The Innovators: David Hepburn, President, Actionstep

LawFest organiser Andrew King continues a series of interviews with key legal professionals with their innovation and technology stories.

Tell us about yourself

It has been an amazing 25 years since getting my Chemical Engineering degree in the UK.  I’ve found myself on operations as a young officer in the British Army, figuring out how technology can deliver better patient care in places like Vietnam, Turkey and the USA – building high performing teams and businesses along the way.  Leading our team at Actionstep is the culmination of so many parts of my journey.

What does legal innovation mean to you?

Legal innovation should always be about how to deliver better value, outcomes or services to clients. But many lawyers aren’t sure where to start. When firms are willing to challenge the status quo to bring quality and service issues into the light – and then commit to solving them – we see real legal innovation.

The area where we are seeing most innovation is where firms realise that the future of their firm means less reliance on the ‘human glue’ in their service delivery and processes. Whether that’s to work out the fat in their business processes or to free up lawyers to do higher value work – the outcome is often the same – a better experience for their clients.

These firms are moving the goal posts for everyone else.

What role does technology play in innovation?

Technology is often the enabler for firms to fulfil their innovation goals. We have a saying at Actionstep that “changing software is easy, changing process is not”. When firms want to change the way they do things, they need systems to support behavioural change.

The right technology systematises innovation into better processes so everyone gets on-board – suddenly they have a consistent “new way”. Baking their process, their innovation and their IP into their systems.

What pressures are organisations facing in the delivery of legal services?

Law firms are facing pressures from every angle – competitive pressure from more innovative firms or from alternative legal service providers. The pressure to deliver more within fixed fees – heightening the need for efficiency and automation. The commoditization of some areas of law puts pressure on firms to refocus on higher value activities that might not be everyone’s comfort zone. The demand from clients to be kept informed in a world of immediacy.  The need to find and keep good talent – again, something technology can help with as younger talent typically demand technology that reflects the collaboration, automation and tracking tools they are used to in their personal lives.

What developments do you see in how legal services are delivered?

We are seeing the rise of ‘data driven lawyers’. This has been accelerated through COVID as people have had to rely more on electronic records rather than face to face updates. Legal teams now realise that inconsistencies and gaps in data lead to mistakes on documents, incomplete files and skewed reporting – all things easily solved by discipline around data capture.

When legal teams focus on really good data, they spend less time getting lost in documents and drafting and more time delivering great legal services to their clients.

We also see that immediacy and access are more important than ever for firm clients. Clients expect access to their lawyers directly. Corporate structures are falling away and clients see gate-keepers and support staff as barriers.

What opportunities has legal innovation brought to you?

15 years ago our Founder saw an opportunity to get ahead of the wave of law firm innovation. Actionstep was the first fully cloud based legal tech provider and still remains the most configurable and flexible – so legal innovation is really the cornerstone Actionstep is built on.

The reason we have such a configurable product is to allow firms to run their firm, their way – to enable legal innovation – because there is no one size fits all when it comes to law firm technology.

What are some of your tips to start innovating or developing an innovative mindset?

Innovation can seem quite daunting. To develop an innovation mindset, you start with just one thing. Because incremental step-changes lead to transformation. How do you pick? Listen to your clients – what are they telling you to improve? What process or activity is fundamental to that? Pick that. Try another way. Replicate and iterate. Trying to change everything at once leads to frustration and failure.

Get the best out of the tools you already have. Explore ways to use them more fully or in different ways.

Listen to what younger lawyers are doing. They should be your eyes and ears for how technology will change your practice in future.

Post Covid, what impact do you see in how legal services will be delivered?

Two things I think people have learned from COVID – firstly, clients remember the lawyers who called them up and asked them what they needed, rather than trying to sell to them. I think lawyers learned a lot about the value of being close to their clients and that will be a key focus of service delivery going forward – less about production & more about advice.

Second, I see lawyers, paralegals, practice managers and everyone else embrace self-sufficiency. Doing more yourself does not mean taking away someone else’s job, it simply means you aren’t reliant on other humans to get the information you need, the process to work or the document triple checked.  People had to upskill during COVID and can now use those skills to their advantage.

Why is it important for legal professionals to continue to learn about legal innovation and leveraging technology?

Because if they don’t continue to innovate, they will get left behind. Our core belief at Actionstep is that lawyers are Awesome. The reason we believe that is not because of how good they are at document turnaround or their legal knowledge – it’s the impact they have at key milestones in our business and personal lives. Lawyers need to be able to get their heads out of the admin and repetitive tasks that so much legal work has turned into. Technology facilitates that – it takes care of the data accuracy, the document production, the matter management and client processing – so that lawyers can focus on advisory, interpretation, breaking new ground on legal matters and doing great work for their clients.


Andrew King is the founder of Legal Innovate ( He helps lawyers and organisations successfully innovate through leveraging technology to help improve the way they deliver legal services Legal Innovate includes LawFest (, LegalTechHub ( and E-Discovery Consulting (

The Innovators: Katie Bhreatnach, General Counsel, Airways New Zealand

LawFest organiser Andrew King continues a series of interviews with key legal professionals with their innovation and technology stories.

Tell us about yourself?

Tēna koutou katoa. I am the General Counsel and GM of Customer and Regulatory Partnerships at Airways. In my current role I lead a talented and diverse group of functional leaders in Customer Management, Legal, Regulatory and Policy. Our team manages our stakeholder relationships with our regulator, industry associations, customers and the third parties we partner with. The aviation sector is fascinating and the work we do at Airways has a powerful purpose – we keep the skies safe today and tomorrow, and our vision is to create the aviation environment of the future. It’s an exciting and challenging time to work here – while the aviation sector and our organisation have been significantly impacted by Covid 19, transformational change that was already part of our strategy has been accelerated.

