LegalTech Report Card and Predictions 2020 to 2060 – ILTA Conference 2020

I had the privilege of being selected to report on how ILTA (International Legal Technology Association) did on their predictions from 2013 up to today, during their 2020 ILTA-ON Conference. Even more fun, predicting what technology and LegalTech will look like from 2020-2025, and then going out to 2060.

Remember back when we had ‘Law Firm 2020 predictions’? In the first part of my ILTA-ON presentation, we will go ‘Back to the Future’ reviewing past predictions to see what came true and what we got wrong. Then, we will blast into a journey of what LegalTech looks like in the next five years. Lastly, for those who get motion sickness, grab your Dramamine, because we will take a 1.21 gigawatts ride, shooting into the future. We will predict what the technological and legal landscape will look like in 2030, 2040, and into the Singularity! Great Scott!

Part 1 – Jump Ahead (9:17): Grading the Law Firm 2020 report from 2013: https://youtu.be/UgyDyBSJ3AA?t=558

Part 2 – Jump Ahead (22:55) Predictions for 2020-2025: https://youtu.be/UgyDyBSJ3AA?t=1377

Part 3 – Jump Ahead (40:17) Technology Predictions 2030, 2040, 2050, and 2060: https://youtu.be/UgyDyBSJ3AA?t=2419

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.

ILTACON 2016: When Will Blockchain and Smart Contracts Be Important in Legal?

By Joseph Raczynski

“Blockchain is Hot: More than $1.5 Billion has Been Invested in Blockchain in the Last 18 Months”

  • Tori Adams, Booz Allen Hamilton

 

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — If someone had told you in 1993 that the Web would be integral to your life today, would you have believed them? Well, the discussion around blockchain technology at ILTACON 2016 harkened back to that same scenario of the early ‘90s. This is a reboot, where another new technology will revolutionize the world.

Moderated by the esteemed Ron Friedmann, Partner at Fireman & Company, we were led down the path of what to expect with blockchain. Rohit Talwar, CEO of Fast Future Research, started us off with his futuristic vision on what we can expect over the next five years. Joe Dewey, Partner at Holland & Knight, who specializes in blockchain, discussed the law and smart contracts. Lastly, Tori Adams, a data scientist at Booz Allen Hamilton, illustrated her predictions on the reality of this technology in the near term.

Current Landscape

All major industries are looking toward blockchain — most pointedly, the financial sector. Talwar focused on one platform that is pushing this new space forward quickly — Ethereum — a pseudo-Bitcoin 2.0 that allows users to code on top of the blockchain. This can create huge advances in how the blockchain can interact with the world; utlizing smart contracts and digital identities, an even executing stock trades. In fact, Talwar stated that Goldman Sachs estimated a legal savings of $11 billion to $12 billion per year from streamlining clearing and settlement of cash and securities through such technology.

Near Future

The next significant phase developing now is the DAO (Decentralized Autonomous Organizations) which means that processes and companies are completely autonomous. This technology has the ability to disrupt a disrupter, e.g. Airbnb. Let’s say you visit a DAO-enabled travel site. The condo owner places an ad on the site to rent their place weekly. You choose their place in Miami, agree to the terms (date of check-in and -out, etc.) and agree to the fee and deposit (paid automatically). When you arrive at the condo to check-in, simply enter the password at the door through an Internet of Things (IoT) tech-enabled doorknob (check out Slock.it) and you gain access. That lock at the front door knows who you are and how much you paid, and it can also see your contract for the rental of the condo and knows when you are to be out. The DAO can do all of this with one employee running the entire operation.

Law Firms Start to Embrace Blockchain

Several law firms are starting to make a foray into this space. Recently Steptoe & Johnson began a multi-disciplinarian practice to help manage the blockchain for clients. They will also be accepting Bitcoin as payment. Most importantly, they co-founded the Blockchain Alliance6, a coalition of 25 blockchain companies and 25 regulatory and law enforcement agencies — including Interpol, Europol, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the FBI — to educate enforcement agencies about digital currencies and blockchain technology. Other law firms including Holland & Knight see exponential growth of attorneys laboring in this discipline.

