An interesting thought to take away from the 2015 Sinch Online Legal Services Conference, was the drive to action ideas, prototypes and business models, rather than just leave them to bloom in good time. This was reflected in the intensity of the discussions among attendees and speakers. The potential for “spot fires” of transformative thinking to come together and impact legal niches, seems imminent. The planets may be aligning for some major legal industry events, with big dollars at stake, according to some speakers.
Richard Granat spoke about “Law For the Rest of Us” as 80% of US citizens cannot afford_ legal fees. In fact, seven out of 10 Americans said they experienced a legal event within the past year. This latent legal services market adds another $45 billion to the potential market. He believes the legal profession is out of touch with the latent market.
Greg San Miguel was another lawyer who feels the legal profession is out of touch with clients. He spoke of the need to improve scope definition and make getting instructions more efficient by “optimising the inputs”.
Michael Curlotti presented four big ideas to nudge lawyers along:
- Ideas are the disruptive technology.
- Law is not what we think it is.
- It’s O.K. to use pictures.
- Let’s start thinking like designers, computer scientists, scientists, architects …. let’s stop thinking only lawyers can think.
Think about law from a design perspective: Law is a human created artefact. It is designed. Its optimal design is:
- is functional
- readily usable
- provides a positive user experience
The user is at the apex – an inversion of a command theory of law.
Anna Ronkainen, chief scientist for TrademarkNow, spoke about transforming trademark search _with artificial intelligence. TrademarkNow uses a mix-and-match approach to AI techniques. Traditionally AI has been divided into two factions: rule-based and statistical. All their competitors are also either/or. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Unlike the mainstream, TrademarkNow is flexible and uses both as they see fit, to maximize their benefits.
Matthew Perriam of InfoTrack is more involved with property and corporate searches, and graphically presenting search results. He pointed out that the reality is data creates data; particularly so in the legal profession. The evolution of increasingly sophisticated search tools has created smaller needles for bigger haystacks making the visualisation of these tools the way of the future for many including the legal and broader professional services sectors.
Shaneal Sharma is not new to graphics. He moved from the music world, with 4 international hits, to becoming legal tech star with ease. He learnt as a teenager how to bring people together. We are in the platform era, but need to look for platforms that can connect. AirBnB, the world’s largest room booking site, owns no property. The largest video site in the world, makes no videos. Uber does not own a vehicle. He reminded us of wider the implications of these changes, including for lawyers via their clients, such as the $450K loans not happening in the taxi industry. Think of all the hotels not being built today because of AirBnB.
Leonie Chapman of lawyal noted the need for speed for the virtual law firm mode of operation.
Noric Dilancian observed in a tweet: App developer nirvana vision @SinchSeminars conference – simplified, platformed, UXed, visualised, optimised, virtualised and accelerated.
Ursula Hogben a co-founder of LegalVision touched upon Market Barriers, and asked: Why are law firms not acquiring and servicing online, providing lower prices and turning work around quicker?_ Maybe Lawyers are uncomfortable with the new landscape and issues such as:
- The need for high-quality tech talent.
- Time spent acquiring and converting clients.
- Hourly billing v fixed-fees.
- How to maintain fast, consistent provision of high quality services?
Matthew Burgess of ViewLegal left a large firm where he had managed to be profitable despite reducing his chargeout rate by 70%. Part of his success has been the use of sophisticated project management tools to ensure that customer expectations are exceeded. They also use a subscription platform which uses intellectual property to create trust by sharing everything.
Jason Harrop discussed document collaboration. This included the Hierarchy of Evils, in order:
- Registration + Login
- Above + Download/install
- Above + Reboot
- Device not supported
Theresa Linton is the author of two texts on Project Management, including Legal Project Management from LexisNexis. She had some real world “learnings”, including:
- Never give a lawyer MS Project,
- Most lawyers are not good project managers,
- Never assume anything regarding the understanding by lawyers of project management – it is not obvious to everyone,
- Practice Management Systems are inflexible,
- Deliverables are nouns, and Activities are verbs,
- Matter costing/budgeting is a function of Scope and Schedule
Margot Stubbs is a magistrate who has developed decision support software to help her and her colleagues get through demanding case loads. It organises legal data around the decision algorithm of a high level expert. The program generates certainty, accuracy and predictability in the operation of the law. Reducing judicial error and the costs associated with appellate correction are some of the benefits.
Pat Brown of CodePact spoke on what lawyers can learn from coders. He suggested that we re-conceptualise a contract as a bundle of functional language rather than a monolithic tract that you chip away at with options and variables. When implementing, there should be as little overlap in the subject matter of clauses. What interdependency there is should be clearly mapped. Drafting Nirvana would be to create a situation where clauses can be bolted on or off a document with a minimum of hassle.
Lawyers should therefore use dependencies. A simple example is the relationship between clauses and definitions. Definitions are dependencies of clauses because clauses require definitions to operate. A document should automatically import the definitions for a clause when it is added. A document should delete definitions when they are no longer needed.
Legal service providers such as InfoTrack and TrademarkNow are anticipating and responding to the changing requirements of law firms and their clients. Now that the bar is being raised in all directions, keeping up is the challenge. That’s why we have scheduled more frequent get-togethers than our annual event, with an increased focus on product briefings and peer mentoring.
I can’t wait to hear the next installment of emerging stories, where the players are not just lawyers but former rock stars, professional tennis players, engineers and programmers – people who sound awfully like frustrated or visionary clients. Throw designers into the mix with the software and law coders, and who knows ….