On a person note, my whanau is a big part of who I am. My three daughters, husband and dog offer a totally different kind of joy and challenge outside of work. I enjoy tramping and camping (preferably with no hot water, electricity or cell phone coverage), live music, travelling, comedy and the arts. I also love rugby and am a loyal Blues fan (and not just in 2020). Whenever I get the chance I head up to the far north where my parents live and everything is warmer and simpler.

What does legal innovation mean to you?

As the saying goes, innovate or die. Businesses are constantly innovating, and those that don’t risk obsolescence (just ask Kodak or Nokia). The same is true for in house legal functions. As in-house lawyers we need to be able to ensure we meet the needs of the business, and to adapt in order to remain relevant. As Charles Spillane once said years ago when he was the General Counsel of Auckland Airport, a good in house lawyer will help you navigate the top of a cliff by providing you with rope, not tell you to stay away from the edge. (Probably more eloquently though!)

What role does technology play in innovation?

When I started out in law school I hand wrote my assignments. When I started out as a law clerk, paper files and faxes were the norm. Technological change has revolutionised lawyering. It has allowed us to be more efficient and it will continue to do so. It has even changed the way in which we work. All of the lawyers in my team work remotely, part time and flexibly – and it is technology that facilitates this. We have cloud-based software that manages matters and contracts (thanks LawVu). We also have great dashboard reporting, which allows us to demonstrate to our internal stakeholders the value we offer them on a regular basis, and provides data and insights that support innovation.

What pressures are organisations facing in the delivery of legal services?

Like our non-legal counterparts, there is pressure to do more with less, and to be able to demonstrate the value that we bring. For me this is a key reason why the money in my budget spent on analytics and reporting is money well spent.

What developments do you see in how legal services are delivered?

Although there are six lawyers in my team, we rely on external support in order to meet the needs of our businesses, and will continue to do so. There are times when gold plated advice is exactly what’s needed, but other times it isn’t. The disruption and innovation that is happening in external law firm offerings is exciting. When I think back to the beginning of my career in house lawyers made up a small portion of the legal community. Now we make up 25%, and increasingly take up leadership and executive roles in the organisations we work in, as the combination of legal and commercial skills is highly valued. I think these trends will continue, and I look forward to more disruption.

How have you gone about getting buy in for legal technology?

People often ask me how they can convince the organisation they work in to invest in dedicated legal software. My answer is to develop a business case that solves other people’s problems or challenges. When I come in to an organisation I spend a lot of energy finding out what my internal stakeholders’ drivers are – what’s not working for them and where can I find solutions to problems or challenges. From that I build a business case that demonstrates how matter management and contract management systems can solve their problems, rather than focus on the advantages to the legal function. Once approved, I work hard to continually demonstrate value through dashboard and KPI reporting – just like my non-legal counterparts. It’s also a great way to make future business cases for additional resource!

What are some of your tips to start innovating or developing an innovative mindset?

An innovative mindset to me is seeking out problems and finding ways to solve them. To do that, think creatively and include lots of perspectives and people who will challenge your thinking. I’m a huge fan of diversity of thought, and getting to the right outcome rather than being right.


Andrew King is the founder of Legal Innovate ( He helps lawyers and organisations successfully innovate through leveraging technology to help improve the way they deliver legal services Legal Innovate includes LawFest (, LegalTechHub ( and E-Discovery Consulting (

Actionstep Chosen as software platform for nationwide Community Law Centres O Aotearoa network of 24 centres

Actionstep Chosen as Software provider for nationwide Community Law Centres O Aotearoa network of 24 centres

Announcement bolsters the legal practice management software company’s leading Australasian market position and CLC segment penetration

Aug 20, 2020 / Auckland, NZ. Actionstep today announces their appointment as practice management software provider for the entire Community Law Centres O Aotearoa (CLCA) network.

CLCA has 24 sites across New Zealand with 170 staff and over 1,200 volunteer lawyers servicing 50,000 CLC clients every year on the Actionstep’s software platform. These CLCs provide free legal assistance across a wide range of legal areas, including Criminal, Youth Law, Health and Disability, Individual Rights and Freedom, and Immigration, to name a few.

Actionstep’s appointment comes after a robust pilot of the software platform across 3 of New Zealand’s CLC sites.

Sue Moroney, Chief Executive Office of CLCA shared her pleasure at engaging Actionstep as CLCA’s practice management software, saying “We are looking forward to fully implementing Actionstep across 24 community law centres, after piloting it across 3 of our sites to date. Actionstep will be a game-changer for how services are delivered to community law clients - creating efficiencies that allow us to spend more time making a positive impact. We also anticipate that with Actionstep we will be able to better coordinate the work of CLCs across Aotearoa, improve practice management and help us share knowledge, relevant data, and best practice in one secure, cloud-based system - built around the unique needs of our CLCs and the diverse needs of our clients."

CLCs provide community based, one on one legal help to people who do not have the means to access legal advice through private routes. They also provide legal support to those who have particular challenges that make engaging a lawyer more difficult, such as those who have trouble reading or are living with disability, illness or mobility issues.

David Hepburn, Global President of Actionstep welcomed CLCA as Actionstep’s newest New Zealand key customer, saying “Actionstep’s appointment as legal practice management software provider to the CLCA network across New Zealand demonstrates the capabilities of Actionstep for larger customers with diverse areas of law and distributed teams. I applaud the commitment of CLCA to delivering best-in-class services to their clients with our technology supporting efficiency, capturing knowledge, and automating their ideal case workflows.”

Actionstep’s software is also used by many CLCs in Australia.

Find out more at:


About Actionstep - With you every step.

Actionstep is a flexible, easy to use software platform for ambitious legal service providers to manage and grow their practice.

Built in the cloud, with workflow at its heart, Actionstep transforms legal productivity at every step. Combining CRM, Matter Management, Document Assembly & Storage, Time & Billing, Trust & Office Accounting, Reporting and much more in one system, Actionstep gives you everything you need to run and get full visibility across the health of your practice.

