Updated: Mar 17
Nikki Shaver, the CEO and Co-Founder of Legaltech Hub, is an industry-recognized, high-achieving innovation and legal technology executive specializing in legal business transformation and enterprise-wide change management. Nikki, recognized as a trailblazer by Modern Law Magazine in 2022, Nikki is a frequent advisor to law firms and corporate legal departments and an advisor to and investor in legaltech companies. Legaltech Hub is the pre-eminent authority for education, insights and analysis on legaltech.
Please tell me about your background and journey into legal tech.
I studied law in Sydney, Australia, and then practiced as a litigator specializing in media and defamation law for about 6 years after which I went in-house to work with media companies. I really liked being a lawyer, especially in-house, where I worked with different parts of a business. I was always interested in how things could be done better and while I was working in-house, initiated many projects around legal training and new ways of organizing content and documents.
When I moved to Canada with my family in 2013, I took a contract position in knowledge management (KM) and legal innovation while I was re-qualifying. Very soon, I realized that I loved the work I was doing. Much of it was instinctive, mirroring the kinds of self-initiated projects I had taken on during my in-house legal work. I was surprised to find that I particularly enjoyed the parts of my new role that related to technology. Although I completed the relevant exams to re-qualify as a lawyer in Canada, I decided to remain in the field of legal innovation. It was a domain that allowed me to play to my natural strengths. I also found learning about legal technology exciting, as it represented the future of legal practice. I had the privilege of working with top-tier Canadian firms doing varied work including helping to design and implement enterprise search platforms, using AI-driven legaltech tools to develop and standardize precedent forms, and leveraging taxonomy management tools to ensure consistency of data across firm systems.
In 2018, I had the opportunity to move to New York City and take up a leadership position with a US-based international firm, Paul Hastings. In that role, I managed multi-disciplinary, global teams that worked together to identify practice pain-points and opportunities to leverage technology or optimize workflows, and then design solutions that involved a combination of technology, process and people. We worked directly with lawyers and clients, and were responsible for digital transformation efforts and ensuring the firm was future-proof due to its modern approaches to data and technology.
In any given day in that position I might view a demo of a new legaltech tool, engage in listening sessions with lawyers who had expressed a need for improved processes or data flows, and brainstorm with my team on whether our existing technology stack might solve a problem or whether we should instead invest in a new tool or expend resources to develop a proprietary solution in-house. We always had multiple projects on the go, ranging from AI contract review and data extraction, to automating document suites or parts of legal processes, to the design and development of both internal and client-facing tools and products.
As part of my job, I had to be acutely aware of the legal technology market and what solutions were available for which purpose. In 2019, I realized there was a gap in the market for an “enterprise search” tool for legal technology. Along with my original co-founder, Chris Ford (who is also my husband), I decided to build it, and in October 2020 we launched Legaltech Hub (www.legaltechnologyhub.com), to help legal innovation teams more easily find the capabilities they need to solve the problems they identified in legal practice.
In early 2022, legaltech entrepreneur and advisor Jeroen Plink joined Legaltech Hub as co-founder, investor, and COO. I took a leap of faith and left law firm life to build the business alongside Jeroen. In January 2023, we launched the product we had been busy building for a year, which is a full insights and analysis platform for legal technology. Using Legaltech Hub, buyers can now not only find the solutions that exist in a category, but also look up expert-led practical guidance and tools to help evaluate and implement solutions, and deep analysis and reports on the various categories of legal technology.
How would you define legal tech?
Put simply, legal technology is any technology used by lawyers or legal organizations (including courts and government bodies), or that consumers use to access information and resources in relation to legal issues. At Legaltech Hub, we also include generic technology solutions as long as legal is a key vertical for them – in other words, as long as the solution is used and useful in the legal industry.
I do think there is a distinction to be made between tools that support the business of law – that is the administrative back-end processes that make a law firm, legal department, or court run – and those that support the practice of law. Business of law tools are more likely to come from out-of-industry. These would include CRM systems, billing and invoicing systems, content management systems, recruiting tools, and so on. There is no particular reason why a law firm needs a CRM solution tailored for the legal industry. As long as the fields are configurable for various organizations, a law firm should be able to use it.
