Justice for all? The impact of AI & blockchain on legal accessibility

Originally published on AnswersOn

By Joseph Raczynski

I have been incredibly fortunate to have traveled extensively, which has impacted my global vision. Visiting almost 40 countries, I have witnessed firsthand the enormous discrepancies in wealth, opportunities, and lifestyles that exist around the world today.

I’ve seen the lavish gilded rooms, complete with Picassos on the wall, in the homes of 35-year-old billionaires in Dubai; and just a five-hour flight away, I’ve seen families hover around an open fire to stay warm alongside their metal sheet home on the outskirts of Kathmandu, Nepal, in the foothills of the Himalaya Mountains. And I’ve observed the steep mountain face of the drug-scared city of Medellin, Colombia — a concrete jungle with the activity of an ant hill. I’ve walked the rural farmlands of Cambodia, which are still littered with signs for landmines, and seen some children showing the stark evidence of their life-changing encounters with these mines; and I have wandered the extremely remote rain forest of Panama with its indigenous people.

The one element that buoys my spirits besides the genuine kindness of people, the promise of technology and our future.

One unexpected item that is omnipresent for both the wealthy and the less fortunate — a mobile phone. This is likely the most significant key to empowering people; and with a mobile phone, people around the world can connect, share ideas, and exchange money.


Joseph Raczynski will be speaking at the World Bank’s Law, Justice and Development Week 2019: Rights, Technology & Development in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 4-7.


Now, I am also seeing that connectivity energizing people’s legal liberties and human rights. We are evolving to a point where each person around the world has a computer in their pocket. Through this technological leapfrogging, a high school student in a remote village of Cambodia can be almost technologically on par with her counterpart in Amsterdam.

Exponential growth globally

Way back in 2015 I wrote about how we are entering a phase of Exponential Growth, and how that will impact the legal industry. What is evident now, however, is that this growth is not solely for the global law firms in the Western world, but is cascading to individuals in the most remote parts of the globe. Most importantly, we see how they will be able to take advantage of legal services which previously were nearly impossible.

Increasingly available chatbots empowered with Artificial Intelligence can now offer improved access to justice, helping people make decisions or even seek asylum. These applications, which are essentially legal workflow tools, can generate questions and answers via a mobile phone from anywhere in the world.

Further, blockchain is already impacting trust with small businesses. A family-run business in Argentina that enters into an agreement with a distributor can do so via a legally binding contract supported by smart contract technology securely saved to a blockchain. If a problem arises, for a small amount of money, arbitrators around the world can weigh in and help resolve the issue, all enabled through a mobile device.

The power of blockchain and AI is at work in Africa, where a farmer can opt into an insurance program on their phone. With as little as a dollar placed toward insurance, if the farmers crops don’t survive a drought, AI-powered satellite imagery can automatically pay those affected. Combing smart contracts on a blockchain with the AI-image recognition technology, people previously without legally binding contracts to support their business can sustain themselves. These types of significant changes will impact people positively.

I am extremely optimistic and passionate about our future, as technology-infused legal processes filter into all communities around the world. This new age will lift people out of poverty, reduce domestic violence and hunger, and improve the lives of people globally. With the technological power of a mobile phone and legal solutions infused by AI and blockchain emerging, there is a bright spot for all of us on the horizon.


For more on the World Bank’s upcoming event, listen to a podcast with Sandie Okoro, Senior Vice President and General Counsel at the World Bank, conducted by Thomson Reuters’ Joseph Raczynski.

 

 

The 4th Annual Government Day: The Reality and Skepticism of Innovation and Blockchain

Originally published on the Legal Executive Institute

By Joseph Raczynski

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Government sector strives to ramp up its efforts to more widely integrate cutting edge technologies like blockchain, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things (IoT), it is running into a myriad of challenges.

Not the least among them, is separating the reality from the hype of these miracle tech solutions.

At Thomson Reuters 4th Annual Government Day, panel attempted this separation by focusing on blockchain, working to uncover the reality of this technology today for governments and cut out the hype of this innovative technology.

Government supply chain management

One area the panel focused on with blockchain is the tech’s potential to change supply chain management, offering a scenario in which a state or federal agency needs to identify the ground zero genesis of a fruit or vegetable foodborne illnesses. The newest proof of concepts utilizes a blockchain-enabled IoT supply chain management technology ecosystem that can save lives by greatly reducing the time it takes to track contaminated tomato from the salad bar back though delivery, distributers, wholesalers, to pickers and finally to the farm.

The panel also discussed how a Massachusetts-based farmer could partner with a technologist to track his tomatoes from vine to fork. The farmer uses IoT temperature gages from the pickers to the platers. This is an example of a public and private partnership where produce with clear data on temperature, handlers, and distributers can be audited through the entire supply chain, all supported on a distributed ledger.

Harnessing this collection of technologies, any listeria outbreak can reduce seven days of research to just seven minutes, ensuring that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have rapid response and control.

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Sovereign identity

Another area the panel discussed included identity management solutions. Breeches to our own private information are commonplace. In fact, recently Facebook suffered yet another attack where 200 million users’ phone numbers were found in a publicly facing open database, including the number of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. (In case you are wondering, calling Mr. Zuckerberg’s phone number goes to a generic voicemail.)

Not surprisingly given the stakes, various federal agencies have been surveilling this space for some time. An emerging concept about how to prevent such breaches and other identity security mishaps in the future is taking form.

The panel also took up the “radical” idea that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) could issue a new unique identifier to replace a citizen’s Social Security Number (SSN). In a major shift, this identifier would exist on a blockchain. This decentralize system would place the control of the identifying number into the hands of the individual, removing a central repository, which could be hacked.

Panelist Alan Cohn, a partner at Steptoe & Johnson, pointed out how this could more securely enable our current voting system, curtailing the chance of fraud and make voting easier for all.

Digital assets

Finally, the panel explored the shifting landscape of digital assets. Cohn said he expects a huge swing in the way we look at assets from a personal perspective and in how the government views it.

The panel concluded that with Facebook launching its own cryptocurrency, Libra, this process has been legitimized. The discussion amped up around what will happen next. I suggested to the panel that Libra could be dead in the water in the United States because of a heightened regulatory concern, but this blockchain-enabled asset cannot be placed back into the bottle. Indeed, with years of consternation ahead from regulators on Libra, companies around the globe will move forward, and the next organization to create what amounts to a world currency will be a messenger app which has 500 million users, Telegram. (Expect its launch before Halloween 2019.)

In all likelihood, governments around the world will be spooked by the immense power an app founded in 2013 will create. They will have a scalable, frictionless asset with features that could bypass anti-money laundering (AML) rules and Know Your Customer (KYC) regulations.

Panel moderator Jason Thomas, Manager of Innovation at Thomson Reuters, and panelist Gail Gottehrer, of the Law Office of Gail Gottehrer, noted that there is significant promise ahead with the intermixing of multiple technologies in combination with blockchain. Indeed, governments are beginning to adopt and adapt in this environment; and with a push from the private sector, state and federal agencies will continue to adjust.

The synthesis of technologies like IoT, AI, and blockchain will create processes which should stamp out farm- and distribution-based foodborne illnesses. New initiatives around the security of personally identifiable information through blockchain will place the control of information into an individual’s hands, removing central points of failure and reducing costly and damaging data breaches.