With unlimited scope to scale & evolve, Actionstep’s legal practice management software will take you every step of your journey as a law firm or law centre.

Spokesperson: David Hepburn, President, Actionstep:

PR contact: Triona Saunders, Actionstep:

The Innovators: Sabina Bickelmann, General Counsel, icebreaker

LawFest organiser Andrew King continues a series of interviews with key legal professionals with their innovation and technology stories.

Tell us about yourself?

I’ve recently joined Icebreaker as General Counsel and am stoked to be part of such an iconic NZ company which is part of global movement striving to create a healthier and more sustainable future for our species and the planet.

I’ve always sought out as many different experiences and opportunities as possible. When I finished Uni with law degree in hand, I went straight to London where I worked for a US law firm before starting a graduate position in Sydney at DLA Piper (which was Phillips Fox back then). Prior to Icebreaker, I worked in the Cayman Islands and Auckland in private practice and at Pfizer and most recently led the legal function for nearly four years as general counsel and company secretary at Vend, a NZ headquartered global tech company.

What does legal innovation mean to you?

Innovation is about implementing something new or different that is useful or delivers value in some way. Creativity, which is the ability to come up with novel ideas, is the seed of legal innovation, but unless it is activated and scaled, it is just still an idea and not innovation.

Legal innovation doesn’t always need to be disruptive or breakthrough, it is just as important to have a pipeline of small innovative ideas. For me, some of the best innovations are the simple ones where you slap you hand on the table and go “duh, why didn’t I think about doing it that way before!”.

What role does technology play in innovation?

Innovation and technology are not the same thing. Technology can be used to implement innovation, but the technology itself doesn’t always produce innovation. There are a few instances where technology is simply used to meet the status quo. However, in the majority of instances technology drives innovation by allowing us to do more with less, improving our organisations and lives in the process. Just look at how we are working and living our lives today.

What developments do you see in how legal services are delivered?

The demand for legal tech will continue to increase. There is so much cool legal tech out there, it’s really a no brainer. In-house legal functions will continue to implement new technology to automate routine processes. The use of analytics will extend beyond managing legal costs into predicting areas of risk and exposure before issues arise. I doubt we will see robots replacing humans in the legal department, but machine learning will increasingly be applied to legal tasks.

External legal providers will continue to respond to demands from legal teams for disruptive offerings that assist in managing cost and add value. I’ve experienced first-hand the benefits of subscription-based fee models which have provided me with predictable spend, as well as “crowd sourced” legal advice enabling access to high quality, specialist advice at a fraction of the cost. The demand for virtual GC/in-house legal on demand services will continue to rise, driven by “new law” firms responding to demands for flexible resources provided by highly experienced in-house lawyers seeking to live and work differently.

What opportunities has legal innovation brought you?

I’ve been really lucky to have worked for companies where innovation and technology are part of the DNA. As a lawyer working in those environments, the internal culture of continually seeking to improve things including trying out new software tools quickly rubs off. It has been awesome to feel empowered to try new things, find out that they don’t work, and then pull the plug without fear or shame.

From a technology perspective, I’ve implemented plenty of technology solutions in a number of areas including to streamline workflows and approvals, create documents, automate record keeping and manage signatures, audits and notifications. However, to be honest, some of the best in-house legal innovations I’ve been involved with have not utilised technology, and instead are the result of great execution of a really simple idea that makes things better for the legal team and the business. For example, creating a new framework for the legal team to determine the level of legal input or rigour required around a decision based on Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ “one-way/two-way door” strategy.

Legal innovation has obviously created efficiencies which have freed up me and others in my team to focus on higher value, more strategic work. In many cases legal innovation has removed pain points for the business, deleted legal work the team doesn’t enjoy and driven overall engagement.

What are some of your tips to start innovating or developing an innovative mindset?

Working in start-ups has taught me to not be satisfied only with making improvements. Instead, to strive to understand the source of a problem and continually ask “how would we approach this problem if there was no solution in the first place?”.

I think a great place to start is to pick a clear focus. Perhaps start by thinking about the processes or tasks that personally annoy you and that you really want to change. That’s the “why” for innovation.
Give yourself (and your team) the time and space to think. Google encourages its staff to spend 20% of their time on side projects, which is why it is one of the most innovative companies in the world.

This might sound obvious or patronising, but stop staring at your computer screen and sitting at your desk. Personally, I do my best creative thinking when I am being active and outdoors. Walking meetings and strong coffee in diverse environments are great cognitive enhancers!

You could take a formal course or read up on the internet on systematic methods of innovation where you can learn about idea management, idea selection and pipeline development. Innovation is essentially another competency which can be learned along with, for example, leadership.

As well as being a competency, I think innovation is a state of mind—it is an attitude and a culture. It helps to surround yourself with people who come from diverse backgrounds and challenge you to not just accept the status quo.

Post Covid, what impact do you see in how legal services will be delivered?

During lockdown, many lawyers who have previously feared technology suddenly found themselves seeing it as a lifeline to their survival. The realisation that technology is not to be feared will accelerate the pace for technology uptake in the profession which will in turn impact on how legal services will be delivered.

We’ve proved that working entirely through google hangouts and collaboratively through cloud-based tools such as google docs is not only possible, but manageable long term (and pretty bloody awesome!). As a result, there will be more remote working which will enable in-house legal teams and external legal providers to achieve better work life balance and do more of the things they love, which in turn will increase engagement and productivity (and a reduction in emissions from less commuting!).

I’m also hopeful that as a result of the lockdown, we have all become more conscious consumers. In-house legal teams will more than ever seek out external legal providers who can demonstrate a fair and inclusive culture (including gender equality) and a strong commitment to the environment.

Why is it important for legal professionals to continue to learn about legal innovation and leveraging technology?

