The current status of the (virtual) courts

Originally published on the Legal Executive Institute

By Joseph Raczynski

Likely the single most salient after-effect of the current pandemic on the legal landscape is its impact on the courts. Previously, the variance of their technological proficiency ranged from fundamentally unchanged over the last 100 years, to jurisdictions that embraced a technological bent forward over the last decade.

Indeed, because of the pandemic, the speed of change has been unparalleled, pushing courts from hopeful murmurs of being virtual in a decade’s time, to courts functioning virtually within two weeks.

The state of the courts

Recently I listened to a pair of judges on a recent ILTA webinar who embodied the technological divide seen in courts around the United States. In Maryland, Judge Paul W. Grimm, District Judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, said the traditional rules of criminal procedure inhibited hearings. In the Court’s code, “the rules state that the defendant has a right to be in court, a right to be present.”

The Court’s interpretation, the defendant must be in court, physically. It took the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) to give permission for the courts to adjust to less draconian dogma. On the civil side, it appears Maryland is slightly more progressive. If the individual defendant elects “to decline” to be present in the courtroom, the case then can proceed virtually. In Maryland, the rules are more restrictive for criminal cases than in other states.

In the state of Texas, conversely, courts were able to perform nearly all proceedings virtually. Judge Emily Miskel from the 470th District Court in Collin County, noted on the webinar that she has a very tech-forward Office of Court Administration. That office tested multiple remote hearing platforms, settling on Zoom for the entire state of Texas. Initially the state courts assumed utilization would center on emergencies, but it worked so satisfactorily, that they scaled to nearly all cases. Boosting the ability to conduct these hearings was their forward-leaning court management infrastructure. “Statewide electronic filings are all done online” and have been for years, Judge Miskel said.

Building on their demonstrated progressiveness, Texas conducted five pilot remote jury trials. Mary C. McQueen, President of the National Center for State Courts, recently noted that Judge Miskel had a court date with history on May 18, when she and Judge Keith Dean presided over the nation’s first-ever remote jury trial. Jurors connected via cell phones, computer tablets, and laptops. They appeared from their home offices, living rooms, and backyards. Judge

Technology & the new benefits

Overall, the country’s courts are on a wild disparity spectrum in their use of technology. In recent times I learned of one court that only takes bankruptcy filings via FAX, not email, website, mail, or in person. So, what is the road ahead for courts embracing technology?

Platforms

Secure court management platforms that allow courts to go digital with filings, decisions, case management, docketing, calendaring, and video capabilities are essential. Each one of these components are modular in nature, but strung together can create workflows for the court and all parties involved.

The digitization of data, enabling alerts, filings, and all other facets will create a foundation for the courts to function more seamlessly. There are many roles that adapted years ago tangentially or directly connected to the courts, like research, discovery, and depositions; but the biggest hurdle for most have been virtual video courtrooms that are enabled by and connected to a court management platform.

Video

Despite some early security stumbles, Zoom has proven to be the venue of choice of the courts for video meetings, which may be one of the most critical parts to the process. Microsoft Teams appears to be second choice for video interactions.

The State Bar of Texas polled all of their attorneys and asked for impressions of Zoom. According to Judge Miskel, 76% of the attorneys had used Zoom for legal work; 94% had no issues with their client using it; 93% found it to be positive or neutral for their hearings; 85% would recommend using it; and 73% felt it was effective in relation to the courts.

Some of the features that resonate for the judges and attorneys using Zoom are the breakout rooms, which allow for potential juror deliberation in a sealed room. For criminal cases, several judges require defendants be in rooms with cameras that pan and zoom to assure no coaching occurs. The ability to rename those appearing before the judge — their display names on Zoom — is a big feature. Additionally, there is language interpretation functionality, which can better serve more remote locations.

Access to Justice

These technologies have proven to offer greater access to justice, judges say. The courts have found that people with hourly jobs or non-flexible schedules, could join remotely more easily from their job. One judge mentioned recently that during a virtual child custody hearing, the mother joined from an empty church, which was adjacent to her retail store. The demands of her job would not have permitted her to be physically present in court.

Judges also found that defendants and plaintiffs are far more likely to engage because the familiarity of using video on their phones. It was less intimating than being physically present in court.

Speed of delivery

Another judge recently mentioned that the speed of delivery is now fantastically faster. Judges can make decisions rapidly without the need for as many hearings or elongated in-person processes.

