Dennis Kennedy is a professional speaker, author, adjunct law professor, podcaster, innovator, and authority on issues at the intersection of law, technology, and business. He is one of the best-known experts, authors, and commentators on legal technology and the application of technology to the practice of law. Dennis helps clients improve processes and systems to drive innovation, value, and efficiency into legal services, provide advice and education, and coach and mentor legal professionals.
What is your take on how much progress has been made by lawyers in adopting tech/using tech to improve the delivery of legal services?
To paraphrase the great science fiction writer, William Gibson, “progress has definitely been made, but it’s not evenly distributed.” To an early adopter like I am, it seems that progress happens at a glacial rate. I implemented document assembly at my law firm in 1990. I tend to see technology is terms of what isn’t being used yet. However, in many pockets – practice areas, size of firms, age of lawyers (both old and young as leaders), and client base – there has been a lot of progress over the years. Much of the best has been client-driven and client-focused, as it should be. Too often, lawyers see technology as an implementation that guarantees miraculous results, not as a cycle of experimentation and learning, with a goal of continuous improvement. There’s a long way to go, but I’m generally encouraged at this point when you look at the legal industry as a whole. There’s plenty of competition coming from non-traditional providers willing to use technology, so those pressures will also help move the needle forward.
A lot of lawyers talk about innovation. Yet, not all actually innovate. How would you advise a lawyer who desires to innovate?
Find a client problem to solve or a frustrating internal process to improve. Try a few of the standard innovation techniques and see if you are motivated to actually do something. There actually is an innovation discipline in other fields that you can adapt and adopt. I love the Value Proposition Canvas as an innovation tool these days, but there are others. Larry Keeley’s book, Ten Types of Innovation, is an essential read and something I keep returning to. Look for ways to collaborate with others, especially a key client. Generate lots of ideas and be willing to discard most of them. Don’t worry about money and budgets. Most, hmmm, maybe all, of my successful innovation efforts had a an initial budget of zero dollars. A last point: I do think it’s useful to determine whether you are an “idea person” or a “process person.” Your approach will be different depending on your answer.
Many conflate legal technology with innovation. How would you define the two?
I love Alan Weiss’s definition of innovation: “Innovation is applied (pragmatic) creativity. Simple as that.” For me, innovation focuses a lot on business models. Some describe innovation as happening in the realm of “Why” and “What” and technology is more solidly in the realm of “How.” Legal technology is about tools. I’ve created a draft of a legal technology definition quadrant chart to try to explain 4 key areas of legal technology and how they differ that should be easy to find via Google. Probably not surprisingly, I don’t see the conflation of the two as a problem. It’s hard for me to conceive of innovation that does not have some technology component these days.
How would you differentiate technology from legal technology, if such a differentiation makes sense?
I often have to explain that when I use the term “legal technology,” I don’t mean the opposite of “illegal technology,” which is a common reaction. In many cases, the differentiation doesn’t make a lot of sense. Practically speaking, legal technology means any technology used by legal service providers, and that’s not all that helpful a definition. There’s standard technology used, say, in a law office, that would be used by any business. There is practice-specific or practice-related technology that legal professionals use internally to perform their legal services. There is also practice-specific or practice-related technology that legal professionals use externally with others to perform their legal services. And there is technology legal service providers use to deliver legal services to clients, the public, or other external end-users. I co-wrote a book with Tom Mighell called The Lawyer’s Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone what areas interest me most. We are also seeing a growing use of the terms “LegalTech” and “LawTech,” which, among insiders, can be useful, but to most people are very confusing. If we can be precise about how we use terms, the differentiation probably still makes sense, but technology is everywhere and the legal industry is already using many standard technology tools.
What is the most important lesson you would want lawyers to learn about using technology?
My usual sermon on technology is that lawyers are trained to learn new things and be lifelong learners and that if you can learn esoteric areas of law, technologies, at least a few that can be relevant and helpful to you and your clients, should be learnable too. I enjoy telling people that I was an English major in college. My friends joke about my obsession with “Jobs to Be Done” theory these days and how I like to say, “what are you hiring X technology to do for you?” However, the fact is that technology makes sense in a context and as a tool to accomplish a job that you need to get done. If you can focus on that question and not be intimidated by “capital-T Technology” and its immensity, any lawyer can make big strides in improving their practice and client service with technology. I’ve talked to many lawyers over the years who never thought they’d understand or use technology, but have successfully improved their practices, client services, and their lives by using technology to pragmatically apply creativity.