Lastly, one of the most significant changes ahead is the look and feel of our ownership of assets when everything becomes digital. The opportunity is immense, but so are the concerns around our government’s ability to counter AML as assets become increasingly liquid and frictionless across the globe.

Legal technology conference (r)evolution—the launch of Legal Geek North America

Originally published in Legal Insights Europe.

By Joseph Raczynski

Like the legal industry itself, legal technology conferences are transforming and Legal Geek is leading the change. These industry events are finally beginning to mirror the, more, customer centric start-up community perspective. Taking a step back, a decade ago the most renown and popular legal industry conferences in the US included International Legal Technology Association (ILTA), now ILTACON, and LegalTech now rebranded Legalweek. Both conferences have established a forum by ushering in a global audience for multi-day events centred on a mixture of vendor products and industry specific legal technology discussions. LegalWeek itself is a spectacle with hundreds of vendors vying for compact, tightly knit cubicals in a midtown New York City hotel in the middle of January. ILTACON, a mega conference, roams from city to city each year in late August with a five-day event in some of the largest hotels in the US. While the original intent was to educate, the creep of vendors and suppliers into the space may have watered down the primary mission. With the recent upheaval at ILTA and their executive leadership, one can almost sense the tug and pull of the shift in focus.

As all things evolve, hopefully, the next iteration of this evolution is the British Legal Technology Forum. This conference has mixed up the notion of what a legal conference looks and acts like. With an open mimosa bar in the morning bleeding into a beer fest for the rest of the day, this environment is starkly different than the traditional suit-clad legal technology events. In addition to the social-centric aspect of the one-day event, the British Legal Technology Forum has quicker sessions, sometime only 15 minutes enabling speakers to discuss a specific topic that is tight on scope. Vendor presence is strong at this event, but not as fully emmeshed in the fabric of the event sessions.

Legal Geek, the prime example of the conference revolution, originated in San Francisco in 2015, but gained favour in London—and so made it ‘home base’. This is the latest iteration of collaboration in the legal tech community. Over the last several years Legal Geek London has received rave reviews among legal technologists, consultants, investors, lawyers, and legal students alike. It has built a bit of a cult-like following. The founder, Jimmy Vestbirk, offers perspective on why Legal Geek has such fandom. The philosophy: come to make friends, not to sell; dress comfortably (please, please, no ties); come to learn and to teach; look after your fellow law-gends, you may need their help someday; and, this is your community, please pitch in and help. You will be rewarded. This elicits a mental shift of mindset for all who come to this legal technology event—from the typical conservative, staid legal conference approach—to the hip, cool, cutting-edge vibe of a grass-roots start-up company. There’s even promptings to ‘high-five’ your fellow delegates throughout the day.

Recently I attended the first Legal Geek North America in Brooklyn, New York. There was a buzz about this event weeks prior. Attendance reach over capacity with 450 people from around the world. A waiting list of dozens were reported—and understandable with an enterprising agenda of 60 presenters, from six different countries, speaking between 8-12 minutes each—and only three vendors present. The speaker line-up was geared to technologists and lawyers, from both private practice and in-house—on what legal technology is out there and why it matters.

This event had potential to be an earthquake event in the industry. The biggest difference at this conference, presenters are not supposed to talk about their products, at least until the very end of their 10-minute spiel. It was effective.

Highlights

Blockchain for non-disclosure agreements (NDAs): Jim Brock, CEO of TrustBot, is working on creating a tool that creates NDAs very quickly through a document automation system. Its primary goal is to solve for the problem for the user accepting the agreement. Anyone can adopt the agreement, then you share the URL. Each party is adopting the NDA prospectively—so that when you agree to it, anyone else who has already agreed to it is already set. You are accepting the ‘hash’ or the signature stored on a blockchain. This is all verifiable.

Access to Justice: Stevie Ghiassi, CEO of Legaler, is endeavoring to help legal services reach 1 billion people. Through the use of all of the latest buzz words—digital scarcity, smart contracts, programable value, internet of value, digital identity—Legaler is creating a blockchain operating system for legal services. One component of this is LegalAid—you can donate money to this fund using a blockchain and see who the money goes to using a smart contract. This enables the tracking of your donation and you can see how it impacts an individual’s life. Another aspect of the operating system is a Litigation Fund which pools people’s money together, raising money for a group of people who want to sue a mega company in a class action suit.

Distributed Law Firm: James M. Fisher II, Founder & Managing Partner of FisherBroyles, LLP has created the first distributed law firm in the world. It has just cracked the AmLaw 200. Their platform is based on compensation, people, location, and technology. They use smart contracts on a distributed network where all partners can see how everyone is billing, it’s automated and in the clear. Partners get 80 percent of all billable work for their clients. If you work with another partner, you receive 48 percent of the earnings. The cost savings comes from having no physical office space as every partner is geographically distributed as well. Their people join the programme from some of the biggest firms in the world with the attraction of no commutes, no overhead, increased professional growth potential, and an extremely diverse partnership. Lastly, their technology is a mix of both cutting edge and traditional tools to help their clients.   

Legal Geek North America, still in its infancy, is primed to shake up the legal technology community. The shortened sessions and its focus on the customers and not product is something to watch for the next several years. Likely the North American event will soon rival the mega-success of the Legal Geek Conference in London.

Cybersecurity at the centre – competing globally with different rules

 

Originally published on Legal Insights Europe.

By Joseph Raczynski

The topic of global cybersecurity will challenge each one of us. It is an unstable concoction of cultural norms and legal property rights patiently awaiting attention before it bursts. The overarching question is ‘how can legal organizations and overall society manage rising threats to the integrity of intellectual property (IP) whilst retaining and using information’? Add in the complexity that the global landscape is comprised of open societies, with freedoms and individuality, and close societies, of collectivism and oppression. The fundamentals of open society and IP rights—contrasted with closed societies and their misuse of IP through cyber threats will soon force change.

The Situation

The Council on Foreign Relations has been focusing recent seminars on emerging technology and cybersecurity as it relates to China and Russia. The thematic quintessence from the highest former administrators in the U.S. Intelligence Community is that the UK, Europe, and U.S. are under constant IP attack. They cited countless examples of nation states sending students and other professionals to the UK and U.S. with the sole intention of pilfering IP. Purportedly in one example, students at some of the best scientific universities are forced into this criminal role by their government. Their family, at home, is threatened if information from the student is not collected and given to the state. The majority of students have honest intentions in their travels—advancement of their own education and to enjoy the cultural exchange, but increasingly the U.S. Intelligence Community is alarmed at what they are finding. Commercial cyber espionage.

The cultural philosophies are starkly different, from one state to the next. The society of one state is open and the other closed. For example, pushing for individual’s governance of their own personal information manifested through General Data Protection Regulation—as with the European Union, while the other state created a ‘social credit’ score by ranking citizens based on their behaviour from data gathered by millions of facial recognition eyes in the sky. Both governments strive for rapid development in artificial intelligence, quantum computing, blockchain, and biotechnology. Governments develop these specialty areas in different ways. Eric Schmidt, former Google CEO, once said, “there will be two internets, one for China and one for the rest of the world”. The washing of information about the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests from every Chinese online forum and publication is cited as an example of the ‘other internet’. As a result, most teenagers in China have never heard of the protests which turned into a massacre.

