It’s all about tech, and other reflections from NYC Evolve Law: Big Data in the Legal Industry

The first thing is a personal thank you to Cardozo Law’s Aaron Wright (@awright015) for introducing Justly to the Evolve Law community and to Jules Miller and Mary Juetten for co-hosting a very successful event on October 1.

I can’t believe two weeks have already passed! Luckily we’ve had some video of the event’s panel discussion on hand to help us take stock. What follows are a few reflections offered as fodder for further discussion.

In case you missed it, Professor Wright moderated a lively conversation covering a range of topics relating to “Big Data” and innovation in the legal industry.

(The panel from left: Professor Wright; me; Toby Unwin, Chief Innovation Officer of Premonition — which rates attorneys by “win rate”; Carl Sussman, Commercial Platform Director at Bloomberg Law; and John Fernandez, US Chief Innovation Officer and Partner at Dentons, a 2,901 lawyer firm)

The law firm of the future

Jumping in, I want to applaud John Fernandez (in the tough spot of representing the establishment) for his reassuringly candid and thoughtful comments on the transformation of today’s commercial law firms into “the law firm of the future.”

Acknowledging that “process innovation” and “business model innovation” are needed for law firms “to be much more client-oriented and aligned with [their] clients’ interests,” as John put it, is a step in the right direction. Indeed, there are various indications of such cultural change taking hold at large firms.

(And, putting words into action, John and the Dentons firm are to be applauded as well for openly supporting legal innovation and startups.)

It is all about technology (and data in particular)

While progressive and client-oriented, John’s perspective on innovation misses the point. “There is a technology component” to the law firm of the future “but it’s more than that,” he says in the clip above.

Same miss here:

To suggest that the coming transformation “is not just about technology, [that] it’s much bigger than that,” fails to grasp what drives the process innovation and business model innovation now being implemented by many commercial law firms.

As an initial matter, these initiatives are emanating not from law firms but from the business community — their clients. There is no consensus “law firm of the future business model” emerging in America so far as can be seen. In the main what we now see are professionals modernizing their practices by necessity, to meet their clients’ demands for increased productivity.

This is only the beginning as innovative businesses emerge to solve unmet needs in the market. As has been predicted, law firms will eventually succumb to the same forces that have transformed so many other businesses, from steel to publishing to management consulting. As the technologist/venture capitalist Marc Andreessen says, software is eating the world.

This should be the take away for readers: all this legal industry transformation — the “law firm of the future” — coming our way, it’s all about tech. In particular, we believe data will transform the business of law.

Tools for the market, Tools for lawyers

During the panel discussion I went a bit far in writing off the role of practicing lawyers in shaping the future of the legal industry.

I do believe that platforms (tools for the market) will transform the way legal services are delivered and priced. But that doesn’t mean the profession won’t play a significant role in shaping its own future.

(Here’s your cue, Carl.)

In truth, there is a massive market of practicing lawyers with pain points that need solving. Firms can and should drive innovation to improve their practice (tools for lawyers), and there surely are competitive advantages to be gained for lawyers who adopt new tech.

Clarification: The “middle market”

In responding to an audience question I confusingly conflated legal services directed to small businesses (for whom access to justice in America is limited) and the “middle market.”

The term “middle market” had been referenced earlier in the panel discussion, to describe generally the work done by big commercial law firms today. To clarify, Justly is focused on legal costs for the middle market and above (and not yet focused on the cost of legal services directed to “Main Street” consumers, due in part to data considerations).

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