Tools that support the practice of law are different. These include solutions such as eDiscovery tools, contract review or negotiation tools, and brief citation tools. There are also many point solutions in legal that address specific parts of legal practice. Automated diagramming tools for corporate or tax structures are one such example; tools that automate the circle up process or help verify statements in a prospectus for an IPO are others.
Legal practice solutions have mostly been created especially for the legal industry (often “by lawyers for lawyers”), and many people in the industry are really talking about this category of solution when they refer to “legaltech”. Yet that is a narrow definition and doesn’t give a complete picture of the technology used in legal.
There are also solutions that fit somewhere in between the categories I’ve delineated above. Document automation has been around in other industries for decades but would be considered a legal practice tool when leveraged in a law firm. Enterprise search and knowledge hubs are similar.
Finally there are the access to justice solutions, b2c tools that support the public in identifying legal problems, gaining the resources necessary to deal with legal issues, or finding a lawyer.
Law itself touches upon so many areas of people’s lives that it’s no surprise the technology used to enable law and legal process is similarly broad.
What are your thoughts on increasing adoption of legal tech by lawyers and other legal professionals?
This is a huge question, much broader than I can fully address in an interview!
Adoption of new technology and processes remains a significant problem in legal organizations, but it’s certainly not one that is limited to the legal industry. Anytime a new solution is introduced to a group of people who are used to working in a particular way you’re asking them to change how they do things. There are neurological reasons for people to fear change: they experience it as pain.
Moreover, human beings weight or value more highly the things that they know and already have (including the systems they use daily) more than they value new things, even if those new things seem to be superior. It’s therefore very difficult to get people to widely adopt a new system – much harder than one might think.
For a new solution to be adopted, a few things are necessary. First, the new system has to be markedly better than the old or incumbent one (some would say by a factor of nine). Introducing a technology that is only marginally better than the old one will leave people unhappy. Second, people need to understand why you’re making the change, what the urgency or impetus is for them to change their behavior, and what the vision looks like for a better future should they adopt the new system. Then you need a change program that will shepherd users through their initial resistance along the change curve to initial adoption.
The new system should be implemented or configured in a way that the change necessary to adopt is minimal, and people need to understand exactly where within their existing workflows the new system comes into play. Once the change is adopted relatively broadly, it should be locked into existing structures and mechanisms so that it’s difficult for people to go back to doing things the old way.
Innovation leaders need to be planning and strategizing for organization-wide culture change. The organization should reinforce these strategies by showing from the top-down that leadership is behind innovation and change projects, with structural incentives (such as billable hours credit, certification programs and key performance indicators) provided for lawyers who get on board. Adoption will happen more easily in environments that institutionally encourage personnel to embrace news ways of doing things and to work in innovative ways. Innovation programs should establish processes that make it standard for end users to be involved in projects the whole way through, engaging lawyers in selecting new technologies, piloting them and configuring them for use. Perhaps most critically, projects should not be taken on unless there is a genuine, stated need for them.
As an industry, we are getting better at managing for change but too many projects are taken on without proper planning for adoption. To be successful in change initiatives, law firms and legal departments need people on board who have change management skills. If they don’t have these types of personnel, they should spend the resources necessary to skill up current staff or bring on board a consultant who is skilled at managing change to support any significant projects.
What has been the most unexpected lesson you have learned so far in your legal tech career?
Two things still surprise me regularly: the persistence of the hierarchical lawyer – non-lawyer divide in legal environments even as it becomes evident that much of the work done on behalf of clients now necessarily involves a variety of professionals; and how incredibly difficult it is to drive change in legal.
No one expects change to happen overnight, but I remember seven years ago talking with colleagues about how the next five to ten years would be instrumental. IBM Watson had just entered legal with the birth of ROSS Intelligence and we thought that within the next decade AI would profoundly change the way lawyers practice.
