In 2016 then Burness Paull trainee Ruairidh Wynne-McHardy spoke at TEDx Glasgow’s A Disruptive World event.
Ruairidh’s talk (available to watch here) explored why the legal profession was struggling to embrace innovation, and he issued a call to action for clients to challenge their lawyers and ask them ‘What are you doing with legal technology?’
Today in 2018, Burness Paull continues our relationship with TEDx Glasgow as one of their delivery partners, and we are excited to support this years’ theme of Rethink. I became the firm’s first dedicated full time Legal Technologist shortly after Ruairidh delivered his TED talk, and so I’d like to revisit his words and Rethink what legal technology means to us today compared with two years ago.
It’s Hard Work…
“It’s hard work. And it’s made harder by the fact that lawyers haven’t embraced technology. Sure we’ve flirted a little, but we haven’t really committed”
In 2016 I would have agreed with Ruairidh when he made this observation. Back then, the legal sector was only just starting to scratch the surface of what was possible. Legal Geek had just completed the UK’s first legal hackathon. Legal AI companies like Kira and Ravn were starting to make waves, but adoption rates were still quite low. Many law firms were only just starting to think about their innovation strategies.
Today however, I see a changed landscape. Legal technology products have in fact become commonplace, spurred on by flexible licensing models and cloud-based functionality. This allows firms to quickly ramp up trials without committing to significant infrastructure and spend ‘up front’. Legal tech ‘incubators’ are welcoming their 2nd, 3rd or even 4th cohorts of start-ups.
Earlier this month I chaired a Law Society of Scotland conference on how blockchain and crypto currency might change the role of the legal professional, and I was struck by how engaged the profession is with emerging technology compared to just a couple of years ago. We’ve gone beyond ‘flirting a little’. We may not hear wedding bells just yet, but we’ve definitely exchanged phone numbers and set our social media profiles to ‘in a relationship’.
“A lot of legal technology is designed for how lawyers USED to work”
As a Legal Technologist I’ve spent a lot of time watching product demos, attending technology events, and assessing various software packages. In 2016 I think Ruairidh’s words were particularly insightful here. A lot of legal technology products missed the mark, because the developer had made assumptions about how the lawyers want to work based on how they have historically worked. Actual engagement and feedback with lawyers was lacking.
Today this isn’t necessarily the case. More and more firms are creating and developing hybrid roles like Legal Technologists, Legal Process Engineers and Legal Systems Analysts. These roles ideally have a background in both IT and legal practice, and if leveraged correctly they can provide software developers with a previously unavailable level of insight into how their products are used. Many times now I’ve been running a pilot of a piece of software, and a user has fed back to me that the software is ‘good, not great’. In the past we might have made do with an imperfect solution, as it was the best available.
Now, I find most software developers are more than happy to make changes to their products to better align them with how lawyers actually want to work. They may in fact have always been happy to do this, but the end users didn’t have a convenient way to provide that feedback. Today, the majority of legal technology providers I speak to are setting up customer feedback groups, and I see enormous potential for customisation and flexibility in how those products evolve.
“I think [..] we will see the blurring of legal advice and legal systems. Instead of ‘suiting up’ and going to see your lawyer, you’ll access a platform which you pay a subscription for in order to get the majority of your information”
To some extent, this prediction from Ruairidh immediately started to come true. For example, I look at 2016 as being the year of the legal ‘chat bot’ – start-ups like LawDroid, LawBot (now known as Elexirr) and DoNotPay emerged into the world. It did indeed become possible to get certain information from these platforms, in particular circumstances. Where I think this trend is actually going however, is a new standard of collaboration platform. Start-ups like Avvoka and Legatics are pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in terms of workflow automation and client engagement.
I believe Ruairidh’s prediction is still accurate, but what we now think of when we say ‘platform’ has changed significantly in just two years. Just as many clients today may prefer email communications to phone calls, I believe we will start to see some clients prefer to engage with their lawyers via a shared collaboration portal, where they provide their instructions and relevant supporting information directly.
The Heart of Innovation
The world of legal technology has changed so much over the last two years that it’s barely recognisable as the same industry which Ruairidh spoke about in 2016. This pace of innovation shows no sign of slowing down, and it’s more important than ever that legal professionals are prepared to embrace new tools, new processes, and new ways of working.
As with any process of change however, it’s important that we regularly pause and Rethink what we perceive to be true. We must constantly challenge ourselves, and never be afraid to revisit old assumptions. That I believe is at the heart of innovation, and I can’t wait to hear what this years’ inspiring TEDx Glasgow speakers have to say about it.