At a minimum, we need to continue to innovate and leverage technology to stay relevant. We are in a time of unprecedented change. What may have helped the organisations we support be successful in the past could potentially cause that organisation to fail in the future. Just as companies need to change and grow, their in-house lawyers and external providers need to do so also.

As lawyers we need to support our businesses to confidently adopt technology at pace. We can do that by embracing the technology tools of our customers, trying out our own new tools and upskilling generally in the areas of privacy and cyber security.

Andrew King is the organiser of LawFest, New Zealand’s premier legal innovation and technology event, and the founder of the LegalTech Hub – the go to resource for legal tech in New Zealand. 

Emerging from COVID-19: The opportunity to adapt and transform the delivery of legal services

Since COVID -19, the legal profession like so many people and industries has gone through a once in a generation transformation.

Overnight everyone had to adapt how they worked, often changing traditional practices just to survive.

The next few months will be tough for lawyers and their clients. However, as we begin to emerge from the pandemic, there is an opportunity for everyone to transform how they work – from those who had to embrace technology to operate; through to those at the forefront of legal innovation aiming to stay ahead of the game.

The first-hand experience of COVID-19 has given us a taste of what may be possible, with the opportunity to even come out of it stronger.

Technology became our lifeline

We all became totally reliant on technology, as technology became the lifeline for survival.

This reliance on technology came as quickly as we heard words like pivot, unprecedented, shift and the new normal – or as quick as some announced they were now ‘virtual lawyers’ on social media !

Overnight everyone had to start working differently – and remotely.

Some turned to Zoom (or a virtual equivalent), whilst others had access to all their systems and documents through the power of the cloud.

Unsurprisingly many that had not previously innovated or leveraged technology struggled, with some struggling to even enable their staff to work from home.

Those that had invested the time innovating and leveraging technology, still had their challenges, although they have been able to mobilise and respond quicker to the disruption.

The disruption of COVID may be the catalyst for change that many resisted for so long. Those that were reluctant to innovate or invest in technology would probably now appreciate why they need to, and the value of investing further going forward.

Sure, the traditional law firm model is not going to collapse – it is just how these legal services can be delivered may change. What COVID has demonstrated is that we can adapt and work differently if we have to – changes that for some was a long way off only a few weeks back.

Opportunities to come out of this stronger

As we emerge from COVID, we have the opportunity to continue these great strides.

It is important to explore new ways of working, new ways of winning work, whilst still personalising the client experience and leveraging technology to work smarter for clients.

Building the right culture inside organisations to enable innovation is the starting point, with a culture that is curious and open to change.

Most will want to capitalise on the success of remote and flexible working with a potential casualty being if the same size and elaborate office space is required. If we can incorporate the remote and flexible working into practices, can we move beyond the same 8-6/5 day working week (albeit potentially delivering some from home), helping productivity and shifting the focus to more outcome based.

Lawyers are going to have to help their clients navigate these challenging times. Client needs and expectations for legal services will be evolving as a direct result of the pandemic, bringing opportunities for lawyers to make their services more accessible and convenient for clients. This could include enabling interactive and collaborative online solutions to help clients.

More legal services can be commoditised, whilst others will look at new business models, pricing structures together with leveraging technology to help their firms practise law more effectively. More routine and repetitive administrative tasks will continue to be performed quicker, cheaper, and more accurately all through the assistance of technology, again to better meet the demands of clients.

Different stages of the journey

Everyone will be at different stages of their innovation journey. For some this may be simply building on the experience of working from home with zoom.

An incremental approach may be the solution, continually making small changes to how you operate.

Technology adoption does not need to be complicated or daunting, and in a truly short time many have experienced first-hand how technology can be utilised to greatly enhance how they operate.  As we move forward, this will accelerate technology adoption and make life easier if any situation like COVID should arise in the future.

The technology is available and accessible – together with some great New Zealand offerings too !

You cannot stand still

With whatever changes you do or do not make, (before or after COVID) – you cannot stand still !

It is important to remain curious and open to change. We should continue to ask – how can we do this better? All to deliver legal services that are more efficient, profitable, whilst providing greater value and outcomes for clients.

We have so much still to learn.

To navigate the opportunities, a great starting point is to learn what others are doing, but how they are doing it. It is helpful to understand the lessons learned from the experience, together with what they are doing to deliver legal services for the future in a post COVID world. We are fortunate to have many excellent New Zealand legal professionals who can share their experiences.

Those that will come out of this stronger will largely be built on the work they have invested in innovating and leveraging technology. This is an opportunity now for others to appreciate how they can also adapt how they work when they have to.


Andrew King ( is the organiser of LawFest, which is running a virtual an OnDemand event ‘LawFestLive’ on 5 August 2020. Further details can be found here –


This article was originally published in LawTalk and has been republished.

The Innovators: Josh McBride

LawFest organiser Andrew King continues a series of interviews with key legal professionals with their innovation and technology stories.

Tell us about yourself?

I am a barrister practising in commercial litigation at Richmond Chambers in Auckland. I was admitted to the bar in 1998, worked in Sydney and London from 2000 to 2004, and commenced practice as a barrister sole in Auckland in 2010. Law is just one of many passions – I love boating, fishing, skiing, tramping, and mountain biking, preferably with my family.

What does legal innovation mean to you?

Developing new ways of accessing and synthesising legal knowledge and process. Challenging orthodox approaches to the development of the law that has historically been constrained by limited access to legal knowledge and know-how. Finding ways to engage with and respond to more sophisticated queries from clients.

What role does technology play in innovation?

Technology, being a scientific solution to a practical problem, has always enabled innovation. The change that we are witnessing today lies in the scale and ambition of our expectations. We now demand that science delivers us answers not just to practical problems, such as how to put a rocket into space, but to assist us with assessing and judging human behaviours, such as likely jury reactions, or synthesising a complex pattern of share trades to demonstrate market manipulation.

What pressures are organisations facing in the delivery of legal services?

