicing lawyer based in Australia. She shared how different an experience it was to attend the conference as an in-house counsel versus attending now as a member of her law office. While an in-house counsel, she would be inundated with invitations and requests for meetings, many of which she had to turn down for lack of time. Now, she had to be more proactive in seeking out meetings and events.

There was James from London, and we had an entertaining chat about the Royal Family, the coronation of King Charles and Queen Consort Camilla, as well as his views on Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex.

I also met Mark from Canada, and we discussed our recent cases, our changing roles during the pandemic, and the often under-appreciated work-life balance in the legal profession. I found how Mark’s anecdotes about Canadian law firms embracing employee wellness programs sparked ideas that my law office could potentially implement.


Being Filipino, I was also very happy to meet people with even the slightest connection to the Philippines.

There was Kathleen, who I met at a tour about local coffee. She is not a lawyer, but had Filipino roots and grew up in the US. She now works with an American multinational technology conglomerate which has over 14,000 employees. It was interesting to know that her company allowed her to work remotely full-time and how as a mother of a 2-year-old, this allowed her precious time with her young child.

Another lawyer I spent some time with is Sarah from Australia. After the conference, she was going straight to Italy and Spain to spend a few weeks travelling while working at the same time. Technology has allowed her to continue working efficiently while experiencing Europe and new places by the simple act of bringing with her a laptop.

At the Chinese tea appreciation class, I met Barry, also from Australia who has his own law firm. He shared that during his first conference, he made the mistake of attending the educational talks, and found himself in huge conference halls able to sit 2,000 people with only about 20 people in attendance for the audience. Barry mentioned that his firm’s administrative office was run by Filipinos in the Philippines.

Nathaniel from Israel mentioned that his mother was visiting the Philippines later this year to see the sights. We discussed Philippine law and pressing legal issues, as well as the recent visit by a Philippine commerce delegation to Israel.

During the conference, I would usually wake up before 6 a.m. for my morning run around the city before heading to the event venue. I later learned that there was a group of attendees that would get together and run around the city every morning. I would have liked to join that group, but it was our last day already.

In a conference with more than 7,000 attendees, I also found that I would meet people in the most unexpected places such as Fabio from Brazil who I met at the MRT station. We are now friends, and have connected on social media.

Social isolation due to the pandemic and the shift to work-from-home arrangements has brought about a new set of challenges. As the conference showed, despite the convenience of digital interactions, nothing can truly replace face-to-face interactions. Humans are social creatures and physical interaction plays a crucial role in building trust, empathy, and long-lasting relationships.

In this era of remote communication, this yearning for human connection has become more pronounced. And while the legal world continues to evolve with the rise of AI and other technology, the demand for human connection persists. Indeed, as this law conference revealed, lawyers are not robots – they are humans who seek meaningful interaction and connection. The beauty of technology has allowed us to communicate even while miles apart.

We mustn’t overlook the human aspect of lawyering. Every legal dispute involves people and their stories. Lawyers are not just advocates for the law but also for people. They are intermediaries who bridge the gap between the rule of law and human emotions. Therefore, the ability to connect with others on a personal level, to understand their experiences, emotions and motivations is invaluable in the legal profession.

As we continue to navigate this digital era, let us not forget that we are all more than our professions. We are humans, not robots seeking to understand and connect with each other in our wonderfully diverse global community. Here’s hoping we can create and enjoy more opportunities for these interactions, in-person and online, recognizing and celebrating the human element in every profession.

On my way back to the Philippines, I took a moment to appreciate the powerful synergy of learning and connection that I had just experienced. I had come to the conference expecting to learn more about new trends in law, but I left with something much more profound – a renewed appreciation of the human connection in the legal profession, a network of international colleagues, and a wealth of diverse legal perspectives.

(The author, Atty. John Philip C. Siao, is a practicing lawyer and founding Partner of Tiongco Siao Bello & Associates Law Offices, teaches law at the MLQU School of Law, and an Arbitrator of the Construction Industry Arbitration Commission of the Philippines. He may be contacted at The views expressed in this article belong to the author alone.)

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.

Read Next
Don't miss out on the latest news and information.

Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.

TAGS: connection, For Law's sake, technology
For feedback, complaints, or inquiries, contact us.
Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Subscribe to our business news

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.

© Copyright 1997-2023 | All Rights Reserved

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To find out more, please click this link.