Marc Lauritsen is president of Capstone Practice Systems. Capstone advises, trains, and builds systems for top law firms and departments, as well as many nonprofit organizations. Marc has served as a poverty lawyer, taught in and directed the clinical program at Harvard Law School, done path-breaking work on document automation and artificial intelligence, and been an executive in several startups. He’s a leader in international law and technology organizations, a fellow of the College of Law Practice Management, and past co-chair of the American Bar Association’s eLawyering Task Force.
Tell me a little about what first got you interested in the legal technology space.
It wasn’t much of a ‘space’ circa 1984 when I first showed serious interest. Main impetus was an exciting new project called Pericles at Harvard Law School, where I was a clinical teacher/director. There was suddenly an influx of advanced equipment, brilliant cognitive science and computing folks, and outrageous ideas. I was hooked. Document assembly was the gateway drug, then I moved on to harder stuff like artificial intelligence, argument mapping, and decision modeling.
How would you define document automation?
Pretty much like this:
How has your career informed/reformed your views of technology over time?
My enthusiasm has waxed and waned. And re-waxed. A long meandering career tends to be driven by the persistence of hope over experience. I’m routinely shocked by how contemporary some of my early writings still seem, and by how wrong my expectations were about the pace of change. But I’ve remained a fundamental optimist about the power of intelligent tools to make life better across many contexts.
It seems to me that lawyers have yet to fully embrace much of what you wrote in your book, The Lawyer’s Guide to Working Smarter with Knowledge Tools, first published 10 years ago. At the same time, technology has ceased to stop advancing. Lawyers have not. When/if will lawyers catch up to the technology that exists and can be powerful when implemented into a law practice?
Most lawyers are unlikely to ever fully embrace anything, and we as a profession seem destined to always be playing catch up. Which is probably better than being ahead of the curve. Or technology ceasing to advance. My guess is that each generation of lawyers will do better.
What are your thoughts on the relationship between legal technology and legal innovation?
Technology is a tool; innovation is a goal. There are other tools and other goals, but these two are among the most important at this point in history. Sometimes technology catalyzes true innovation; sometimes meaningful innovation opens the door to transformational technology. More often technology is not particularly innovative, and innovation is not technological. It’s a complicated relationship, like many human ones.
You’ve been a legal educator. What are your thoughts on the state of legal education as it relates to preparing law students to practice law. What are some things you’d like to see added into a law school curriculum?
Whenever someone proposes adding things to already overcrowded law school curricula they are appropriately challenged to suggest which things might be deleted. My problem is that I love just about everything that is already covered. And even if I didn’t, who needs enemies? But I would especially like to see more widespread adoption of maker-style courses in which students construct useful artifacts that help people get legal work done. The slogan is “learning law by teaching machines how to think like lawyers.”
To a law student interested in learning more about legal technology, how would you advise them?
Identify the courses and activities at your school that thematize legal tech. Try some. Check out other schools if you come up short. Get involved with related groups at a local, state, or national bar association. Their conferences often offer free or discounted admission for students. Push yourself to learn some new technologies, especially if that makes you uncomfortable. Arrange to build, not just use, interesting applications. If, after all that, legal tech doesn’t float your boat, you will have learned something valuable about yourself. There’s no shame in not being interested in technology.
To what extent do you see this pandemic having a long-term impact upon how lawyers practice law and/or how legal services are delivered to clients?
It’s been quite a shock to the ‘system’ and I expect there will be aftershocks. Many doubters have had their eyes opened to the beneficial possibilities of virtual practice, online meetings, and distance education. Many enthusiasts have been reacquainted with the shortcomings of those things. We’ve all learned a bit, and learning is good. No need for another pandemic. Long term is unclear. As the Chinese premier Zhou Enlai said when asked about the impact of the French Revolution, “Too early to say.”