Smart Contracts

Holland & Knight’s Dewey said he believes the definition around smart contracts can be varied. For the purposes of this conversation, it is snippets of code that can change the ledger or a legal contract that is implemented on the blockchain. Of course, he outlined several benefits and challenges to this new innovation in the area of smart contracts:

Benefits:

  • Smart contracts are coded so there is less ambiguity than prose;
  • Verification can be achieved even within a trustless environment;
  • Self-executing; so once released, it is difficult to impede execution; and
  • Integrates well with IoT, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.

Challenges:

  • Must balance transparency with privacy concerns;
  • Infrastructure needs to be updated;
  • Lack of experience with blockchain technology in IT departments;
  • Lack of education and understanding of the technology in other departments, including compliance;
  • Development of uniform standards and protocols; and (of course)
  • Need to overcoming custom and tradition (e., change is hard.)

So a real world example of how a smart contract was implemented can be seen in how Barclays did it with an interest rate swap prototype. Essentially, the investment bank set up an incubator of coders who worked with their legal department to understand how these swaps (trades) worked legally. They distilled three lines in the process that could be coded — (x) the amount of cash; (y) the interest rate; and (z) the currency. Once this information was garnered, the transaction could be solidified and then stored on a blockchain.

One of the most surprising revelations of the session came from Dewey when he stated: “Big news for attorneys, existing law — passed well before blockchain technology was contemplated —not only validates transactions, including the trading of credit interests accomplished through the use of the technology we are discussing, but as a matter of policy, strongly supports it.”

There is little question that this is an industry that will be growing rapidly over the next few years. Many firms are moving forward with practice areas and educating their attorneys on the technology to better position themselves for the coming wave.

Lastly, Dewey added some additional encouraging words surrounding the future of blockchain. In May, the State of Delaware — which is home to almost two-thirds of the Fortune 500 companies — announced a Blockchain Initiative so that corporate filings can be added to the ledger. “This is a clear sign that blockchain technology will have a significant impact on business,” he said.

ILTACON 2016 SESSION: NEW INTERNATIONAL STANDARD FOR CLOUD DUE DILIGENCE

By Joseph Raczynski

The cloud is becoming increasingly ubiquitous at law firms. In fact, a recent ABA Technology Survey stated that 46 percent of cloudless firms will be transitioning in the next 6-12 months. In the session on the “New International Standard for Cloud Due Diligence,” Gregg Brown, senior director Technical Strategy, Computer Standards at Microsoft, and Patrick Oot, partner at Shook, Hardy & Bacon, discussed the changes to the cloud over the last six years and what is coming down the road.

Small- and medium-sized firms have embraced the cloud, while the largest firms have been more reluctant, saddled with restraints placed by their clients – especially in the financial industry. That said, there now seems to be some loosening of the straps in that particular space.

Benefits of the cloud:

The duo argued multiple reasons for jumping to the cloud. First, firms can take advantage of the latest innovations, features and capabilities with updates released every month, compared to waiting years for internal upgrades to their current systems. In addition, the cloud offers greater agility – not having to retrain or rebuild as needs expand.

Oftentimes, clients require more capacity on short notice, which the cloud can easily accommodate. At a base level, the cloud is a fraction of the cost of on-premises solutions – though add-ons can sometime raise the price close to that of an in-house solution.

As more firms adopt BYOD (bring your own device), the cloud enables firms to meet workforce demands with a per-user license. But with BYOD comes another layer of security concern, which the cloud can more readily accommodate as most vendors will be up-to-date with regard to security patches.

As Brown also noted, another inherent benefit to cloud technology is access to analytics. With all of its data in the cloud, a firm can easily deploy search and analytics across all of its information/eDiscovery, compared to what one might have with an on-premises solution.

Risks in the cloud:

As firms move to the cloud, one of the most persistent risks associated with the technology is multitenancy, means that a software application may not work well as designed in the cloud with multiple users trying to gain simultaneous access to it.  And of course, with complexity tied to data transfer laws, particularly between the US and EU, firms should consider the challenges of data access and the courts, Oot noted.

New ISO Standard Impacting the cloud in 2016:

Brown also described that by the end of 2016, there will be a new “Cloud Service Level Agreement (SLA) Framework” – known as ISO/IEC 19086-1 – published, which will offer a set of considerations for cloud agreements. He noted this will be a boon for law firms as it will lay out a guidance standard verses the normal compliance standard. This should have a positive impact, although Brown cautioned that these guidance standards will raise key questions and require analysis and evaluation.

