Lawyers are not magicians. Lawyers do not perform magic. The time has come to open up the curtain. To share what we know. To share how we do what we do. To teach others and to learn from others. To innovate.
Over the course of the past few years, I have been very lucky and honored to have been able to interview so many key leaders in the legal innovation field. They are all dedicated to improving the practice of law. After hearing and reading others’ reactions to the thoughts of those that I have interviewed, I thought that it made sense at this point to take stock of those conversations. This post is intended to be an exploration of some of the key themes of the interviews. I frame these themes as lessons. I strongly encourage and welcome others’ thoughts on these lessons.
The first lesson is the tendency to conflate legal technology with artificial intelligence.
Artificial intelligence is a broad term that refers to a variety of technologies. Many legal technologies make extensive use of a branch of artificial technology called machine learning. Put simply, it is a technological way of analyzing large amounts of data. It uses the analysis to build models, identify patterns, and make decisions without too much input from humans. In terms of understanding its current use in the legal world, it may best to describe those uses in terms of categories. One category is document analysis and document automation which largely refers to reviewing, analyzing, searching, and even drafting of documents. Tasks that fall under this category include document review and due diligence projects to name a few specific examples. Companies that come to mind in this area include Relativity, Hotdocs, and ActiveDocs. Another category is legal research – tools like Ross Intelligence, Casetext, and Fastcase. A third category and one that’s gotten a lot of attention in recent years is legal analytics. This category refers to tools that make use of lots of data to predict probable outcomes and risks. Companies like LexPredict and Lex Machina have paved and continue to pave the way in this area.
The second lesson is you do not need legal technology to engage in legal innovation.
Legal technology indeed has led to many innovations within the practice of law. However, many innovations have and continue to occur without the use of legal technology. One such innovation is the application of Lean Six Sigma principles to various areas such as litigation within the practice of law. These principles look at existing processes and procedures and seek to improve them and eliminate waste and inefficiencies through the application of lean and six sigma principles. These principles address reducing inefficiencies and inconsistencies within existing processes. The beauty of these principles is that they are scalable. Legal technology may generate all of the headlines and attention, but non-tech innovations can and often are just as impactful as innovations brought about through the use and/or development of legal technology.
The third lesson is that legal technology is not out to get you or your job. Robots are not about to replace you. At least not yet. Embrace automation.
This is a big lesson. There remains so much marketing hype about robots this and robots that. Robots delivering packages, providing information, cleaning houses. What is important to remember amidst all of the non-stop stories about robotics is that while legal technology may not be trying to replace you (it is technology, after all), legal technology is changing the meaning of what it means to practice law. It also is prompting a rethinking of the required skillsets to practice law and to be a lawyer. What this means is that we, as lawyers, are being asked to learn new skills and add them to our repertoire. Lawyers are also being asked and demanded to think in new ways. To not learn new skills and to engage in constant improvement is to leave yourself vulnerable to becoming obsolete and poorly positioned to provide the level of service expected by clients in today’s world and in the future. The bottom line is that we are not at the point of robots being able to do the entire job of a lawyer. We are at the point where technology can automate parts of what a lawyer typically does, especially those tasks that are repeatable, simple, and routine. Automation can save you time, effort, and allow you to focus on more important and higher risk work. You can determine what these tasks are by looking at your existing processes and examining each step of each process. Which ones are routine and repeatable? Automation should be welcomed. We also are at the point where technology can assist us with the review, analysis and drafting of legal documents. However, lawyers still need to assist technology with performing these tasks. Technology still requires our human judgment and benefits from it.
The fourth lesson is you are already using legal technology. You just are likely not using it to the extent that you can or making use of all of the functionality your current tools have to offer.