Law firms as a collective serve as the largest holder of IP. As such, they are a top target for cyber espionage. The overarching laws are clear in the UK, and most often people abide by them. When there is conflict, legal process takes place and ultimately decisions are made, resulting in a final adjudication. What if no one paid attention to the decision? What if people did whatever they wanted, even though the IP for Flake candy bar is registered, China could copy it and sell it where ever they wished? This is the situation with the closed societies, and typically cybersecurity breeches are the means to an end for nation states looking to bolster their own companies.

The Dilemma

According to the U.S. Intelligence Community, the challenge is that closed societies are breaking into law firms and corporations, stealing IP and using it to build their own companies. The speed of these new companies built on the backs of stolen IP is phenomenal and will be much more difficult for those UK organizations to compete against.

Certainly, corporate espionage has been around since before cobblers competed in shoe-making. The difference is that open societies, by their nature, are now threatened by IP exploitation in the UK and US. Going forward and beyond sanctions, as the super powers of the world grow in strength and play by a different set of rules, law firms and corporations will likely need to map new ways how they protect their information and IP. The UK, U.S., and Europe will need to figure out how a society that plays by a clear set of rules competes against a society that can hack any law firm and use that information to illegally profit.

An initiative for global prosperity: tech savvy start-ups compete to solve world problems

Originally published on AnswersOn.

By Joseph Raczynski

The Global Maker Challenge is an online open-innovation platform that offers an opportunity for “makers” and innovators to connect and collaborate, across the globe, and try to solve real-world problems affecting people’s lives.

 

ABU DHABI & DUBAI, UAE — Recently the Mohammed bin Rashid Initiative for Global Prosperity, facilitated by MIT Solve in partnership with the United Nations and University of Cambridge, held their pitch event where 16 global sustainability start-up finalists from a pool of 1,200 applicants competed for an award of $1 million.

The Global Maker Challenge is facilitated by the Initiative for Global Prosperity, which seeks to unite the world’s leading manufacturers, start-ups, entrepreneurs, governments, UN agencies, philanthropists, academia experts, and researchers, and form a community dedicated to spreading global prosperity through innovation.


The cumulative energy from the 16 finalists working on solving real world problems in the neediest areas around the world was palpable. The solutions that people devised from cutting-edge technology available to benefit the masses was astonishing.


This global initiative is supported from the very top of the government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). I had the high honor to sit down with Chief Executive Officer of Alliances for Global Sustainability, and royal family member, Sheikha Shamma bint Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, and discuss how and why this initiative means so much. Indeed, it became clear in the conversation that the UAE does not just promote these ideas but acts on them.

“Our government sees artificial intelligence (AI) as a significant component in improving efficiency and resources across all public sectors, and facilitating ease of access to court services and processes for the people of the UAE,” Sheikha Shamma said, stressing the importance of the role start-ups play to “make” new ideas and innovate. While the Global Maker Challenge finalists focused on how to improve lives globally, the UAE also is pushing ahead with these emerging technologies locally, explained Sheikha Shamma.

“The UAE is very progressive in its use of technology, both within the private sector, but more specifically at a government level, adopting new tools such as blockchain and AI with the aim of leading in this area by 2031.”

The finalists

Focusing on the finalists, I had the opportunity to speak with many of them who fell into four distinct categories in the competition; Sustainable Energy; Digital Divide and Digital Literacy; Rural Transformation & Zero Hunger; and Sustainable Cities.

One finalist, Otago Ltd., is a start-up that produces eco-friendly char-briquettes for clean cooking in Cambodia. “Nearly three billion people rely on open fires and traditional stoves to cook their food,” said Otago founder Carlo Figà Talamanca, adding that these fires emit massive amounts of air pollution inside homes and contribute to nearly four million deaths per year, impacting mainly women and children. Otago’s concept of biomass briquettes (coconut shells, corn cobs, and bamboo), produce less sparks, pollutants, and do not contribute to deforestation as traditional charcoal production does.

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Sukhmeet Singh discussing his pitch on sustainable energy in India at the Global Maker Challenge

Another finalist, OffGridBox, provides affordable clean water and renewable energy for rural communities in Rwanda. It is a financially sustainable and environmentally friendly metal crate that leverages solar energy in an affordable way. Each box, through micro-payments, provides 400 families with lighting and phone charging within their homes and purified drinking water — all for only 18-cents, or less than half of what they currently spend. (Amazingly, while people often do not have running water or electricity, they did have mobile phones.)

The Rumie Initiative, another finalist, aims to reduce the digital divide by delivering online learning resources on mobile phones to communities with limited or no Internet connectivity. And LearnCloud — an online repository of high-quality, digital educational content — is crowdsourced by educators and other passionate volunteers in different languages and for different contexts. This program allows kids in the most remote locations around the world to have all the books they would need from 1st grade through 12th, all on a donated Android tablet or phone.

Ada Health was originally developed for doctors by doctors to advance patient symptom reporting. Then, doctors and AI experts spent seven years developing a sophisticated medical reasoning engine that now encompasses the complex constellation of connections between the currently known 12,000 symptoms and 10,000 conditions that can affect the human body. Hila Azadzoy, managing director of the global health initiative at Ada, stated that the organization goes into areas around the world where doctors may be scarce and helps individuals understand and manage their health through personalized symptom assessments and recommend next steps. The patients can also share these results with their healthcare professional via a chatbot on a mobile device. Ada speaks five languages, and it has more than five million users worldwide who have completed more than nine million symptom assessments.

The finalist pitched their ideas to panels of judges from around the world. After the pitches, the panelist, judges, consultants, and other participants entered into several workshops on innovation, design thinking, mentoring, and women entrepreneurs mobilizing positive change.

The cumulative energy from the 16 finalists working on solving real world problems in the neediest areas around the world was palpable. The solutions that people devised from cutting-edge technology available to benefit the masses was astonishing.

And having these initiatives facilitated by a public and private partnership is critical to bettering a world in need. As the Initiative for Global Prosperity explained, “the well-being of our world is based on fostering the values of resilience, community, harmony, and dignity.”

The winners of the Global Maker Challenge will be announced in Yekaterinburg, Russia in July.

Consensus 2019: Blockchain’s Biggest US Conference Sees Increased Legal Oversight Coming

Originally published on The Legal Executive Institute.

By Joseph Raczynski

 

NEW YORK — The fifth annual Consensus — the preeminent cryptocurrency and blockchain conference powered by CoinDesk — wrapped a rousing three-day event in mid-May that produced several legal-leaning themes in the ever-mingling world of technology and the law.

On the anti-money laundering (AML) front, Sigal P. Mandelker, Under-Secretary for the US Treasury Department’s Terrorism and Financial Intelligence unit, cited several salient points around cryptocurrency. First, he said, there is a need for more guidance from regulatory agencies.

 

Since 2013, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) has received more than 47,000 suspicious activity reports (SARs) that mention bitcoin or virtual currency with half of these filed by virtual currency exchangers or administrators themselves. If your institution forgoes more robust Know Your Customer (KYC) rules for anti-money laundering efforts, you could be significantly impacted. The positive, Mandelker noted, was that forthcoming Financial Action Task Force (FATF) guidance could arrive as early as June which will help crystalize how to handle cryptocurrency in the AML quagmire.