Decentralized justice: Online dispute resolution

Online dispute resolution (ODR) is another path forward into the future of technology that impacts the courts. The next phase is starkly innovative. Legal tech company Kleros stated that in recent years, new approaches to dispute resolution have emerged, with contributions coming from such areas as blockchain, cryptography, ODR, game theory, and mechanism design. Fundamentally these opt-in systems seek to “leverage the willingness of peers to adjudicate disputes or, more generally, assess situations that require an impartial and fair outcome,” Kleros reported.

What is profoundly different is the idea of decentralized justice, the move toward decisions emanating from a network of randomly selected, lay peers.

The recent and fundamental changes to the courts is astonishing. What once was a dream for some and unfathomable to others, has been thrust into the light. Today, the United States has functioning virtual courts, hearing real cases. Though much of the infrastructure is tapped and patched together, it serves as a baseline for growth.

The eventual goal is a court management system, integrating secure ease of access, providing a platform for fair justice, and allowing coordination of cases for the masses — all virtually.

Part 3: Legal Geek’s Uncertain Decade: How does the US and the UK match-up in legal?

Originally published on the Legal Executive Institute

By Joseph Raczynski

In the next decade legal knowledge will be a skill, not a practice. The assumption is that knowledge is table stakes, and technology is now the enabler buoyed by flourishing legal tech startups.

These industrious neophytes are marshaling services previously owned by the practice of law stewards, dramatically changing the legal landscape. Another avant-garde concept — that the current legal educational system is misfiring, proving to be generally antiquated and looking for relevance in to 2020s — is also ascendant.

These sentiments and a rousing discussion of how the legal profession operates around the world were debated on a recent global webinar. In the third of a four-part global webinar series, The Uncertain DecadeLegal Geek again brought Mark Cohen, CEO of Legal Mosaic, and Prof. Richard Susskind to hash out what necessary skills and education for legal professionals will be in the 2020s. They also provided some fireworks with insights into how the legal landscape differs between the United States and United Kingdom — all as the Fourth of July approaches. (You can read about the first webinar and the second webinar here.)

Legal skills & education

The practice of law has begun to shrink, said Cohen. Focusing on both the skills and education necessary to flourish in the 2020s, he mentioned that a fundamental shift to machines is underway, along with the increase use of pseudo-legal professions. These professions do not require law degrees, but can allow professionals to perform many components of the traditional lawyer. In fact, the UK has empowered this movement by creating a formalized rulebook that outlines six types of work for legal professionals; thus, opening the door to other work outside of the six that can be done by non-legal professionals.

Deloitte observed this change, stating that 40% of all legal tasks will be automated by 2030, said Cohen. “This is not the end of lawyers, rather a call to re-tune their skills by learning more about business, technology, emotional intelligence, and collaboration all in an effort to reimagine themselves focused on the customer,” he added.

Susskind agreed that machines are going to become increasing capable, leading to a future of automation, rather than human task. He outlined two divergent paths: one where humans compete against those computers; and another where humans help design those systems. He favored the latter, but understands many will align and fight for the former.

Cohen generally agreed. but with a caveat. The law is “a noble profession,” Cohen observed, adding that it has many paths, but if people expect the same passage as other generations, “it’s not going to happen.”

Law schools at a crossroads

Law schools are detached from the legal marketplace and therefore will not be the only group educating the legal industry going forward, Cohen claimed, adding that education is more a process than a place, and upskilling will be omnipresent for all parties. As lines blur among industries including data analytics, computer science, and lawyering, legal professionals must understand culture and the diversity of the legal ecosystem, by becoming more aware, embracing, and utilizing new cross-industry models. If not, lawyers will be marginalized.

This is the age of the customer, Cohen noted, and so, legal needs to be better aligned with them.

legal geek

Susskind agreed, saying that “nothing has changed in the last 30 years with most law school training.” All of this concerned him deeply, Susskind added, noting that we are not putting in place a pipeline of what we will need in the legal industry going forward.

Indeed, he surmised that if law school fail us, there will be other groups that fill the void, candidly purposing, “Why don’t we get the best person online and bottle that, compared to the our current model of sage on stage, who might just be average?”

Overall, Susskind and Cohen agreed on the education and skill tests for the future workforce, saying that both are integral to the business and they are dismayed by what they are seeing from universities at the moment.