You are likely using tools like Slack, Skype, and/or Microsoft Office – Word, Excel, Powerpoint, OneNote. All of these tools are legal technology. You write with them. You communicate with them. You analyze documents and data with them. These are powerful applications. They offer a plethora of functions and many of those functions can greatly help you function more effectively and produce better results for your clients. One of my favorites is Microsoft Word Styles. It is a powerful function that allows you to apply and/or fix formatting issues in a document with a couple of clicks. Procertas’s Legal Tech Assessment can help you to both assess your current level of knowledge of these tools and help you learn how to use them better. Why should you learn how to use more functions of these products? Learning more about these additional functions will allow you to increase your own productivity, automate some repetitive and/or time-consuming tasks, and save time by not having to perform certain tasks over and over again. In addition, over 36 states now require licensed attorneys to have a degree of legal technology competence. By learning how to use the existing tools you use better, you are dedicating yourself to improving your level of technological competence, helping to comply with this requirement, and becoming a more effective lawyer better suited for the 21st century.
The final two lessons may also be the most important. The first of these lessons is collaboration is crucial to the ongoing success of the legal profession. It’s essential to not discount this idea or to ever forget it.
So, let’s start with defining collaboration. Collaboration, at its core, is the act of working with others to jointly produce something or create something. Yet, it is far more than that simple statement. It is thinking in terms of teamwork and not in terms of working in a silo. It is working in a cross-disciplinary manner and learning from and about other disciplines. In fact, “Data shows that when lawyers do work across specialties, their firms earn higher margins, clients are more loyal, and individual lawyers are able to charge more for the work that they do.”
Effective collaboration demands taking the time to connect with others in your organization, understand their wants and needs, and work with them to develop solutions and improvements. This starts with listening to them. Hearing what they have to say. It also means allowing their experiences, their skills, and their abilities to complement and supplement your own. This is hard for those within the legal profession because historically lawyers have been taught and encouraged to believe that only they know how to practice law, what is required to practice law, and what a good outcome is. This is changing. Not only are the skills needed to practice law are increasing and changing, but so is what it means to practice law and what it means to deliver a good outcome.
There is a long overdue push to listen more to clients and provide solutions that are just as much a business solution as a legal solution. The way to deliver business-focused outcomes is to learn from those that are close to the business, to incorporate their feedback, and to make use of their skills and expertise. You do not know it all. You will never know it all. We all need to accept these facts and take them to heart.
The final lesson. Legal tech is really not about the tech itself, but about changing people and changing processes. This is hard work. It is important work.
As should be clear by now, there is no denying that legal technology is transforming the practice of law in numerous ways. All of these changes have one thing in common – changing how things get done. Change is not easy. Humans are inherently resistant to change and the legal profession is especially resistant to change.
When the time for change comes, however, there are two key tasks that can greatly aid in enacting change and ensuring that any change is effective and well-supported. First, focus on your people. When it comes to changing how one practices law, you need to meet your people where they are. This means asking for their input, understanding their needs and concerns, and addressing those needs and concerns. Taking the time to do this will help facilitate a culture supportive of its people and supportive of change. If people are not ready to support the use of legal technology and prepared to engage with it, then whatever legal tech tool you choose to deploy will likely be a) underused, if used at all and b) not as effective as it is meant to be. Second, to truly understand the need to change and what changes are necessary, you need to have a firm understanding of how your existing processes work first and where the roadblocks exist. Blindly applying a legal technology tool to an existing process without taking into consideration how that existing process works first may result in the process not being improved at all. In fact, just the opposite may occur instead. For a personal account of these two tasks, read this excellent account of one person’s journey.
This final lesson is perhaps no more evident than in the rapid proliferation of legal technology companies. The fact that these companies exist at all is evidence of the people and process changes brought about by legal technology. I purposefully did not address this in this blog post since to do so would make this blog post twice as long. I would strongly suggest that you read Mark A. Cohen’s analysis of the subject. As Mark notes, indeed these companies will “transform the industry,” the immediate and important work to be done right now is to enable both people and cultures supportive of this transformation. It is the culmination of these legal tech companies, new business models, and people/process changes that will have the most lasting impacts upon the profession. Hence, legal technology’s greatest impact is less about the technology itself and far more about people and process.