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Jason Barnwell

Legal Technology

Legal Tech. So much continues to be written about it. Yet, its definition remains somewhat amorphous. How would you define it and why? Does it even need a static definition?

Defining legal technology is a challenge. We reframe into a different question: “For a business problem we must solve, do we need something specifically created for the legal field or are there technical solutions that already exist that we can re-use, re-purpose, or build upon to meet our objectives, faster?”

A reason the definition for legal tech might be amorphous is because much of what we need is not specific to legal work. We often need technical solutions for known knowledge work problems. Similar problems have often already been solved for other domains. We can import those approaches and apply them to legal work. Importing is often less expensive than reinventing.

Legal professionals do some things that are domain specific and need technology focused on their scenarios. For example, docketing is an advanced calendaring motion, and it needs an engine to support specific rules across many local jurisdictions. This might require a legal technology solution if abstracting for a calendaring engine for other applications is too expensive.

So much of what we do as knowledge workers can be solved by more general solutions. For example, the problem of “matter management.” Matter management is a flavor of project management. What we need are intuitive project management tools that meet people where they are and help us organize and coordinate our work, bring our knowledge assets to common place, and give us a way to classify work so it is easier to find the work and extract data and insights. Do we need “legal technology” to do this? Or are we better served with an orchestrating overlay that integrates the productivity tools we already use?

Digital Transformation

How would you define digital transformation and why?

Digital transformation is applying technology in ways that create vastly more leverage from our scarcest resources – human time and cognition. That leverage can be capacity (do more with less) and capability (do new things). Digital transformation often starts off with a goal of creating more outputs from scarce inputs. And it evolves to its highest form when we empower humans by unlocking their creativity.

Our work often begins by thinking about how we can apply technology to make the things we are already doing a little bit more efficient. That is a good start. Ultimately, we need to look at the totality of the work, unbundle its components, and start rearchitecting it to take advantage of digital capabilities to create exponential leverage. We begin trying to make the work 10% better, but eventually we need to make it 10 times better. This is the capability and capacity we need for the business demands being placed upon us. Our first step to digitization asks “How can we start moving existing work unsupported by machines to a basic supported state where work flows through a system that allows observations?” This creates transparency. What work is happening? How much of it is going on? What is the shape of the work? Who is doing the work? To get to the transformation layer we then must take that now measured and known form of work and remake it. This means thinking about what elements of the work humans are doing that do not need their scarce resources and how we can add machine capabilities into those spaces at points of leverage. This frees up humans to focus on the parts of the work where we need their skills the most.


You focus a lot on experimentation. Yet, for many in the law experimentation is a scary thought. How can one in the law grow more comfortable or accept experimentation as a means of learning and of growing?

The good news and the bad news is that increasingly legal professionals will have no choice but to experiment.

The nature of the problems we are solving is increasingly complicated and the path to success will require more than brute force intelligence. Experimentation may be a scary thought to some, but as people are facing an increasing number of adaptive challenges, they will need to walk forward boldly embracing that we have no choice but to experiment.

We can help people get more comfortable with experimentation by providing skilling and evolving our culture. Our future state will require legal professionals to augment their critical thinking skills with system thinking and process skills (perceive the problem pattern) and some design skills (envision a potential solution). See “Our wicked problem: Building the future of the practice of law.” A way to get people comfortable is to highlight their peers who are already experimenting successfully. We build culture through stories. Recognition reinforces the efforts of those who engage and attracts others to join the cultural movement. When people start seeing others thriving in this new way of thinking they will begin to recognize that experimentation delivers success. And then the virtuous cycle carries itself forward.


Do you think that legal professionals should learn to code? Why or why not?

Legal professionals should learn to code if they want to write code. But learning to code can be a serious time commitment, and it’s not for everyone. The skillset legal professionals should develop more broadly is proficiency in systems thinking. Legal professionals bring an amazing critical thinking skillset which is valuable for doing legal work. Legal professionals need to augment critical thinking with the ability to see patterns and run experiments because that creates an entirely new class of leverage and impact capability.

Legal professionals who are systems thinkers can efficiently work with technical partners that know how to code instead of taking on the heavy lift of learning an entirely new domain and technical skillset. These individuals can develop a systems view on the problem, identify root cause challenges and opportunities, and express desired solution capabilities to a technical partner who can build them what they need. Bringing subject matter experts who can describe process together with technical experts provides a jump start on solutioning. See “Our wicked problem: Building the future of the practice of law” specifically the section titled “The future practice scales.”

Law Student Advice

What are your top three pieces of advice for a law student seeking to learn more about technology?

One, Be Curious.

Two, Go Build Something.

Three, Do Not Be Afraid to Fail.



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