UK v US — the legal landscape

Framing this conversation about the matchup of jurisdictions, Susskind suggested that we think about this in reference to technology and change, and ask, which side is better prepared? Susskind’s famous drivers of change include: more for less, new providers in the marketplace, technology, and the newest addition, COVID-19. Through that lens, he spoke about eight areas to determine who is better prepared, the US or UK.

  1. Leading law firms — In the 1980s and ’90s, the US was better positioned; however, in the 2020s the UK is leading the way by using better innovative technologies. There is an arms race among UK firms, which further push those firms toward advancement. UK wins.
  2. General counsel — Neither country is ahead. In fact, Susskind found that GCs are very conservative and are simply too busy to change, which is likely a result of many coming from the larger conservative law firms. Tie.
  3. Chief operating officers — These people are responsible for procurement and are typically committed to bringing about change. The theory is that they are well positioned to push law firms harder on costs and use of technology. Susskind said that the US is ahead of the UK by bringing all COOs together in better collaboration, and the US has more of them. US wins.
  4. Court rooms — This one is a challenge to compare because of jurisdictional variances. However, the UK government is bounds ahead of the US with redesigning the way disputes are resolved. UK wins.
  5. Regulators — The UK has liberalized many components of the legal system, especially compared to the US. This has brought about heavy use of alternative legal service providers (ALSPs) on a totally different landscape, including venture capital inflows in the UK. UK wins.
  6. ALSPs — In the UK, the Big 4 accounting firms are clearly ahead in utilization. That said, there is a larger presence in the US of ALSP organizations, which are probably more advanced in the US than in the UK and are used more in the US. US wins.
  7. Legal tech startups — There is an explosion in both countries, but the difference is that in the UK the emphasis is on service delivery to clients, and in the US, it is on tools for traditional lawyers. Tie.
  8. Law schools — Both countries are rather lackluster, and much more needs to be done according to Susskind. The UK is slightly less active on change, so the US is a bit better positioned. US wins.

And the Winner? It’s a draw, 3 to 3, with 2 ties.

At the end of the day, there is not a huge divide between the US and UK in the legal market, said Cohen, adding however, he is envious of the regulation in the UK, which has set up the legal industry there for success.

Both Susskind and Cohen suggested that in the coming years they anticipate a huge inflow of capital into the legal industry by private equity, which could further improve the position the UK.

Part 2: Legal Geek’s Uncertain Decade: Can ALSPs provide what their clients want & need?

Originally published on AnswersOn.

By Joseph Raczynski

General counsel (GCs) across the United States and the United Kingdom have varied approaches to the current market conditions, according to recent surveys. Interestingly, at the center of the debate is how alternative legal service providers (ALSPs) are utilized and perceived compared to traditional law firms.

Not surprisingly, many GCs felt that individual client needs ultimately superseded the ALSP v. law firm rift when looking at the legal landscape beyond the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the second of a four-part global webinar series, The Uncertain DecadeLegal Geek again brought Mark Cohen, CEO of Legal Mosaic, and Prof. Richard Susskind to dissect what clients want and need now and breakdown the hope and hype of ALSPs. (You can read about the first webinar here.)

The survey responses from GCs about how they’re managing their own in-house legal teams caused some eyebrow rising. While the “worry of people, cashflow, and uncertainty persist; the newness of remotely running the team, advising the business, and getting law firms responses, have been quite successful,” said Susskind.


Survey results saw general counsel in both the US and the UK in ominous accord — a majority on both sides of the Atlantic described the level of change from this current crisis as “significant or massive.”


In another revelation from the survey, UK GCs noted that ALSPs fell short of expectations during the crisis, which contrasted Cohen’s findings of GCs in the United States where law firms fared poorly and ALSPs flourished. The two panelist grappled to find just rationale for the variance, eventually settling on possible cultural differences. “Maybe the US is more pragmatical about the relationships,” Cohen suggested, adding that ALSPs in the UK can be subcontractors of law firms where in the US they are often more organic, outside of the Big Four.

Finally, the survey results left the GCs on both continents in ominous accord — a majority on both sides of the Atlantic described the level of change from this current crisis as “significant or massive.”