Mooers' Law tells us that information will be accessed and used in direct proportion to how easy it is to obtain. Historically, the law has not been accessible. Buried in bound volumes in member-only libraries or law firms, or in proprietary document management systems, the public have had no option but to consult with lawyers if they wanted to understand their legal rights and obligations.

That paradigm has changed. Access to legal information today has never been so easy. Paradoxically, however, making sense of the law has never been so hard. Clients routinely dump vast tracts of electronic information on their lawyer for review, much of it difficult to extract and understand without significant contextual background. Against the rise of “big data”, lawyers now have unprecedented access to legal materials, such as online statutes, commentary, and case law, from a multitude of jurisdictions. Clients routinely email their lawyer with the results of online searches for cases that might assist their own position.

The Courts have responded to this increased complexity by insisting that lawyers reduce the size of submissions, streamline discovery, eliminate irrelevant evidence, and reduce authorities bundles to only the most relevant cases. The hope is that this will somehow make litigation cheaper or easier, as the material ultimately presented to the Court is diminished.

That in turn puts huge pressure on counsel to make difficult judgment calls as to what is in or out, and to ensure that the claim is put forward in the most focussed and best possible way. The enormity of this task cannot be overstated, both in terms of the workload and the difficulty of the decisions that must be made.

Once these trends are coupled with increasingly demanding and sophisticated clients, it is readily apparent that practice at the bar is not for the faint-hearted! While technology can assist to a degree with streamlining and automating some of the processes, ultimately counsel needs to have the experience, wisdom and most importantly courage to make difficult judgment calls at every step of the litigation process, to reduce the number of documents and legal authorities, and produce a coherent – and justiciable – package for the Courts to consider and rule on. That task is well beyond the capabilities of the average lay litigant.

What developments do you see in how legal services are delivered?

The market will continue to consolidate and concentrate as high volume, low value work (such as debt recovery) migrates to online platforms with automated processing. Time-consuming and routine tasks, such as discovery, will be out-sourced. Automated processes will allow documents to be sifted for relevance.

Conversely, there will be increasing demands on senior counsel to advise on difficult judgment calls at each stage of the process, such as “what is relevant?”, “what should we look for?”, “what areas of law should we research?, and “what should our evidence address?”

The role of the senior advocate and adviser will accordingly become even more relevant and critical.

What opportunities has legal innovation brought you?

The ability to offer creative, independent solutions that take a “pick and mix” approach to the suite of collaborative and analytical tools available in the market. I find mind-mapping programmes invaluable for devising a strategy and framework for the legal theory of the case. The traditional file-sharing apps such as DropBox are now being supplanted by more collaborative and adaptable programmes such as Teams and Slack that integrate readily with video calling and allow bespoke, client focussed, teams to be constructed for specific projects. This provides a very flexible, dynamic, client-focussed way to work, and it also enables a degree of co-operation and - dare I say it – collaboration with your opponent that traditional adversarial models eschew.

What are some of your tips to start innovating or developing an innovative mindset?

Accepting that innovation requires some co-operation and goodwill. Challenging conventional wisdom. And in the words of Sir Peter Blake, always asking ”But how does this make the boat go faster?”

Why is it important for legal professionals to continue to learn about legal innovation and leveraging technology?

Because we cannot survive without it. Both the Courts and our clients expect us to synthesise huge volumes of data and legal research into punchy, focussed claims. That task is simply not possible without learning how to automate and streamline some of the traditional legal processes, such as discovery, and then using innovative technology to make sense of that data and present it in a compelling way. If we cannot master this skillset, we will lose relevance, and our clients will ultimately be forced to look elsewhere for solutions.

Andrew King is the organiser of LawFest, New Zealand’s premier legal innovation and technology event, and the founder of the LegalTech Hub – the go to resource for legal tech in New Zealand. 

Legaltech Hub: the go-to resource for legal tech in New Zealand

Recently we have strengthened the LegalTech Hub’s position, largely to bring the legal and technology community together in New Zealand at this challenging time with COVID-19. With legal tech now in the spotlight more than ever, there is a real interest in what technologies are available that can help the legal community at this time. The dedicated Legaltech Hub helps to meet this renewed interest, as you can discover resources and legal tech solutions to help you deliver legal services now and into the future

Social media is where we share most content

Most of the latest legal tech content will be shared through our social media channels on LinkedIn and Twitter. Please do take the time to follow us on both LinkedIn and Twitter to stay up to date with the latest legal technology news that may be of interest to the New Zealand legal and technology community.

Recently you may have seen some of the fantastic legal technology events and content that we have been sharing. If you have anything that you think may be relevant to the New Zealand legal and technology community, please email Andrew King at

Whether it be legal tech news, stories, webinars, product releases or general announcements that you think may be of interest, do not hesitate to get in touch.

One of the key features of the LegalTechHub is the directory of fantastic technology firms providing products and services to the New Zealand legal market. Very simply, it is proving to be a valuable resource for those seeking more information about the legal tech solutions available, together with contact details and more information about ‘what they do’ and how they may help. Needless to say the Legaltech Hub is the place for all legal tech providers in New Zealand to be present – if you provide legal tech products or services in New Zealand (or may want to), being listed on the Legaltech Hub is a must.

Follow us on social media today to see everything you need to know about legal tech in New Zealand.

The Innovators: Simon Tupman

LawFest organiser Andrew King continues a series of interviews with key legal professionals with their innovation and technology stories.

Tell us about yourself?

I started out as a litigation lawyer in London specializing in criminal defence. After five years, I became dissatisfied with my working life and so, after gaining a post-graduate degree in business administration, I ventured into the field of business consulting. After emigrating to New Zealand in 1992, I worked with Auckland law firm Hesketh Henry for two years as their first ever Marketing Manager before deciding to work for myself. Since then, I have been mentoring lawyers and law firms internationally. I live in Ohakune, New Zealand.