Around cryptocurrency, there is a need for more guidance from regulatory agencies.


The Consensus conference also demonstrated that avid interest in understanding the blockchain space persists. While I have spent the better part of the last three years discussing blockchain and cryptocurrency with law firms of all sizes in the US, the UK, the UAE, and Australia, the thirst for learning is not quenched.

 

Steve Quirk, TD Ameritrade’s executive vice president for trading and education, spoke candidly that the interest in this area spans across all generations. He noted that attendance has been “off the charts” at the bitcoin education events facilitated by TD Ameritrade, which is exactly what I have found when presenting to law firms and corporate counsel. Within the legal ecosphere, lawyers seek to know more about the technology around blockchain, and what impact it will have on their clients and their business.

consensus2019

The SEC Weighs In on IEO

Another theme emerging at Consensus was the eager discussion concerning Initial Exchange Offerings (IEOs) which is similar to Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs), but in this instance the cryptocurrency exchange is the one responsible for running the financials.

 

The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) weighed in on this frothy topic, as Valerie Szczepanik, the SEC’s Senior Advisor for Digital Assets and Innovation, made it abundantly clear that these IEOs fall under the oversight of the SEC. These crypto-exchanges which facilitate token sales likely meet the legal definition of securities dealers if the issuer or any of the buyers are based in the US, she explained.

 

So again, we could see a flood of business move outside of the US — however, some exchanges balk at this threat, noting that it’s very similar to the run up of the ICO market. To comply in the US, the exchanges need to follow the same procedures for registration and licensing requirements as do broker-dealers, alternative trading systems (ATS), or national securities exchanges. Forgoing those steps, any IEO who promotes or sells such tokens will find themselves in the SEC’s direct line of fire.

 

There were several other themes likely to impact the legal industry in the coming years that were brought up at Consensus. For example, so-called “stable coins” were discussed in detail at multiple sessions. Stable coins are cryptocurrencies designed to minimize volatility, usually by pegging them to another asset, like US dollars or other cryptocurrencies. It is feasible that real estate transactions — or indeed, transactions for any financial agreement — could be executed using these more stable digital assets.


Internet 3.0 is here, and that rests on the Internet of Value, which is built on a distributed ledger.


Another concept being talked about was “staking”, or the evolution of cryptocurrency mining and the confirmation that transactions are legit on a blockchain. This confirmation is changing from the energy-intensive Proof of Work to Proof of Stake, in which those who wish to confirm transactions stake a large sum of tokens or money on a blockchain. Then, if they try to cheat the system or confirm erroneous transactions, they face the prospect of losing their stake. This will be a bourgeoning area for lawyers to aid users and companies because we will see many tokenized systems placed into custody for management, with these details baked into smart contracts.

 

As the conference came to close, ConsenSys founder Joe Lubin discussed the evolution through which we currently are being catapulted. Internet 3.0 is here, he said, and that rests on the Internet of Value, which is built on a distributed ledger.

 

This new trustless state, is a far cry from our current Internet, he added, which was built “in naive times” which has left us “running our economy on a network that was built by academics to trade research papers.”

 

Today’s new trustless environment is going to require skilled lawyers to navigate a concept where distribution of information is decentralized and increasingly self-executing.

What is the current state of legal technology around the world?

Originally published on Legal Insights Europe

by Joseph Raczynski

Technology discussions once reserved solely for select Chief Information Officers (CIO), Chief Technology Officers (CTO), and technologists—are now commonplace for executive committees, partners, and associates at law firms. This transformative shift over the last four years is remarkable to witness. With wider audiences leaning into the conversation, the reality has surfaced that technology is becoming a differentiator with the business and practice of law.

Having met with just shy of 500 law firms, corporations, government agencies, and startups in the legal space during the last thirteen years in the US, I have always wondered what is happening abroad, beyond what I read. Late last year a unique opportunity to travel to multiple international locations for work surfaced. This presented the chance to consider that as the technological revolution takes hold around us, is the legal technology world shifting at the same pace globally?

Traveling 37,000 miles, I started in Washington DC, and then went to New York, Grand Cayman, London, Dubai, Auckland, and finally Sydney. Before this trip, I visited with legal associations and legal industry personnel in Canada, Costa Rica, and Poland. These discussions included intimate gatherings of global law firm leaders, heads of startups, medium sized regional law firms, and leaders in the US and UAE government sectors.

The differences, similarities, and nuances of legal technology around the world

The legal industry around the world is pivoting and many are passionate about legal technology. Transitioning away from a niche world of a select few inside law firms caring—to a current world where the doors are being blown open to everyone tilting their head to listen. Partners, associates, internal support group, and the executive committees are all immersed in the conversation. Prompted by their clients inquiring about use of technology, and quite frankly, lawyers are also worried about their own jobs and the viability of their business as technology, such as document automation, is now able to handle some of the more repetitive legal tasks.

UK: My discussions and experiences have led me to believe that the UK legal market is on average ahead of the curve when it comes to the use and implementation of legal technology. I witnessed medium sized firms rapidly testing and using many of the latest artificial intelligence (AI) infused applications to seek efficiency. While they acknowledged no solution was perfect, they felt compelled to test these solutions to see where they could find competitive gains. Law firms in London, and the greater UK, endeavor to take more chances than any other part of the world. The business structure of how law firms are run is certainly a motivating factor. Another significant pressure for UK based firms are the Big Four accounting firms taking business away, due to the legislative change from the Legal Services Act 2007 which added the model of ‘alternative business structure’ and permits non-lawyers to own a legal practice. In this scenario UK, law firms are first to truly experience this competitive pressure, but significant changes in market practices is increasingly becoming global, clearly edging into the US.

In addition, before the latest trend for law firms to link up with universities was in vogue, partnerships with universities was particularly robust in the UK. Upon meeting with the University College London, they echoed these same sentiments of active participation from law firms and corporations.

Supporting these firsthand accounts, is evidence from Acritas’ Global Elite Law Firm Brand Index 2018. The firms producing the largest leap forward in brand recognition are clearly global, recently merged with a significant presence in the UK: including Clifford Chance, Linklaters, Allen & Overy, and Herbert Smith Freehills. Based on my conversations with these firms and the statistics, I believe their innovative strategic plans are pushing them further, faster.

The courts in the UK are also making advances through technology. In 2014, the Rolls Building, which is part of the Royal Courts of Justice (RCJ), began deploying an electronic filing solution—C-Track from Thomson Reuters. The system enables the UK legal profession to adopt more efficient and cost savings work practices by using digital technology for case management and e-filing. To date, the RCJ continues to expand the use of this digital technology into other courts in the system.

US: The US market is rather bifurcated. There are firms pushing the envelope along the same lines as what the progressives are doing in the UK, but still many firms stay on their traditional course. By firsthand account, a typical strategic plan remains similar to years past, if not decades ago with incremental change for many in the medium law firm space. Investment in new tools and workflows come at a cost to the partners, who must commit to that investment for the future, and many are not inclined. I was asked to present to a US based firm with 200 attorneys recently by their Executive Director. He pleaded with me to describe to his committee about the impact of AI on the firm in the next five years, so they could prepare as he was near retirement. The committee dismissed the notion that AI would have any impact on the firm. This view is not an outlier. The recent statistics in Peer Monitor’s 2019 State of the Legal Market, supports this account of those who adopt legal technology or deny it. We see the Global 100, more specifically the top 50 firms, growing while the rest stay below market averages. There are exceptions in niche markets who buck this trend and have seen upticks in their profitability. However, on the whole, those firms that have not evolved are stagnating.