More for less

The idea of getting more quality legal service for less spend is a central theme repeated by Susskind and Cohen, underscoring their overarching thesis for the webinar: Legal operations are paramount. Cost cutting has become table stakes; and now it falls upon the chief operating officers (COOs), to devise new business models, direct and enable innovation, and reluctantly, ruminate about the next calamity. “Legal expertise used to be the primary focus,” Cohen explained. “Now business acumen and technological tools used by operations can help clients.”

Indeed, legal organizations have to reimagine the art of the possible and transform, he added. While the end goal is an elated client, there are far more fluid paths combining “less expensive people using better technology” to achieve that, said Cohen.

A polling of webinar attendees on desired topics of discussion, pivoted Susskind to deliberate on the impact of start-ups on the legal landscape. A few years ago, a few hundred emerged, now there are a few thousand legal technology businesses. Bluntly, he stated that most of these companies will not last as each try to be the next Amazon.

What did surprise him, was the primary focus for these embryonic upstarts, as the majority of these companies endeavor to solve law firm back office functions, Susskind said, adding that the amount of effort focused on helping the client is actually pretty low.

Legal Geek

Cohen agreed, saying much can be done in this space to focus on helping those in need of legal services. “There is far too much law for those who can afford it, and far too little for those who can’t.”

Both panelists spent a significant amount of time on the question of whether most ALSPs were more hype or hope. For example, Cohen sees the outgrowth of ALSPs as a byproduct of unmet market need. Since the 2008 crisis, ALSPs have led with a different DNA. More business than law firm, they breathe process design, project management, and technology to help their clients. This corporate model, which has “come of age” in the last few years, is providing legal services which are better, faster, cheaper, and more customer-centric, explained Cohen.

Project managers utilize data-centric analysis, to oversee risk management; and what was once thought of as a junior varsity, ALSPs should no longer be seen this way. In fact, based on Net Promoter Scores, these organizations can often prove their value empirically in serving their customer. UnitedLex and Axiom, for example, are poster children for this data-centric service model. Highly competitive, Axiom only engages with one out of every 20 lawyer applicants it receives, and practices law in more than 90 countries, though not in the US. Both companies leverage their corporate structures, allowing flexibility and reinvestment while dismissing the partnership model of law firms, said Susskind.

As they concluded their discussions, both Cohen and Susskind surmised that the focus will always be on the client of course, but how those clients are serviced has changed. Cohen reminisced that once “lawyers had to practice or leave,” but now they need to meld many different components together, such as technology, operations, and analytics.

Susskind ended with his impassioned beliefs on mindset shifts, suggesting that lawyers have to be open to new things, be entrepreneurs, musicians, and artisans. They should not assume that everything will look like it looks today.

Tomorrow’s lawyers must try to avoid their traditional mindset trap — that “the best is the enemy of the good,” said Susskind, adding that perfection at the cost of agility and creativity is no longer sustainable.

Part 1: Legal Geek’s Uncertain Decade: Debating the future of the legal industry

Originally published in AnswersOn.

By Joseph Raczynski

It’s the questions on the mind of every legal professional: What will legal life look like after the COVID-19 pandemic passes? What will this “new normal” actually be? And more specifically, if courts close and clients are shuttered, what will half the world’s lawyers do?

In the first of a three-part global webinar series, The Uncertain DecadeLegal Geek sought to shed some light on these questions, bringing together two of the most respected names in the legal industry — Mark Cohen, CEO of Legal Mosaic, and Prof. Richard Susskind — to delve into how law firms, courts, and the general population are facing unprecedented legal challenges in the current crisis environment.

Cohen began with a historical perspective about the COVID-19 crisis, citing four previous transformative events after which the legal community bounced back, with one exception. The global financial crisis that began in 2008 permanently altered the way law firms function and interact with clients.

Such transformative events force law firms to reconsider the traditional model of work, birthing a “new era of legal operations,” said Cohen. Historically, what stood out is what failed to change, he explained, adding that law schools and the courts returned to normal, greatly unaffected by the financial crisis.

Why is now different?

Now, however, the reckoning has arrived. In a matter of weeks, law schools converted to online education, something they had resisted for more than a decade. Courts too, have begun to adjust adapting latent technology that had emerged from “other industry use” to their new reality. “It simply needed to be turned on,” said Cohen, adding that ultimately, these older components — physical classrooms, some in-person courts, and in-person client meetings, are no longer necessary.

talent
Mark Cohen, CEO of Legal Mosaic

It is “a bright light being shined on how we can do things differently in legal,” he said.

