If ever there was a time for lawyers to play in the sandbox, it’s now.
By Lisa Culbert
The Law Society of England & Wales’ Report: Capturing Technological Innovation in Legal Services provides an empowering narrative and practical examples to move legal tech beyond ideas and innovation for innovation’s sake.
A sandbox for lawyers? Time to play? These are far cries from the legacy, the tradition and the conservatism expected from the legal profession.
However, that’s precisely what can be gleaned from from the Law Society of England and Wales’ Report published earlier this year. The report provides a refreshing take on the status of legal technology and its growing list of innovative offerings for lawyers and their clients with non-prescriptive examples of how legal technology has been both explored and deployed in practice.
The pace of change in legal services is not slowing down while lawyers’ day-to-day practice of law continues to lag far behind, especially when it comes to adoption or implementation but even when (and this is where the real point of struggle is) it comes to experimentation and trying, iterating and improving. An agile, project-based methodology to legal services and the way lawyers practice law is still a foreign and faraway concept to most. It goes against the conventional lawyer DNA of “Type A” perfectionism as well as the law firm partnership model of groupthink and slow-to-move approaches to change.
The report reminds readers (particularly the lawyers and firms toying with innovative ideas) that the goal is not perfection or finding a panacea to move legal services into the new era, but instead it’s about exploration and efforts to test and to try. The report illustrates how a sandbox for lawyers as a platform for exploration, testing and trying can actually enhance diligence, professionalism and the client-centric provision of legal services.
The Law Society of England & Wales conducted in-depth desk research, online surveys and discussions (with its Insights Community), qualitative interviews with legal solution suppliers, legal technology and finance start-ups and leaders in law firms (from heads of Innovation/Technology, Senior Partners and CEOs). Through these sources, their accounts and experiences, we’re left with first-hand, real-life evidence that it is not only possible, but necessary, to start playing and exploring the implementation of new technology and tools as a pathway to achieving legal innovation.
Summary & Highlights
Bourns’ forward to the report emphasizes that while the role of lawyers’ and expectations of professionalism haven’t changed, the way we do our roles – the processes and tools has.
3 areas where innovative legal technology can have the most impact:
Trending within each of these areas and demonstrated throughout the report with visual, diagrammatic and infographic examples are:
- Process automation, machine learning and AI
- Data security and the cloud
- External partnerships, ecosystems and distributed assets
- Legal project management
The Need for (Product) Makers
Legal services now extend beyond the conventional “services” and are appropriately characterized as “products” with the impact of legal technology in this transition seen in the Report’s highlights and case study examples. RAVN (and its LONald tool for real estate documents; ACE for due diligence contract reviews) and Etro (by LexMachina for patent application prediction) among other AI, machine learning and predictive analytics are great examples. Then there is the chatbots and advice apps ranging from the uber-successful DoNotPay.co.uk tool that allows individuals to challenge their parking tickets and the AskaLawyer Q&A sites like RocketLawyer and mobile (available on the App Store), on-the-go advice options.
Not only are legal services now productized, but they are also available through new processes ranging from automation and outsourcing alternatives like Robotic Process Automation (which as Andrew Burgess has explained in his role as an advisor to automation consultancy, Symphony Ventures) shaves the cost of outsourcing off-shore with the use of robots) to pricing models extending beyond conventional ABS and fixed fees to legal spend, smart dashboards in real-time, pricing menus and pay-as-you-go options.
The Report highlights the disconnect within the lawyer and law firm process of innovation as we’ve gotten really good at identifying and incubating new ideas and tools without actual implementation or integration of them in practice. The reason for the disconnect seems to be a failure to align innovation within the business vision AND the strategic vision. Traditionally innovation within these two visions can be seen as competing which keeps innovation in its idea stage. Alignment can assist to move the idea past this standstill and roll it into a sandbox, where it can actually be tried and explored. The concept of the sandbox as the first stop in the new legal playground is identified in “The 3 boxes of innovation” model of Ryan McClead to help facilitate business transformation. Lawyers can look to other industries for what has worked and what hasn’t. We use precedents and samples all the time to draft agreements and structure deals, so why not apply the same process (albeit in a more playful and experimental way) to implementing ideas and innovations?
Makes sense right? Lawyers like knowing what works and what doesn’t. We recognize that the landscape of rules and regulations and innovation for that matter, is ever-changing. To help us navigate the concept of exploration then, the Report (and its authors for that matter) recognize the role they — the Law Society, can play in providing opportunities to “play” by identifying new tools, planning and benchmarking activities. Their “Practical Guide to Innovating” sets out a list of questions for lawyers’ and firms’ own internal assessment for them to tailor the process of (finally) creating the necessary alignment for innovation between their business and strategic visions.
“Capturing Technological Innovation in Legal Services” is much more than a summary report of the latest and greatest in legal tech. It’s value is not in the identification of opportunities for innovation but in the illustration of their implementation with testimonials, reflections and experiences from those who are starting to move past ideas to implementation – clients, firms, corporates and recipients of legal services and the suppliers and start-ups building out their product and services suites.
An empowering read for those who are ready to get off the bench and start playing. A sandbox is waiting.