Another statistic from Acritas surrounds the support for innovation in this space. They draw a direct correlation between those firms that have established plans around innovation and growth. Their report cites, “Innovation can spark increased client advocacy and budget spend, so that when clients view firms as innovative, client advocacy almost doubled and share of spend was 50 percent higher than non-innovative firms.” While this exists across jurisdictional lines, medium sized law firms in the US could have the most to gain from these learnings.

UAE: What stood out the most for me in Dubai was the commitment from the government to advance the ease of legal access to the people. If you were to turn the US government on its head, you might get some of the innovation that the Emirati are advocating. All forms, requests, and even initial court filings will be completed online. The response times are slated to be rapid. By 2022 the Dubai government will have most of their public information moved onto a blockchain, for redundancy and security. Likely in this upgrade will be company records and public records—think deeds, corporate filings, as well as birth or death certificates.

As for law firms, one of the biggest in the UAE that I met with is pushing what they can do with all currently available technology tools on the market. Law firms in the UAE seem to reflect a lighter version of what is happening with legal technology in the UK, typically with a direct connect into those firms for direction and strategy.

New Zealand: Outside of the top eight firms in the region, several other firms I spoke with were crafting their portfolio of technology tools to assist their practitioners be more efficient. One firm was building a workflow automation tool on the transactional side with a bevy of coders onsite as well as in India to support the development. They were embracing an Agile method, in which they frequently discussed these tools with their clients. This collaboration further solidified the relationship and were an integral part of increasing the efficiency for work completed on the client’s behalf. Of the advancements in operational practice, one area that surprised me was the slow acceptance of alternative fee arrangements by firms as each firm awaiting the results of early adopters.

Australia: What most impressed me in Sydney was both an adventurous spirit when it came to legal technology, but surprising a generally cautious nature toward adopting new ways of doing things. After spending time with numerous managing partners and innovation officers, it seems that Australian firms have the potential to lead the way into newer technologies. That said they sat similarly to their neighbors in New Zealand. Fixed fee arrangements have been around for years, but are not used frequently yet. One managing partner told me that Australian firms have leaders that can make bold decisions, but are testing the waters with newer forms of legal technology in their marketplace and looking for someone to jump first on the boldly visions.

Legal Tech startups are thriving in Australia. This is certainly supported by the most recent Tech and the Law 2018 Wrap Up guide by Thomson Reuters. “In 2018 more than $1 billion was invested in legal technology, three times more than the previous year”, globally. In Australia alone, there are currently 93 legal startups with legs in the country. The Australian Legal Technology Association continues to thrive with interactions from both the startup community as well as traditional lawyers with curiosity.

In a recent conversation with Stevie Ghiassi of Legaler based in Sydney, who specializes in blockchain enabled legal solutions and scheduling, he described this community with gusto. What he is trying to do is bring the latest tools available to the legal industry. In doing so, it is likely that they will disrupt many of the current law firm functions and he is happy with that philosophy—as are many of his peers.

Technology journeys

After hitting 98,000 miles for the year in total travel, I am witness to a significant shift in the way that law firms look at technology. Changes evolving from the back-office support centric views of yesteryear, to the front and center underpinnings of how new tools can alter business and practice legal workflows. The shift is here, though each country seems to have various degrees of acceptance of this new reality and more importantly the practice of it. What creates the distinction are outside factors which either push or pull a firm to accept this new norm. The progressive state of the legal system in the UAE and UK has legal technology at the forefront, and it will be interesting to see what adjustments will occur around the world as a result. I do believe that while our legal technology community is large and expanding, the collective will continue to converge, eventually reaching the point of an e pluribus unum around the world.

Kleros.io (a Thomson Reuters Incubatee) Publishes Handbook of Decentralized Justice

Kleros.io is a blockchain startup which Thomson Reuters incubates in the Legal Technology space.  They recently published a book about dispute resolution using blockchain technology.  I had the good fortune to work with Federico Ast, Founder & CEO on a chapter for the book.

Please feel free to download a digital copy here:

Kleros’ Handbook of Decentralized Justice available for download NOW!

PDF: https://lnkd.in/ehA-5VF 

ePUB: https://lnkd.in/epCFpu2 

MOBI: https://lnkd.in/e26PxQc

Here is a section from my conversation with Federico:

***

One of the cores of our work at Kleros is researching the prospects of legal tech and the impact it will have on the legal business in the coming years. Joseph Raczynski, Thomson Reuters’ resident legal futurist is one of the select few we always love discussing.

Joe has a wide view of the legal industry and the business and technology that will affect it in years to come. Let’s dive into the conversation!

What’s a legal futurist, what’s the job description of that?

There is none. I think they’re still working on that in some dimly lit back room. It comes down to this – I’ve spent a lot of time on the core pieces of technology, either building computers, working on networks, white hat hacking systems and delving into how businesses processes work by studying sociology and believe it or not, nature, which inevitably impacts how we interact and develop.

I have an undergrad in economics and sociology, so I hope I understand the business world, but also believe I have some thoughts on how humans think, how we work as groups. The grad school education formalized and enhanced some of my thoughts with an MBA, and a Masters of Science in e-commerce.

I tried to spend my time on what people are doing in other businesses, in the financial world, in the medical world, and then pull that into what is happening in the legal industry.

Sometimes the legal profession might be a tad further behind the curve with what we see in other industries, so what I can do is peer into how others are working and parlay that into what may happen for legal.

As a practical example, I was mining Bitcoin in 2011 trying to understand how it works. Most of my friends and colleagues asked ‘what is this, what are you doing?’ They thought it was pointless, and the jury was out in my head about it, but I found it very intriguing, so I continued to explore it.

If you play around with these technologies before most know about them, at very early stages, you can get a better picture of what is going to happen in the future with different industries, the legal industry being one of them.

The next thing to take a gander at is memory on organic materials – imagine saving all of your firm information to a tree? Seems bizarre, but at some point these things will happen.

You don’t have a background as a lawyer, but in business and social science. How did you become interested in the legal industry?

I see the legal industry as one of the spaces with the greatest opportunities. You know this is growing because of all of the startups that have infiltrated the industry. There are so many startups that are looking at the legal space right now, because there are two parts to it – the business of law and the practice of law. Both of these are ripe for great efficiency across the board.

These startups are looking at different aspects of these two facets, thinking of how to make it more efficient, to make it a bit easier for the clients to better serve themselves, or to work with law firms and have law firms better service their clients.
I see AI and blockchain leading the way – the AI algorithms making things faster and more efficient and blockchain saving this information and hopefully making it so that the trusted third party is now a computer network.

The perfect example of this is what you guys are doing with Kleros. I honestly think this is one of the best examples out there in terms of how we can create better efficiency in a “trustless” environment, working with blockchain to be able to save information, secure it, but also have people leveraging this tech to create a better environment for all parties involved in a dispute.