When asked how much of the physical nature of the practice of law do we really need now, Cohen pointed out that the entire legal workforce became a remote workforce almost overnight and in general, it seems to be working.

What is the impact to industry components?

The bellwether for change is the general counsel, Cohen continued, adding that GCs have already been doing more with less for a time now — truly being “proactive enterprise defenders.” Now, all legal service providers and vendors need to look toward the GC and senior legal teams because they are “living law’s future.”

Cohen then broke down the industry components into four main areas:

Consumers — Individuals in need of legal counsel are driving change. There is increased access to information and platforms where data is available, and that’s driving process. People will now make decisions based on competency, metrics, and expertise as data accessibility is universal and process is increasingly coveted.

Academia — The universities will need to rethink their curricula. Education is a lifelong pursuit, and newer programs will need to incorporate many disciplines beyond the classics, including marketing, technology, and business.

Legal Service Providers — Cohen said for legal providers, the main theme is an emphasis on customer-centric models, more than ever before. While new solutions will be data-driven, it is about vendors learning and understanding more deeply about the customer and thereby driving more value to them.

Courts — In the short term, “courts have been crippled,” said Cohen. He then brought up a concept using the Chinese word for crisis — Wéijī, explaining that crisis has two meanings in Chinese, “danger” and “opportunity”. The courts and associated lawyers find themselves in Wéijī at the moment. The courts now are paralyzed, of course, but they could seize the opportunity and transform the entire industry with intelligent adoption of technology and process.

On the state of the market

For his part, Prof. Susskind views the current legal market conditions in several phases. Initially, the legal industry had to mobilize to enable work to be produced. Currently, he sees this lockdown phase as a test which provides an inordinate amount of valuable data. In his grander vision, we have an impromptu Proof of Concept at hand, Susskind observed. “We should be capturing as much data as possible and seeing which innovations could work going forward” during this lockdown, he explained. Eventually the third phase, emergence will come; however, this will be complicated by a bifurcated marketplace of individuals empowered to return to the office and those forbidden from doing so. Fundamentally, legal work be done differently going forward, and face-to-face interactions may no longer dominate, Susskind said.

While most managers in the legal sphere are focused on the here-and-now, Susskind argued that people “need to be looking at the long term and asking themselves to what extend have things really changed?”

susskind
Prof. Richard Susskind

For example, Susskind noted the absence of recent artificial intelligence chatter and believes that the urgency of AI might will die down for the next 18 months. Since AI is less tangible for most day-to-day operations, it makes sense that it could fade as a focus for law firms and the courts.

Indeed, all the current attention in the legal industry surrounds basic technology that enables job function. While the future of people working from home with basic technology has arrived, it is built on a “house of cards” and “stuck together with bubblegum,” stated Susskind. The legal industry will endeavor for practical secure and permanent work from home (WFH) solutions; and therefore, the more nebulous, dreamier innovations that might on day again push the limits of the law and technology are on hold for now.

The call for remote courts

What was thought to have been a 10-year plan to move the world’s antiquated court system to a remote one actually only took a few weeks, said Susskind. Now, he said his preoccupying thought remains: Is a court is a service or a place? And if the latter, do we really need that place?

To that end, courts around the world have morphed into three possible types: Audio, where some of the events are either entirely or partially access by telephone; Video, which mirrors audio in its use; and lastly, Paper, which still requires submissions to the court be in written form and the judges respond in kind.

The early evidence of these new court systems are very positive. To the surprise and skepticism of many, “it seems to be generally working,” said Susskind, adding that people were distrustful of this shift, as we have seen little change on this front in more than 150 years.

Rapid transformation is upon us, Cohen and Susskind agreed. In a matter of weeks, the legal industry experienced more change than it had in previous decades. The light is bright on how things can be done in legal, but much more data needs to be digested to see the resulting outlines of the industry’s still murky future.

Podcast: The Hearing – Meredith Williams-Range – Chief Knowledge and Client Value Officer at Shearman & Sterling

In this week’s episode, I am joined by the preeminent thought leader in legal tech, and Chief Knowledge and Client Value Officer at Shearman & Sterling, Meredith Williams-Range.

Taking us on a journey from her small-town, rural upbringing just outside of Memphis (where you’ll find the absolute best BBQ) to the bright lights of New York, Meredith tells how family tragedy and a decade-long lawsuit led to a career in law.