What does legal innovation mean to you?

Innovation is more than improvement. It is about being inventive and creating valuable new ways of delivering legal services. Innovation is fostered by the culture of an organization. The culture of law firms (and the legal sector) is generally conservative, hence, relative to other industries and professions, I would suggest that many law firms would be in the ‘late majority’ or even ‘laggards’, to use Everett Rogers’ definition.

What role does technology play in innovation?

Technology is a valuable tool that lawyers can use to make innovation happen. It has the potential to bring about much needed changes the legal system and also to improve the accessibility and affordability of legal services.

What pressures are organisations facing in the delivery of legal services?

At the time of writing, New Zealand is in the midst of a COVID19 lockdown. As a result, legal organisations are facing some unprecedented pressures. In the short term, there is the need to simply keep operating and to safeguard cash flow. In the longer term, organisations will have to be more inventive, collaborative, tech-savvy and customer-centric if they are to have a future. Transition will be swift; there will be added pressure on organisations to adopt a fresh approach to leadership; people from all corners of the organization will be encouraged to step up and lead, irrespective of their tenure or title.

What developments do you see in how legal services are delivered?

Automation is redefining how many legal services are being delivered. Consequently, many traditional roles are being eliminated; conversely new role are being created thereby introducing new skill sets into legal organisations. Market dynamics, not the regulator, will determine the shape of the legal services industry and an array of technological platforms will work to help organisations deliver legal services much more effectively.

What opportunities has legal innovation brought you?

I have been able to achieve better results working with organisations who already have an innovative mindset and culture, who are receptive to new ideas and who don’t like to stand still.

What are some of your tips to start innovating or developing an innovative mindset?

COVID19 has exposed many legal organisations who may have been less than innovative in the past and who now find themselves particularly vulnerable. Leaders of those organisations now have no choice but to change the mindset of their culture. Innovation starts with uninhibited thinking that challenges the status quo. Look around, both outside and inside your organization for trends, ideas and solutions. Be totally transparent about the reality of your situation and involve all your stakeholders in finding new ideas and solutions. Start by asking them these three questions:

‘What do we need to do as an organization to survive and thrive in future?’

‘What do we need to keep, let go of, add to, or change?’

‘How can we better serve our clients in future?’

Why is it important for legal professionals to continue to learn about legal innovation and leveraging technology?

Legal professionals play a significant role in society by helping people and businesses get ahead in life. We are now living in the age of the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’, - a digital revolution that is transforming the way we work and live. Lawyers are very much a part of this world so they had better adapt or face the consequences!

Andrew King is the organiser of LawFest, New Zealand’s premier legal innovation and technology event, and the founder of the LegalTech Hub – the go to resource for legal tech in New Zealand. 

Legal innovation in New Zealand. Asia Law Portal interview with Andrew King, Founder, LegalTechHub

LegalTechHub founder Andrew King was recently interviewed by Asia Law Portal about the current state of legal innovation in New Zealand.

You can read the full interview here.

During this interview Andrew highlighted some of the recent measures to enhance the LegalTech Hub to bring the legal and technology community together in New Zealand at this challenging time with COVID-19. "I believe legal tech is now in the spotlight more than ever, and there is a real interest in what technologies are available that can help the legal community at this time. The dedicated Legaltech Hub helps to meet this renewed interest."

The LegalTech Hub is a valuable resource for those seeking more information about the legal tech solutions available. The Hub showcases everything you need to know about legal technology providers, including " details and more information about ‘what they do’ and how they may help. Needless to say the Legaltech Hub is the place for all legal tech providers in New Zealand to be present – if you provide legal tech products or services in New Zealand (or may want to), being listed on the Legaltech Hub is a must".

The interview highlighted some of the key opportunities and changes with legal innovation as a result of COVID-19, as the legal industry like so many others have been thrown in at the deep end to adapt how they work.

"What has been heartening has been to see so many that have been able to adapt, embrace and lead the changes that we now face, whilst also reaching out to others.

The COVID-19 situation is providing considerable opportunities for the legal industry to re-evaluate how they deliver legal services for now and the future. Even though these are challenging times, they will definitely bring new opportunities, especially if we can be agile, adapt and embrace change – changes that should pay considerable dividends in helping shape the delivery of legal services for a long time to come."

Check out the full Asia Law Portal interview here, to find out more about the current state of legal innovation in New Zealand.

The Innovators: Wayne Rumbles, Associate Professor, University of Waikato

LawFest organiser Andrew King continues a series of interviews with key legal professionals with their innovation and technology stories.

Tell us about yourself?

I have been a legal academic for the past 20 years. I began my academic career at the University of Waikato teaching Law and Information Technology and Criminal Law in 2000. In these early years, I quickly understood the importance of technology to law and the potential impacts of technology on law and the legal system. I have been fortunate over the years to continue to explore technology and its interface with law by developing a suite of technology related law papers at Te Piringa and sharing these with a continuous stream of students.

What does legal innovation mean to you?

Legal innovation in my view requires a holistic vision of law; lawyers, law firms, students and academics must know what they wish to achieve. Innovation requires an understanding of where you are, where you want to be and the ability to plot the necessary pathway to achieve this goal. Innovation occurs along this journey by applying flexible knowledge and skills to available technology.

What role does technology play in innovation?

Technology provides us with the tools to innovate. It is the means by which we progress and re-imagine law, legal education and legal services.

What pressures are law faculties facing in the delivery of legal education?

Law schools are challenged to respond to a rapidly changing legal service environment that is evolving in response to disruptive technologies.
Law schools need to prepare graduates to practise in a new law paradigm where flexible, high-level skills are valued that allow practitioners to adapt and change, embracing new technologies and opportunities.

Law schools need to bring both students and academics along this journey against a background of increased expectations for student numbers, research outputs and sourcing of externally funded projects.

What opportunities has legal innovation brought you?