 

Since you mention Kleros, what caught your attention about our project?

What I find the most fascinating about Kleros is the idea that you are going to leverage blockchain as a space in the ether that allows people to file a complaint, process that complaint, and eventually resolve it, using a system based on blockchain, and wisdom of the crowds.

Crowdsourcing enables the expansion of the pool of people making the decision. This makes a lot of sense, as it can greatly enable efficiency and reduce costs in a large number of dispute resolution processes.

The economic model that aligns individual incentives with honest decision making is a great innovation within the legal industry.

 

How do you see a new technology like blockchain interacting with traditional government courts and regulation? Are legacy legal systems going to adapt to blockchain or are they going to be disrupted?

That is a great question and I think the answer depends on where you are in the world.

In time, I think blockchain will absolutely disrupt the way the government interacts with information and the way they verify it. I was in Dubai some weeks ago and met with government officials working on a full-on blockchain enabled verification system that, when decisions are made, puts everything on the blockchain.

Anyone will be able to look up that decision with ease and they want to have this up and running within the next 18 months without having to go through a proprietary company. In Dubai, it is the government who is pushing law firms in this direction. The government is leading there.

In the United States, on the contrary, you find that traditionally it is the corporations that lead change. Law firms tend to follow, then eventually, a little bit further down the road, you may see the government starting to get involved in the space.

Depends on where you are and how this works, but clearly some changes are afoot in the next five years.

 

What about AI? How is it likely to impact the legal industry?

It’s a funny one. All we see in the news is the AI and how it’s going to disrupt law firms or the legal industry in general. There is so much talk about this every single day, how the robot attorney is coming…

I had the good fortune to meet the pre-eminent legal technologist, Richard Susskind last year in London. One thing he says is that, in the short term, we are probably overestimating the power of AI, but in the long run we are probably underestimating it. We’re at a stage that AI is in the news and most of the attorneys, partners, and managing partners of law firms that I meet ask – is this really happening?

It’s clearly cresting atop Gartner Hype Cycle, similar to what is happening with blockchain, there is a lot that may happen with both of them. On the AI front, you are seeing companies that come along and have very smart ideas about how they can change a section of how the practice or business of law works.

For example, let’s say there is a merger between two massive organizations, both have 50,000 employees. One of the core things they want to look at are the employees they have for both organizations to see if they mesh well. In order to do this, they need to review all 100,000 employment contracts identifying golden parachute language… For example, if anyone got a $50 million bonus if the merger took place.

Currently, many global law firms do this due diligence. They put 100-200 attorneys on it by having them read every single contract and making sure that those documents are standardized – not containing that golden parachute.

Increasingly there are algorithms and associated programs on the market that go through all the contracts, looking for all the standard language, kicking out those contracts that don’t have the common phrases or terminology. Those kick-outs are then reviewed by a human, resulting in a massive increase in efficiency and less people hours.

These startups who are creating these applications, are pushing the bar in legal. They are devising better ways to get the job done using AI – in an incremental way. Will we see a robot attorney in the next few years? No. But these types of tools leveraging some AI will ramp up quite considerably across the board.

 

What is the result of all this? In the world of AI and blockchain, in fifteen years, say, what’s the place of lawyers in all this? What does the legal system look like?

Ten years out, and these are just guess, all of the lower tier work that we traditionally see law firms doing, be it the e-discovery, some of the contract work, all of that will probably go away.

E-discovery now still has a lot of human eyes looking at a lot of these documents, after a first pass that maybe a computer completes. In time, that will probably be all computer. The documents that are out there right now, the normal contracts, that will all go away.

It’s that very top level where you need human imagination, human thought, collaboration that will be the furthest out to be disrupted. But there are a lot of attorneys that are doing just day-to-day work, canned phrases that you use to build up that document, a lot of that stuff will be impacted in the next, say, five years. In ten ten years, I’d say it’ll definitely be impacted. That’s the direction that I personally see it going in.

Law firms that don’t change the way in which they work will probably go away.
Lastly, what we are starting to see in Europe, as well as Australia and New Zealand, is that the Big Four of auditing and accounting are starting to take away some of the business from law firms.

Not only can they now handle law firm work, they can handle everything else – they have full-on accounting, the business processes, all of that is going to be fulfilled by these massive organizations. That will absolutely impact law firms.  This will come to the US soon, it is inevitable.

 

What advice would you give to a law student preparing for this new world?

Don’t practice law. (Laughs) I’m kidding.

I think it’s still a fantastic profession which requires a great deal of talent and unique thought processes. The advice that I actually gave to a few people who were interning here this summer, who were looking at law school: spend as much time on understanding the basics around law.

If your passion is around helping people and the love of law, go to law school. In preparation for your studies look at some of the startups like Kleros and try to work there to see what a lawyer will be doing in the future. Understand the growing relationship between technology and the law.

Clearly law rules the roost, but technology will continue to play a role in how it is practiced, and frankly what will be done by the future attorney.

I think companies should bring in a few aspiring attorneys to help them understand where we are going as a society, as a business. The future student should work with startups, work with bigger companies that are involved with e-discovery or anything in the legal technology world to help them get an understanding of how the technology works, how the vendors work and how this stuff may impact the way they practice law. Getting a full-rounded perspective of where the world is heading is essential – especially if you are dropping 300K USD on education.

One last thing I’ll mention about this is – I don’t know who originally thought of this concept, but there is a phrase called a T-shaped attorney. It’s literally like the letter T. Across the top of the letter T, those aspiring attorneys are learning everything they can about the business and the practice of law. They are learning a bit about project management, maybe they’re learning a bit about how to code or how vendors work.

More and more we are hearing about attorneys learning to code in different languages, so they have a better understanding of how that works. Understanding how vendors work, how startups work in the legal tech space. That’s the top of the letter, and the deep part, the extension of the letter T is the practice area they’re in, litigation, automotive practice or any else which they know almost as an expert. We are really talking about a well rounded attorney.

What books or other resources can you recommend to people to read and start learning about the future of law?

Some of the best books out there about legal technology and what impact its’ going to have are by Richard Susskind, most are aware of him, but if you haven’t seen or heard this gentleman from Scotland, he is on tour frequently, he talks about amazing things which should be happening in the legal industry.

He has a plethora of works out there. I spend a lot of time on YouTube in my off hours, looking at what people are thinking, what they’re talking about in many different industries, clearly within the legal tech industry as well, so that’s a great resource. Twitter has a plethora of great discussions that are happening as well.

Shameless plug, you can always check out my blog at https://JoeTechnologist.com, there’s always one or two hopefully decent ideas there that could be something worthwhile.

A presentation of Kleros with some extra flavor given by Joe Raczynski

Modern Law Magazine: Embarking on an Era of Abundance in the Legal Industry

Here is my latest post from Modern Law Magazine.

By Joseph Raczynski

Over the course of the next five years, the legal industry will be flush with opportunity. While much of the rote legal work will be done by automation, producing a period of interstitial angst at law firms, burgeoning areas of technology necessitating legal counsel will flourish.

