Column

SmartLaw

We have smartphones and smart cars are on the way, so we should not be surprised that SmartLaw gets added to the tags of BigLaw/SmallLaw, NewLaw/OldLaw, NextLaw and even LessLaw etc. But, like so much of the legal world, the “bleedingly obvious” can take a while to be noticed. While I have talked about smarter lawyers in relation to our Lawyers Workstation approach to IT, Ryan McClead’s blog article “SmartLaw: The firm of the future” was interesting due to its emphasis on the firm, rather than the lawyer.

“Smart” is a neat word: it includes connotations of style, which is important as design is now creeping into law. “Smartly” also suggests speed a word not normally associated with the legal system.

I recall a SmartLaw Practice Management System (PMS) from the 1990’s which cost almost $20,000 for starters, and ran on an IBM AS/400 minicomputer with at least 8 MB of RAM which also started at $20,000. So to hear people whinge about paying for apps that go into double figures, is almost amusing.

Historically, a PMS was a back-office systems tended to focus on increasing the capability of the accounting staff. A more modern PMS, while typically retaining its it back-office roots, has bolted on front office functions that lawyers can use. A smarter PMS could start with the lawyer and work back. The most obvious sign of a lawyer-focussed system is the presence of a research module. Such a module highlights one of the differences between BigLaw escapees and solo general practitioners: Ex-BigLaw value the Research module in a PMS as the depth of their knowledge in their specialty was their food-stamp.

However, even without a Research module, a modern PMS can help make a lawyer smarter, or at least less handicapped by not have to carry the burden of numerous tasks/to-dos in their head. And instead they can focus on the task at hand.

But a PMS can’t do everything well. It needs to be customised to the evolving needs of the lawyer. For example, a litigator has no shortage of very affordable tools. Aeon Timeline allows lawyers to see the facts more clearly, and most importantly, visually communicate their insights rather than rely solely on text. The recently released version 2 of Aeon syncs with my favourite writing tool, Scrivener; can share information with databases, and export to the web to impress clients.

You don’t need to wait for AI to mature to operate in IT-enhanced mode. Throw in my favourite brainstorming tool Scapple from the developer of Scrivener and you can operate at a far higher level. As the three programs together are around $100, the real investment is the time to learn such systems. But it is an investment in yourself and will pay-off in the long term as they are the sort of tools that will well equip you for the massive changes ahead.

Kenneth Grady in an blog item titled “The Modular Legal World” referred to the “augmented lawyer.”

“This lawyer combines human skills and computer capabilities to deliver solutions to client problems. Augmented lawyers look for ways to combine the best of what computers can do and the best of what humans can do to find higher quality, lower cost, and more timely solutions to client problems.”

Thirty years ago, Legalware’s Peter C Hart spoke of lawyers as being artisan’s crafting solutions one at a time. Law is still at the artisan stage, according to Axiom CEO Mark Harris in a Financial Times article called “Technology: Breaking the law” by Michael Skapinker. Mark says that “Lawyers craft individual advice for clients. The way to bring cost down is to industrialise much of the process.”

Industrialisation via inexpensive mass customisation is already here. LawHelp Interactive (LHI) is a US national online document assembly platform that allows people representing themselves to prepare their own legal documents and pleadings online for free. In the last ten years, over 2.6 million legal documents have been generated through LHI. It currently hosts more than 3,000 interviews.

Someone who addresses the other end of the legal market, Kenneth Grady also said:

“Modularity is another way of talking about disaggregation. At the macro level, we can disaggregate projects into tasks and operations. At the next level, we can disaggregate tasks and operations into components done by humans and ones done by computers. As we disaggregate and automate (again, putting aside our mistakes in re-designing the process), we make improvements. Each improvement may seem small, but over the course of days, weeks, and months these small improvements can mean the difference between a viable practice and one that is too inefficient to survive.”

In the past, I have gone further than Kenneth and suggested that we might also see a “componentization” of law. We might see legal services provided by a range of entities from small startups to conglomerates provide legal “parts” like in the car industry. And fewer legal services will start life in law firms. Legal Blogger, Robert Ambrogi has found that the number of legal startups has tripled in the last two years.

They also might be come via big a four accounting firm such Deloittes (it has 3,000 users on the Kira Systems platform), a marketing powerhouse such as Legalzoom or Avvo with their free documents, or a non-traditional law firm such as Riverview Law with Kim which provides services to other law firms, and in-house lawyers. They might not just sell their offerings to traditional clients, and instead might have wholesale products e.g. sell to accountants etc as part of a solution for their clients as does View Legal.

As a user of advanced contract analysis software, it is with some authority that a report by Deloittes says:

“The use of data and technology is growing in the legal sector and there is scope for greater application in future. For instance, some law firms are making use of the large volumes of contract information and data they have to create value for their business using advanced analytics. There is significant potential for high-skilled roles that involve repetitive processes to be automated by smart and self-learning algorithms. In the short term, there will be a need to support and manage this transition.”

Freelancers will be another one of the components of future legal solutions. These new components coincide with the rise of a powerful new class of “non-lawyers”: legal project managers and data specialists who might be harder to find, and more valued than some lawyers. As part of the move towards the productization of law and the demise of time billing, the core of a legal solution provider might not be the legal “stars” of yesterday. Ron Friedmman and others discuss these trends here.

The Team at LegalVision might be an example of such a NewLaw firm. While half their staff are non-practising lawyers, the roles of Legal Project Manager, CTO, Content Manager and Marketing Director seems to have greater prominence than the traditional lawyer role.

In a comment on an earlier item by Kenneth Gray “Why Lawyers Do Not Fear Computers: The Lump of Lawyers Fallacy” , Richard Granat said: “We are still at the beginning of the beginning of the turmoil that automation will cause in the legal industry.” One of the most telling things about that comment is that in the 4 weeks the article has been online, Richard has been the only contributor to the comments section.

While there are no shortage of clever lawyers, the long promised Revolution is progressing but possibly off the radar for many as further evidenced by ever-increasing charge-out rates at BigLaw. SmartLaw reduces such client-conflicts. SmartLaw will deliver the impossible dream of “better, faster, cheaper” law, in part, because it involves LessLaw, less traditional lawyers, but more “other” types of lawyers.

Comments

  1. More info on @legalvision_au mentioned above in this timely article: ‘Pyramid’ firm model shows cracks http://www.lawyersweekly.com.au/news/18640-pyramid-firm-model-shows-cracks?