The future of lawyering?
LegalTech New York is a trade show presenting technology for attorneys, law firms and law departments.[i] The show also offers extensive legal education. This year, the legal risks of social media, cloud-based services and collaborative tools were key topics for both presenters and vendors.
The first keynote featured speakers from Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Microsoft and Google discussing cybersecurity, privacy and data protection. Several CLEs offered practical solutions to these challenges. For example, the “Data Preservation in a User-Centric, Mobile, Social and Cloud World” presentationoffered helpful tips for organizations dealing with remote or mobile workers, such as:
- Draft an information management and device policy, and possibly a social media policy, to notify employees regarding what types of information are confidential or inappropriate to share, how devices may be used and the potential consequences for violating the policy.
- Constantly review and survey what your employees are doing because individuals will often try to evade the rules. For example, it was reported Hillary Clinton may have violated State Department policy when she created a non-government email account for official State Department business.[ii]
- Go back to step 1, often.
LTNY vendors offered tools for organizations to monitor compliance with such polices or use social media-style tools at work; examples include:[iii]
- X1 Social Discovery[iv] collects, searches, authenticates and produces social media information.
- Actience,[v] among a variety of services, collects public social media and internal corporate social networks for eDiscovery and corporate compliance purposes.
- ThreadKM[vi] brings a social media style chat into law firms and replaces emails with matter-centric “threads” (somewhat similar to Facebook discussions) to reduce email volume and sorting and simplify file sharing.
LegalTech also featured a peek into the future. ALM, the producer of LegalTech and CodeX, the Stanford Center for Legal Informatics,[vii] sponsored the CodeX/ALM Pavilion. The pavilion featured 10 early stage innovators applying technology to solve legal challenges.[viii] These companies and their people have set big goals and are doing impressive work. My brief descriptions cannot do them justice so take a moment to visit their websites and learn more. Highlights include:
- IPNexus[ix]is a one-stop-shop for inventors seeking intellectual property professionals. The coolest feature is an IP brokerage connecting parties anywhere in the world.
- Lawdingo[x]helps potential clients meet and work with the right attorney.
- Shakelaw[xi]is a platform to easily create and share basic agreements, such as a bill-of-sale, a lease of personal property or a non-disclosure agreement.
- MeWe[xii] moves restaurant and housing inspections from paper to an electronic format. Particularly interesting for attorneys is MeWe’s goal for its forms to reflect “real-time updates in legal code for a wide range of code compliance issues.”
- PatentVector[xiii] analyzes all U.S. patents from 1976 to the present to automatically determine which are the most meaningful and valuable to a particular technology.
These entities are examples of startups specializing in portions of the legal services market that attorneys traditionally have controlled, such as marketing to clients (IPNexus and Lawdingo), legal forms and regulatory checklists (Shakelaw and MeWe) and, most broadly, analysis of the legal impact of documents (PatentVector). Despite their impressiveness, I am unsure what these innovators mean for the legal profession in the long term and consumers needing legal help right now. Luckily, Jon Favreau’s movie “Chef” brought these issues into focus.
In the movie, Favreau plays an inspired, incredibly passionate chef, Carl Casper. His boss wants him to serve artisanal pabulum because it is commercially successful. Casper relents, and a nasty, social media savvy food critic pans the poor fare in an Internet review. Frustrated, and technologically unsavvy, Casper unwittingly locks horns with the critic on social media and is driven to a public meltdown that “goes viral.”
As a result, Casper becomes an unemployable laughingstock. Desperate, Casper starts serving gourmet meals from a food truck. Rather than being a dead end, the food truck is a rejuvenation. As his own master, Casper creates inspired food that touches others and, ultimately, brings him success.
Are legal technology innovators the law’s version of food trucks, with lower costs, a more flexible model and a more approachable image than a traditional law firm? Are attorneys going to be undermined by technology companies? In other words, if people are willing to buy grilled mortadella or shitake flan from a food truck instead of a high-end restaurant, why wouldn’t they get NDAs from Shakelaw for $10/month?
The best view suggests that many legal technology offerings currently cannot offer tailored solutions to respond to three key client needs: complexity, connectedness and effectiveness.
- Complexity: This is only my gut feeling, but client needs and the law are becoming more complicated. A company that previously may have hired an employee or purchased a machine now outsources to a vendor who may also outsource. Instead of asking Charlie on the shop floor, an attorney must send multiple emails and consult a Service Level Agreement. As the law grows more complex, a personal injury client may need a firm specializing in chainsaw injuries rather than a generic personal injury attorney. Complexity demands personalized solutions and greater attorney specialization.
- Connectedness: Actions are now more likely to have collateral consequences. A deadbeat parent faces a potential license suspension. A student might not be admitted to college due to an unwise social media post. A debt or judgment will affect your credit score with potential employment consequences. Limited legal offerings may not be very good at addressing collateral consequences.
- Effectiveness: Most importantly, is the solution going to work in the client’s case? If an NDA is difficult or costly to enforce, or the other party disagrees about interpretation, did entering an NDA achieve the client’s goals?
Despite the legal profession’s strengths, it cannot ignore technology innovators. Their offerings may not be expert guidance, but may be good enough for many. Further, technology companies are outstanding innovators. Many are already working to address the key client needs discussed above.
Legal technology innovators may actually present excellent opportunities for attorneys to provide more services. A client using IPNexus may find more patents to buy in less time and thus need more advice. A Shakelaw user may develop a deeper appreciation for contract protections and seek counsel in areas too complex for Shakelaw. Or a client might use Shakelaw’s delivery and tracking technology while the attorney drafts client-specific contracts to be uploaded to Shakelaw. If MeWe becomes widely adopted, an attorney might specialize in answering questions not susceptible to being answered on a checklist.
In “Chef,”we consistently witness Casper make great food. But, devotion is not enough. He reinvented himself, partly by using the technology that caused his downfall and partly by staying true to what he did best. The legal profession can do the same.
Scott Malouf is an attorney who helps other attorneys use social media, text and Web-based evidence. You can learn more about him at his website (www.scottmalouf.com) and follow him on Twitter at @ScottMalouf.
[i]Full disclosure: I received a complementary press pass to attend LegalTech and its CLEs.
[ii] http://nyti.ms/1GyxjB6. Retrieved March 3, 2015.
[iii] These companies are not the only solutions for social media issues. Do your due diligence to find the best solution for you. As with any technology vendor, ask about the limitations of the technology and future upgrades.
[viii] A full list of exhibitors can be found here: http://codex.stanford.edu/events/codex-at-legaltechnyc-conference