As a brief preface, I will bypass the normal discussion surrounding how tools are making lawyers more productive and law firms more profitable. That is a given. These tools are plentiful; including research services that coalesce information intuitively tools that comb through millions of documents seeking relevant words; or, artificial intelligence (AI) enabled applications reviewing 10,000 contracts in hours compared to months required when done manually. While these applications constantly improve, they are becoming commonplace for law firms. This article’s focus is preparing for the next legal transformation for law firms—prompted by technological advances.

A near trite concept at this juncture, technology is advancing at an exponential pace which is creating incredible possibilities in many industries—especially within the legal industry. One example which typifies this acceleration is a recent creation at MIT Labs with ‘AlterEgo’.

The white device below wraps around the ear, hugs the lower jawline, and rests below the lips. It contains four sensors that can hear your internal thoughts. Yes, AlterEgo can read your mind. Practically, without verbalizing a word one can communicate with Internet connected devices, like a TV, a computer, or a car. A conversation with another person wearing AlterEgo could occur without verbalising a word. This is a single example, of a possible myriad, which exemplifies our current era of swift technological change.

alterego

AlterEgo, MIT Labs http://news.mit.edu/2018/computer-system-transcribes-words-users-speak-silently-0404

With this sort of mind boggling technology available, it raises the question, what will the legal landscape look like in the future and how can lawyers and law firms adjust to this sort of rapid change?

Algorithms

Specific instructional processes (if/then statements), known as algorithms, have existed in computer language for decades. Over the last five years algorithms have matured, but perhaps more importantly so has the flood of data—widely considered the new oil. The synthesis of the advanced algorithms and the ability to process that data has ushered in new industries.

One such industry is driverless cars. These vehicles are already being used around the world, and algorithms are a main operational feature in the car’s computer driving programme. This area of technology, alone, will be a significant boon to the legal industry. The implications of rules, regulations, laws, and ethics in this space are immense. Lawyers will need to be trained, or at the very least be far more familiar with how various algorithms work. Who decides culpability when driverless cars go awry? How do we navigate the legal ethical dilemmas of onboard computers deciding between hitting a child or an elderly person crossing the street?

autocar

Politico Europe https://www.politico.eu/article/should-a-driverless-car-kill-the-kid-or-the-retiree-future-of-driving/

 

Algorithms are a platform and will permeate most applications, propagating throughout most of our lives. Lawyers will likely need to understand their uses and implications, in the near future, in order to provide adequate representation to their clients.

Biotech

Over the last decade, engineers have deciphered how to modify the immune systems of bacteria to edit genes in other living organisms, like algae, small mammals—and now humans too. Over the last month, Chinese doctors claimed to have created the first designer baby by enabling one to be born which is resistant to HIV, by genetically alerting the embryo. CRISPR, pronounced “crisper”, allows scientists to easily manipulate genes far faster and cheaper than ever before. Soon there will be significant work for law firms in this space. The implications are vast beyond how an IP lawyer would practice. A multitude of various specialised practice areas will now join the IP lawyer. When new genetically modified humans arrive, smarter or with greater athletic ability, opportunities will bloom for many other practice areas. This will also impact the insurance industry, as two classes of humans will evolve creating different playing fields. Will genetically modified humans receive better insurance rates, because they are less susceptible to disease? There are countless other legal impacts with CRISPR and gene alteration impacting multiple areas of law and business.

Internet of Things (IoT)

With as many as 50 billion devices connected to the internet over the next ten years, we need lawyers able to understand the legal ramifications of this rapidly expanding technological reach. The depth and breadth of these interconnected gadgets cannot be underestimated, including devices connected to our brain, such as AlterEgo, to every appliance in a kitchen, car, phone—which will soon be a MR (Mixed Reality) headset. Within this scope, countless questions of data ownership, privacy, regulation, and intellectual property will arise. Education of how these devices work and what information is being gathered, perhaps surreptitiously, will all need to be understood by lawyers.

Deep Fakes

One of the more distressing developments of the last few years has been the creation of videos known as the Deep Fakes. The Deep Fakes are very realistic videos of someone famous, but are made by superimposing a computer-generated face on the real video and swapping out the audio with something nefarious. (Example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLoI9hAX9dw ) Lawyers will need education and access to tools to help verify what is real and what is not for litigation purposes as well as transactional, as people increasingly make claims using video attestation. We will soon get to a point where we cannot trust video documentation and lawyers will have to contend with these issues.

Blockchain

The ’trustless’ nature of a distributed ledger will undoubtedly have an impact on the legal industry, since transactions will be put on a blockchain. Increasingly there are whispers of a legal blockchain controlled by law firms in a consortium. This will impact most areas of legal practice.

In the transactional practice, self-executing ‘Smart Contracts’ will be something everyone working in the legal profession will need to understand. Ethereum, the first blockchain platform to popularize the idea of the Smart Contract allows for people to code ‘if/then’ statements onto the blockchain or database with ease. Here is a scenario that uses a smart contract on the blockchain in the legal transactions.

A lawyer writes a will for their client. The will stipulates that upon the parent’s death—their two kids must be married, respectively, in order for them to receive a share of the estate. If one kid is married and the other kid is not, the kid that is married receives all assets. For simplicity the assets are all liquid in this example.

The will is written and saved to a blockchain. It is in an immutable state, and the only people that have access to this document is the lawyers that drafted the will and her client. Once it is on the blockchain in a codified state, the smart contract starts checking every day through a trusted source, called an oracle (affirmed public record), to see if both parents are alive. One day the computer identifies that the parents have both died. The computer jumps to the next task to determine if both kids are married. Through another computer call to that oracle, it determines that one kid is married and the other kid is not, and subsequently sends 100 percent of the liquid assets to the kid that is married. This is a self-executing smart contract on a blockchain as shown below.

smartcontract

JoeTechnologist.com https://joetechnologist.com/2018/11/15/forum-magazine-blockchains-promise-verifying-value-one-block-at-a-time/

Drones

A drone superhighway is coming. These are roadways in the sky where drones will be able to operate, away from the likes of Gatwick airport and other important safe zones. The ’droneification’ of our delivery systems will alter city landscapes. Lawyers will be called upon to interpret zoning laws, environmental conditions, insurance issues, labour law, privacy matters, liability issues, and construction law—as more people build landing pads off their flats. The age of drones will create a beehive of activity for law firms.

Cybersecurity

By nearly all accounts Cybersecurity is the top concern for corporations and law firms outside of profitability. Data leakage and hacks are rampant the world over. Ransomware will likely continue for the next several years at least. According to one government official I recently met in the US, the world is simply waiting until the first significant cyber event which takes down a country’s infrastructure—such as the electrical grid, banks, or water systems. Law firms have rightly responded to the rapid increase of cybersecurity considerations over the last eight years. Increasingly lawyers will need to better understand the dynamics of cyber-breaches for their own operation as well as client needs. The opportunity for law firms is immense in this space from litigation to advisement of mitigation measures for cybersecurity.

How Law Firms Can Thrive

A renaissance in the legal industry is ahead, after a bit of discomfort based on some traditional legal work fading. As some of the rote work legal work dissipates in the coming years, an abundance of legal activity will commence in the emerging landscape driven by technology innovation. What I have discussed with law firms around the world is how they plan to prepare for the changes ahead.