Reflecting on the session, Oot and Brown surmised that technology still has a few pessimists, but that the forecast is looking positive as more and more firms opt-in. With its waxing advantages and waning risks, it appears that greater cloud adoption is near.

As they concluded, Oot and Brown pointed out one last benefit of the cloud – terms of service from providers can now be negotiated, where previously this was not permitted.

Based on what they outlined, there is little question that fewer barriers remain to adopting the cloud.

Joseph Raczynski is manager, Technical Client Management, Thomson Reuters 

ILTACON 2016: Re-Imagining Legal Technology for the 21st Century

By Joseph Raczynski

“The story of disruption was just the first act of 21st century business, now begins the tale of total transformation.”

— Mike Walsh

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — So reverberated the words of Mike Walsh a Futurist/CEO of Tomorrow, across an audience of more than 3,000 legal professionals at ILTACON 2016, a four-day conference that centers on the intersection of technology and the legal industry.

Walsh gave the keynote on the opening day of the annual conference, and the lens he cast enlightened the onlookers to a futuristic view of our current world. He then bridged that technological vision to the 21st Century Legal realm and focused on several thought provoking questions.

Can you think like an 8-year-old?

The key to transformation is to be ahead of it. Through the optics of an eight-year-old we can view the direction that technology is shifting. They embrace mobile — why? Because parents have pacified their kids for years with iPads and mobile phones. Their learnings began on those platforms which became almost intuitive to them and will now dictate our future.

When will we be a truly data-driven world?

Now! The biggest social shifts are shaped by the data-driven world. Disney World offers the most advanced of data collection and use. Their MagicBands are linked to a credit card and function as a park entry pass as well as a room key. They know who you are, where you are, and increasingly know what you want — predictively. Food can be delivered to you without you ever specifying a location. All of this is using data and machine learning to better understand consumer, and thus human behavior.

disney

WeChat, an app primarily used in China, was also offered as a good example of where we are going. With this app, people in China can play games, pay for things and buy insurance — the whole time interacting with a bot that is constantly gathering data and learning. This is what we will begin to see in all businesses in the near future.

In preparation for his transition into a discussion around legal, Walsh offered another thought. The children of today will be the first generation to be raised partly by artificial intelligence (AI). If you think about the platforms that are prevalent now, kids are interacting with them increasingly — Alexa, Google and Siri. Law firms have to start thinking about how these eventual employees will work and interact with each other both inside and outside of the firm.

How will a 21st century law firm differ from a 20th century firm?

The world is now global. The largest corporations and law firms have back office and operations support overseas. As an example, Walsh talked about something he saw in India which illustrated where we are headed. An AI machine (physical computer) is situated alongside other staff in a cubical at an office center in India. It is fully embraced and accepted as a highly efficient employee — and continues to improve rapidly with its own productivity.

Speaking of actual human employees, recruiting people will transform, Walsh noted. The next generation of hiring future lawyers, and collaborating with clients should focus on rethinking how we hire. Offer a prospect a clean sheet of paper and ask them to come up with a solution to a problem. Another idea, after a month on the job, ask what processes the newbie might change based on what they are seeing.

int-about-mike

What kind of mental software are you new hires running?

Going forward, the operating system of a 21st century lawyer is as much about the culture as it is about the code. All firms will have to be agile, and firms will have to hire people that think that way. Everything around our traditional culture and space is changing. People will increasingly be working from other locations, so this concept has to be reimagined. Walsh’s suggestion was to think about the person you are hiring — are they energized by solving problems? Additionally, environments have to be reconsidered. How do you design an office for people that do not need one?

Lastly, are you leveraging all of your data?

Law firms are rife with all sorts of data. One question that Walsh suggested was worth posing is how are firms using that data? Increased productivity can be gained by applying analytics to the whole.

In closing, Walsh pleaded for the legal space to adjust their mindsets, how we see and use data, which people are hired, and what technological processes are in place. We need to think like an eight-year-old to see how the world will change and adapt now, he explained.

The data inside law firms has to be better leveraged and analyzed with new tools. When hiring, do so by unearthing agile people and creating more social workspaces. One of the best ways to do that is by rethinking your communities, picking some high-profile projects and challenging those new teams to experiment.

In conclusion, Walsh noted: “When preparing for this new future, embrace that the future means challenging everything we know to be true.”