As an academic working in this space since 2000, legal innovation and technology has been a constant inspiration for my research and the development of new law courses for future lawyers. Alongside papers in CyberLaw, Law and New Technologies, Digital Privacy, AI and Robotics in the Law we also teach a joint Masters in Cyber Security with Computer Science.

One of my recent opportunities has been the Technology in Legal Education for New Zealand project (TeLENZ) supported and funded by New Zealand Law Foundation. The vision for the project is that all law students in New Zealand are exposed to technology and legal innovation throughout the core law curriculum. To achieve this vision, I am teaming with academics from across the six New Zealand Law schools TO BUILD GREATER DIGITAL CAPABILITY, to develop a set of tools and resources that any NZ legal academic can use to integrate technology and the impact of technology into their core law courses. This unique and exciting project allows me to further focus my area of passion in partnership with all NZ law schools as we work together to create better prepared graduates for the changing legal workspaces.

What are some of your tips to develop an innovative mind-set in law students?

The basis for any innovative legal mindset is a firm and solid understanding of legal principles. Law schools in part need to keep doing what they are doing teaching critical analytical legal skills.

Students also need to have a range of flexible skills relevant to the current legal environment and be able to see linkages between disparate areas of learning. We cannot teach individual (or all) technologies due to rapid advancements where technology is quickly updated/replaced. However, students need to be aware of the possibilities and potential technology will continue to bring to the profession. We need to expose students to technology and the impact of legal tech throughout their legal studies.

We need to inspire curiosity and excitement about the possibilities of technology and legal tech, we need to instil a growth mind-set in future lawyers. Technology is not the end of law and lawyers but the path to opportunity and diversity of legal services.

Why is it important for legal professionals to continue to learn about legal innovation and leveraging technology?

I say in my welcome speech for new students at the Law Faculty, studying law is the study of life, the universe and everything.

Technology and innovation is everywhere; it is what our clients, business and students are using, living and consuming. Lawyers and provisioners of legal services need to be able to interact, represent and facilitate the use of (and control the misuse of) these technologies to be relevant to the current and future users of legal services.

Andrew King is the organiser of LawFest, New Zealand’s premier legal innovation and technology event. 

The Decade in Legal Tech: The 10 Most Significant Developments

This article was originally published on Law Sites and has been republished.

In legal technology, it was a decade of tumult and upheaval, bringing changes that will forever transform the practice of law and the delivery of legal services.

Feisty startups took on established behemoths. The cloud dropped rain on legacy products. Mobile tech untethered lawyers. Clients demanded efficiency and transparency. Robots arrived to take over our jobs. “Alternative” became a label for new kinds of legal services providers. An expanding justice gap fueled efforts at ethics reform. Investment dollars began to pour in. Data got big.

Every year, I write a year-end wrap-up of the most significant developments in legal technology. But as we reach the end of a decade, I decided to look back on the most significant developments of the past 10 years. Looking back, it may well have been the most tumultuous decade ever in changing how legal services are delivered.

(Here are my prior years’ lists of the most important developments: For several years now, I’ve closed out the year with a round-up of the 10 most important legal developments 2018, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013. In 2017, I bypassed the list to focus on a single overarching development, The Year of Women in Legal Tech.)

1. The Surge of the Startup

The very first month of the very first year of the decade brought big legal tech news – the introduction of WestlawNext. It was a major advance in legal research, the first major overhaul of Westlaw since its initial Web version was launched 12 years earlier in 1998. WestlawNext was the first to bring Google-like simplicity to legal research and the first to use a machine learning algorithm to deliver better search results, long before anybody called it “artificial intelligence.” It would inspire a generation of legal research copycats, including the following year’s launch of Lexis Advance, with that same Google-like search.

As the decade drew to a close, Thomson Reuters again unveiled a major overhaul of its legal research platform with last year’s launch of Westlaw Edge. It was another major advance for Westlaw, using advanced AI and analytics to help legal professionals find answers and perform research more efficiently and with better results.

But this time, the launch felt different. With WestlawNext, Thomson Reuters was the trailblazer, defining the path that others would follow for years to come. With Westlaw Edge, it felt more as if the company was playing catch-up. As impressive a product as it is, there was a palpable sense at its launch that the company had rushed it to market in the face of an increasingly innovative and competitive legal research market.

At the dawn of the decade, the dominance of Westlaw and LexisNexis in legal research was unquestioned. By the end of the decade, a growing field of innovative competitors had upended that dominance. Bloomberg Law, which launched in December 2009, continued to gain traction, albeit slowly. Fastcase and Casemaker became more than simply middle-tier players. Most notably, feisty upstarts such as Casetext, ROSS Intelligence, and Ravel Law brought fresh thinking to the field, introducing features and tools that had the big players playing catch-up.

One striking example of this is Casetext. In 2016, it introduced CARA, a first-of-its-kind product that could analyze users’ uploaded briefs using AI and find relevant cases the brief missed. CARA’s popularity and success inspired a generation of similar products, first from other legal research startups – such as EVA from ROSS Intelligence, Clerk from Judicata, and Vincent from vLex – and then earlier this year from Thomson Reuters, with its Quick Check, and Bloomberg Law, with its Brief Analyzer.

This, for me, is the most striking story of the past 10 years – the rise of the startup. Over the course of the decade, the legal tech industry has changed dramatically, from one controlled by a handful of dominant legacy companies to one driven by a surge of creative and feisty startups whose products are changing how law is practiced and legal services delivered.

While my example involves legal research, my premise applies across the spectrum of legal technology. I defy anyone to name an area of legal technology in which startups are not at least having a major influence on the development agenda, if not defining it. Further, to the extent they are defining it, they are often actually redefining it, changing forever our thinking about how we do what we do.