  • Firms are beginning to create highly customizable technology education plans for their lawyers. They are inviting specialist from the newest industries: AI, blockchain, automotive, cybersecurity, IoT, and biotech. At a minimum, these required firmwide classes promote a basic understanding of each technology. The goal is for lawyers to be conversant in the technology when speaking to prospective clients. The plan creates a pathway for deeper levels of education if their practice necessitates it, which will be likely for many.
  • We are also seeing the early stages of more technical lawyers emerging. Traditionally, an IP lawyer carries this torch, but this is changing. Recently a blockchain consortium disclosed that lawyers make daily inquiries about how they can code blockchain enable technologies. Certainly not all lawyers will need to code, but those that have a proclivity for it will be better positioned for success.
  • Law schools around the world are pivoting. They still hold fast to the core curriculum, but quickly programming around emerging technologies is taking root. Law schools are connecting with startups—creating a synergy between the nascent legal minds and innovation. Universities are also partnering with some of the traditional legal sector vendors to aid students in understanding various technologies, processes, and applications for more efficient work with the business and practice of law. Advanced institutions are pushing students to understand algorithms, code, and become further enmeshed in technology.
  • Law firms are also sponsoring hackathons. The goal here to figure out better ways to improve process, which does not always have to be technical. Legal tech incubators have also started to proliferate by vendors, but also among some law firms.
  • When gaps in technology exist within a law firm, tighter partnerships with companies who can assist on the legal technical aspects surrounding the mentioned fields will start. Boutique firms will arise with a focus on these technologies to help their clients, but also serve as consultants to the larger mid-sized firms without expertise.
  • There is little question that litigation will thrive going forward in each of these disciplines. Lawyers that become more technologically savvy will have a decided advantage in obtaining business.

 

The era of abundance in the business and practice of law is on the horizon. The technological shifts that are occurring all over the world are setting up law firms, who are prepared, for bold new opportunities. One of the most important changes in the legal industry will be a need for lawyers to be educated on new technologies. As AI and blockchain become mainstream, those platform technologies will impact nearly every industry—meaning nearly every practice area lawyer will have to understand the basics of those technologies. The firms that embrace these changes afoot, will be best positioned to thrive.

 

Images from article:

Traveling Around the World (literally – 37,503 miles or 60,355 KM) – A Global Jaunt to Connect with Customers

Over the last eight weeks I have traveled around the world to meet our customers, with enough miles technically to have traversed the earth one and a half times or over 37,000 miles.

Background:

I had the good fortune to visit customers and present in London, Grand Cayman, New York, Dubai, Washington DC, Auckland, and Sydney.  The discussions have been intimate gatherings of global law firm leaders, head’s of startups, medium sized regional firms, and leaders in the US and UAE government sector.  I had the opportunity to present to the local offices of Thomson Reuters in Dubai and take the “Orange Chair” Q&A for the Sydney office (video coming soon).  I completed a Thomson Reuters ‘Corporates’ session for the Insurance and Financial Industry webinar on Cybersecurity, and performed several live talks demoing to several hundreds the legal implications of the Dark Web.  In London the wildly successful and innovative Generate Conference were presentations on the future of blockchain with TR Incubator Kleros, and another talk on cybersecurity to hundreds.  Over the last week, I spoke and moderated panels at both a large law and another medium law firm leader dinners, and at forums in Dubai, Auckland, and Sydney.  This experience has been amazing!  Having that as some background here are some thoughts on legal technology today across the globe.

 

Brief Customer Observances:

First, I am incredibly impressed with how quickly the legal industry is pivoting and how many now care about legal technology.  For the last decade I have traditionally met with law firm and some corporate CIOs, CTOs, Technology Directors and Librarians of all sizes.  Now the door has blown open to everyone else.  Various practice areas, partners, associates, internal support group, and the executive committees are asking for these meetings and leaning into the conversation around how technology is impacting the legal industry for both the practice and business of law.  Reasons are several fold; their clients are asking them, and quite frankly, people are worried about their own jobs.

 

UK: My experiences have led me to believe that the UK legal market is on average ahead of the curve when it comes to the use and implementation of legal technology.  Medium sized firms are rapidly testing and using many of the latest AI infused application to seek efficiency.  Partnerships with universities and joining consortia is an increasingly popular option.  Having met with the University College London recently, they echoed these same sentiments of active participation from law firms and corporations.

 

US: The US market is rather bifurcated.  There are firms pushing the envelope along the same lines as what the progressives are doing in the UK, but still many law firms seem to keep to the plan that they have had for the last few decades with incremental change.

 

UAE: The firms are also pushing what they can do with all currently available technology tools in the market.  Their courts, especially the International courts might be leading the world.  In fact, in the UAE, it is the government which seems to be pushing the private sector.  Along with the use of digitalization of workflow and automation of the courts, they are also implementing solutions around blockchain and AI which are bleeding edge.

 

New Zealand:  Besides the top eight firms, many are working on building out their portfolio of technology tools to assist their practitioners in order to be more efficient.  There is slow acceptance of AFAs by firms as they await the results of early adopters.  There are also several firms going it alone in building workflows and homemade solutions for documentation automation which require multiple developers both onsite and in India.

 

Australia: After spending time with numerous managing partners and innovation officers, it seems that Australian firms have the potential to lead the way into newer technologies.  That said they seem to be on the same page as what we see in New Zealand.  Fixed fee arrangements have been around for years, but are not used frequently yet.  Australian firms have leaders that can make bold decisions, but for now are testing the waters with newer forms of legal technology in their marketplace.

 

Appreciation: Internal Partners at Thomson Reuters:

I am extraordinarily fortunate to have made wonderful connections colleagues all over Thomson Reuters.  To a one, these individuals clearly have our customers best interest in mind at all times.  They epitomize the quality of being there for others as they diligently work through large and small issues in an effort to make our customers happy.  There are far too many examples to highlight, but I would like to recognize the following people for their help as I traveled these last eight weeks.

 

UK:  For the Generate Conference, customer meetings and internal strategy meetings, I wish to thank;  Kaley BottingLeila LoboAndy WishartLucie AllenSimon SmithAnn LundinJoe DavisJoel BlackVassil VassilevChristopher JefferyBabar HayatKathryn DaviesRob MartinJennie BygraveBrian CarrollBruce Frampton, and the rest of the client management, technical, and marketing teams in the UK.

US: For the panel on cryptocurrencies and blockchain for the Federal Government team; Gina ScialabbaKate FriedrichRobert BuergenthalDavid Wilkins For the Corporates partnership with the Association of Insurance Compliance Professionals and Financial Industry on Cybersecurity: Melissa BerryMatthew Ashley, J., Lauren WilkinsDaisy RowanDorian Buckethal and the rest of the marketing teams on the Federal Government, Corporates, and Refinitiv.  The Demoing the Dark Web talks with Wendy Maines and Blythe McCoy

UAE: For the Managing Partner Dinner, customer meetings, and internal presentations and meetings, I wish to thank;  Haley O’BrienDanny CrouchIbrahim Abdel RehimSuhayl HendricksNicholas CronjagerEslam MahmoudMark Freeman, M., Yasincan Gabriel Altiparmak, and the rest of the client management team in Dubai.

New Zealand: Annette VaoChris Hewitt

Australia: Chris HewittAelwyn NortonKim de KockJames JarvisPhillip InghamCarl OlsonRob Gitell