The Next Phase: Experts Say Technology Means This Isn't Your Parents' Law Practice

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The legal industry took some time to adapt to the technological shift, but movement into the next phase is happening much faster. At the Cowen Group’s 2017 Summit on Legal Innovation and Disruption, experts from all sides of law convened to discuss technology’s present and future role in law.

Why the Change?

Mark Cohen, CEO and founder of Legalmosaic, identified “key change agents” driving a change across the legal industry. He started with globalization, noting that law firms started “literally and figuratively following the money” of their clients as they expanded into international operations. And as this morphed smaller firms into international businesses, technology became a greater part of the business.

“Technology, which like law used to be thought of as a vertical, was a silo onto itself,” he said. “Now, technology has become a horizontal. There is nothing in our business or personal lives that has not been impacted by technology.”

But in Cohen’s estimation, legal professionals were slow in appreciating how technology would change legal services. When the change began, movement was slow. The first iteration of change was e-discovery, where instead of using technology to be more efficient, legal professionals thought, “Let’s apply our traditional brute force method for sending teams of lawyers, very high-priced lawyers, to deal with this,” Cohen said. “So they had an absolute bonanza for a series of years off e-discovery.”

Eventually, clients had enough, and this led to such changes as more legal process outsourcing (LPOs) and newer innovative business models behind law firms. Cohen defined this shift as “legal disaggregation,” and said that now, the legal profession is moving into phase three: digitization, pushed by innovative technologies such as artificial intelligence.

“It’s not just about lawyers anymore,” Cohen said. “Just knowing the law is not going to be enough for lawyers anymore unless you have truly, truly, truly differentiated skill.”

The Processes of the Future

So where is technology taking the profession? Brian Kuhn, global leader and co-creator of Watson Legal, discussed how his team is currently leveraging AI technology for the business of law. He said that his team has “taught Watson to speak legalese,” and that IBM is leveraging the technology to reduce outside counsel spend by identifying data points like budget overages. Another use he identified was predicting settlements.

Yet for the next steps, Kuhn said that law is “grossly unprepared,” because the industry “hasn’t developed a framework” for how to apply powerful technology.

Kiwi Camara, CEO at DISCO, said the industry will likely begin delivering legal services in repeatable ways. Instead of hiring teams of lawyers for a solution, clients will hire a lawyer that can solve a problem with a repeatable process.

“I think we’re going to see it through the process of law. … [The industry] will move from bespoke to repeatable processes,” he explained.

Therefore, Camara predicted that law will begin “moving away from selling people to selling products,” which will affect corporate legal departments and law firms in different ways. The buyers of legal services will look toward product quality rather than what school an attorney went to or whether they like the attorney. Firms will focus more on delivering quality, tech-driven legal services.

This means that the industry needs people who understand both processes and technology, Camara said. He added that this “tells us a lot about the future of folks in this space.”

Discussing ways to get technology-related processes in motion, Jeff Marple, innovation director in the corporate legal department at Liberty Mutual, discussed the benefits of using a technology road map. Marple said that these “should help you be more proactive than reactive” in approaching tech projects by helping you “keep away from squeaky wheels.” These processes also won’t let administrative tasks “suck the hours out of your life.”

Jennifer McCarron, legal technology project owner at Spotify, similarly discussed her experience using technology road maps. She used one in planning a deal-tracking system with which McMarron wanted to cover a deal’s lifecycle from predeal to close.

In starting the road map, she looked at the ways the company was currently handling deals, through formats such as spreadsheets and emails. From there, McCarron identified stakeholders, began trying processes out, saw what worked, and then used the findings to research for next steps. “Walking a mile in the shoes” is “probably the best way” to design your system, she advised.

In relying on the road map itself, she said that her team “basically had a wall of a million sticky notes” of ideas, which her team moved around as needed. She would then blow those ideas into bigger, more workable pieces. From there, she could arrange her ideas by order of importance and scalability.

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