Meredith talks about her career at Baker Donelson, where she worked with colleagues steeped in American history, including President Reagan’s Chief of Staff, and eventually became involved with legal tech. The hustle led to a fascinating new position at Shearman & Sterling, a position that Meredith notes was designed on a napkin! The firm’s great vision and wonderful people meant that Meredith knew from the start that she could do great work there… and have the best geeky conversations.

In a fascinating discussion about the growth – and the daunting pace of growth – of legal tech and big data analytics, Meredith and Joe consider the biggest legal tech changes of recent years, and talk about the exceptional new tools that serve a true need, with the added bonus of giving the enormous power of data to lawyers.

‎The Hearing – A Legal Podcast: EP. 45 – Meredith Williams-Range (Shearman & Sterling) on Apple Podcasts

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.

 

 

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.

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

 

How medium-sized law firms can use legal tech to compete with the big industry players

Originally published in the Legal Insights UK & Ireland

By Joseph Raczynski

The familiar trio of ‘People, Process, and Technology’ play a role in every business. However, as medium-sized law firms increasingly compete for the same pool of clients with large law, it is the ‘Process and Technology’ that are shifting, and levelling the playing field. As for ’People’ – there is still a dearth of amazing lawyers available since the recession, so while important, it is the least altering factor among the three.

Large law firms are currently flanked on two sides: the Big Four consulting companies from the left and medium-sized law firms to the right. Some of the largest clients are increasingly seeking full service houses. For example, PwC or KPMG can handle everything from tax, IT services, marketing, facilities, procurement, and now legal services, all under one roof. As this goes to press, Ernst & Young just acquired Riverview Law to expand its managed legal services business, which further emphasises this point. This shift has been expanding as the Big Four grow their legal expertise. While it is unlikely that clients utilising the consulting companies may have considered a medium-sized firm, all of the remaining clients are now fair game for both large and medium law, and here is why.

Simply put, technology tools are levelling the playing field. With a proliferation of legal technology instruments on the market, each attempting to nibble at the traditional business of law or practice of law, there is a load of opportunity for any agile firm to gain traction. The surge in legal tech start-ups is global. Led by what some consider the last bastion of massive margins in business, the legal honeypot of financial gain awaits. In a business which has traditionally been less than efficient, the startups can taste the sweetness on their fingertips and are innovating in every direction in the legal landscape. The medium-sized firms that are open to the adoption of technology will have the upper hand.

Previously, larger pools of support staff and lawyers were necessary to accomplish or finish tasks. Now, leaner numbers can be prolific producers when it comes to rote services. There are tools which can magnificently automate documents in any number of areas including; real estate, employment, M&A, trust & estates agreements. Such processes essentially allow for more scale that medium sized law firms could not handle previously, by automating exemplar documents and turning them into intuitive questionnaires. This sort of example illustrates that any firm leveraging these types of technology can compete with nearly any other firm at some level. This was one. There are many similar examples where new tools are ushering in impressive efficiencies through a myriad legal technology tools. At the beginning of this technological shift, the tools will aid in the rote, and in the years ahead more complicated bespoke work will be enabled.

The risk ahead is for the firms that fail to innovate. Without the adoption of basic technology tools, they will not be able to compete with efficiency and turnaround for their clients. It will start gradually, but quickly impair the late or non-adopters.

Process isn’t proprietary ̶ it’s widely available  

Further, levelling the playing field is a process. Once upon a time, a barn full of lawyers was necessary to review documents for complex litigation. Those days are past. Now, a medium-sized firm can call upon LPO (Legal Process Outsourcing) to bring in 50 lawyers in 24 hours. Thus medium-sized firms can now use alternative legal service providers to ramp up instantaneously. The firm of 100 can now puff out their chest as they handle a far grander case than once was feasible with temps and staff lawyers. In addition, to magnify this, these LPOs are using increasingly efficient tools like TAR (Technology Assisted Review) to aid in the EDRM (Electronic Discovery Reference Model) and vastly improve speed to find relevant material.

Ceteris paribus, as legal technology tools advance rapidly and process is flattened, the distinguishing factor between large and medium firms will blur. In the end, with an even playing field, the unique creative “People” vision will likely tip a client into one camp or another. Ultimately, competition among all law firms will become progressively more spirited because of technology and process.