While AI tools are becoming ubiquitous in law firms (in varied forms including legal research platforms, eDiscovery and due diligence automation tools, contract negotiation and management solutions, digital translation tools and so on), this hasn’t had the expected transformative result on the practice of law.
I am an optimist (one has to be, to work in legal innovation), and I believe this change is occurring and will continue to occur, but I have been surprised by how remarkably slow and incremental it is. With the advent of generative AI and large language models like GPT3.5 (upon which OpenAI’s ChatGPT is built), I think we may start to see an acceleration in the pace of change.
What is your advice to those who are not legal professionals but work with or want to work with such individuals, especially from the technology side?
Lawyers are just people. Some of the entrenched problems in law firms stem from a reticence on behalf of business professionals to treat them as such. I’ve seen, for example, IT professionals who won’t release a new technology or program until it is fully configured and baked because they’re frightened that if lawyers see it before it’s “perfect” they will respond negatively. Ironically, by keeping lawyers out of the process until it’s too late these professionals run a greater risk of developing solutions that don’t actually serve the needs of those lawyers. It’s important to treat lawyers like people who want to be consulted and engaged. They are busy professionals, it’s true, but they are still just people and if you can’t work with them or are too intimidated to have the necessary discussions with them, it will be hard to do your job well.
I also don’t subscribe to the view that lawyers lack creativity – in fact, I believe that to be a great lawyer one must be creative. That said, I think it’s worth noting that lawyers are trained to think a particular way. By necessity, law is a risk averse profession, and lawyers will most likely regard solutions they haven’t seen before with healthy skepticism.
My advice would be: use that to your advantage. Understand that you need to do the work before you pitch a new process or solution to lawyer end-users. Measure everything you can, develop the value proposition, and both understand the problem and know your solution inside-out before presenting a demo. If you are on the vendor side, this will help you in many ways – including ensuring that your own business is viable.
If you work with lawyer teams in a law firm or corporate legal department, engage your colleagues in the solution-finding process from the very beginning so that they become engaged and excited about it. Listen to them explain the problem, then bring design prototypes to them and reveal your iterative solution development often so that they can comment and provide feedback that allows you to tweak the solution. This will be relevant whether you are working on configuring a third-party tool for local implementation, or developing a proprietary solution. Engaging lawyers throughout the process makes ultimate adoption of the solution more likely.
How would you advise newly minted lawyers?
You are leaving law school at a remarkable time. Unlike previous generations of lawyers who have been able to more or less practice the way that lawyers have for generations, you will have to learn new skills during your career in order to thrive. These skills include the ability to work with technology in practice, to identify aspects of your practice that should be automated, and to effectively work in multi-disciplinary teams to deliver solutions to your clients. Legal expertise alone is no longer sufficient, and the lawyers of the future who best succeed will be those who understand this.
There are ways for you to prepare yourself for this trajectory, and I strongly suggest doing so either before you enter practice or in your early years of practice. Here are some suggestions:
Find and take a course on the business of law, legal technology or legal innovation at law school. If there is no such course at your law school, see if you can take one as a summer student or exchange student elsewhere (and advocate to your law school that they should add this content to the curriculum!).
Take a certification course or summer program, such as those offered by Passport to Practice, the Institute for the Future of Law Practice, Bucerius Law School, Vanderbilt Law School’s Program for Legal Innovation, or Suffolk University Law School.
Prior to taking up a permanent position in a law firm, spend a summer interning with a firm’s innovation, knowledge management, practice management or legal project management team. These types of internships are becoming more common and will give you insight into the business side of a law firm that will serve you well years into the future.
Build your network, and talk to people. Reach out to professionals in law-adjacent areas on LinkedIn and Twitter and ask to speak to them about the work that they do. You will be surprised how amenable most people are to connecting with you.
When you start in your first job at a law firm, ask to speak to legal project managers, knowledge lawyers and innovation professionals to find out what they can offer you as you begin your career. If you start your career in-house, do the same with legal operations and compliance teams.
Check out online resources such as legaltechnologyhub.com, to get a sense for the types of solutions available in the market for legal professionals, and Lawtomated.com, to understand better what types of alternative career paths there are in legal.