The poster child for this is Clio. As the decade started, Clio was still a fledgling company, having formally launched its cloud-based practice management platform near the end of 2008. Clio – along with Rocket Matter, which launched soon after – was quixotic in its quest, lobbying lawyers to move their practices to the cloud at a time when lawyers literally feared the cloud. It was the very model of a feisty upstart.

As the decade closes, Clio is now the big kahuna of practice management. This one-time outsider is now the status quo, a position sealed just months before the decade’s end with news of a jaw-dropping $250 million funding round – one of the largest investments ever for a legal technology company.

Undeniably, it has been the decade of the startup, a decade that brought multiple stories of ambitious law students and innovative lawyers launching companies that quickly became major players. Sure, there were plenty of failures too. Not everyone can or will succeed. But somewhere out there right now is the next Clio, the next Fastcase, maybe even the next Westlaw.

So my number one pick for the top-10 stories of the decade in legal tech is the startup – and the influence startups have had, and will continue to have, in shaping and reshaping the legal industry.

2. Skies Clear for the Cloud

For anyone new to law practice in the last 10 years, it may be difficult to fathom the degree to which lawyers feared the cloud a decade ago. We still see evidence and remnants of that, as many firms continue to resist moving core functions to the cloud. But where a decade ago the cloud seemed ominous, it now is widely accepted as inevitable.

A decade ago, companies that launched their products in the cloud were still considered adventurers, maybe even gamblers. Today, non-cloud companies – those that banked their futures on on-premises technology – are scrambling to move to the cloud, building cloud versions of their products or acquiring compatible cloud companies, while those that started in the cloud are prospering.

One conspicuous example of this is NetDocuments versus iManage. NetDocuments started as a cloud service way back in 1999. After struggling for many years to sell lawyers on its message of cloud superiority, it is now prospering as one of the most popular document management systems in legal. Meanwhile, iManage, whose on-premises product was long an industry leader, saw the need to develop a cloud version, which it launched in 2016.

In the early years of the decade, talk of the cloud often focused on the ethics of lawyers using the cloud. Starting in 2009 and 2010, states began issuing a spate of ethics opinions on lawyers’ use of the cloud. At the first Clio Cloud Conference in 2013, I spoke on the Ethics and Security of Cloud Computing for Lawyers. The year 2013 brought the ABA book, Cloud Computing for Lawyers, by Nicole Black, the first (that I recall) comprehensive examination of the risks, benefits and ethics of cloud computing for lawyers.

It was just last year when I opined here that we had finally reached the point of the legal profession’s general acceptance of the cloud as something to embrace, not fear. That was the year that marked the 10th anniversaries of the launches of Clio and Rocket Matter, the first two practice management applications to launch in the cloud, initiating a new era in development of practice-management products and wider use of those products by legal professionals.

Some among you might argue that we’d reached that point much earlier, others might contend we’re not yet there. But what nobody can deny is that, over the course of the last 10 years, we have come 180 degrees in our use of the cloud. What started the decade as still an outlier technology now ends the decade as the core of most law practices.
Something else that nobody can deny is our trajectory forward. As we cross over into a new decade, there is no question where the future lies. It is in the cloud.

3. The Untethering of Law Practice

The first iPhone came to market in June 2007, the first Android tablet in 2009, and the first iPad in 2010. These smart devices, combined with the growth of the cloud, ushered in a new era in mobility. Over the course of the decade, lawyers went from being effectively tethered to their desks to being able to work from anywhere.

Think about that. Think about how much time you spend every workday on your iPhone (or whatever smartphone you use). Think about the emails you read, the texts you send, the documents you view, the research you perform, the calls you make, the texts you send, the time you log – all on your phone.

Think about where you are when you work on your phone. Many large firms have cut way back on office space and encourage their lawyers to work virtually. Many smaller firm lawyers do not even have offices, choosing instead to work from home, from coworking spaces, or from the proverbial Starbucks.

All that is largely new to law in the last decade. And it happened quickly. By 2012, nearly half of lawyers were using iPhones, according to the ABA’s annual Legal Technology Survey Report (although 57% of large-firm lawyers still used the BlackBerry). Now, 79% of lawyers have an iPhone and 18% have an Android phone. Just 2% say they have no smartphone.

The untethering of law practice over the last decade has been a sea change so dramatic and so far reaching that we hardly even notice it anymore. But it has changed law practice forever.

4. The Proliferation of Practice Management

Practice management is not the sexiest of topics, given an industry abuzz with talk of artificial intelligence, analytics and blockchain. But it is an area of legal technology that has had a profound impact on the legal industry over the last decade. It has been instrumental in moving us from a profession that barely used technology to one that now sees it as essential and routine.

There can be no denying that this change was sparked in 2008 with the launches of Clio and Rocket Matter, the first two companies to offer practice management software in the cloud. By bringing to the cloud what had already been available as desktop technology, and by making it easier and more intuitive to use, they ignited a revolution in the use of legal technology, inspiring a slew of similar companies and making cloud-based practice management one of the most competitive areas of legal technology of the last decade.

Today, this sector offers lawyers an embarrassment of riches, with products such as CosmoLex, Firm Central, MyCase, PracticePanther, Smokeball and Zola Suite delivering a robust range of features, options and capabilities.

It is also a sector that is maturing, with developments in recent years such as LexisNexis’s shuttering of Firm Manager in 2017; the acquisition by one of the oldest practice management companies, Tabs3 Software, of one of the new cloud-based platforms, CosmoLex; and the acquisition by private equity firm Alpine SG of PracticePanther.

The biggest news in this sector, and one that appropriately came just a few months ago as a capstone to the decade, was the $250 million investment in Clio, the company that helped spark this trend a decade earlier. One of the largest investments ever for a legal technology company, it underscored how important practice-management technology had become during the past 10 years – and how much potential it still has to evolve over the next 10 years and beyond.

5. Upheaval in Legal Ethics

We were just shy of the start of this decade when, in 2009, then ABA President Carolyn B. Lamm appointed a special Commission on Ethics 20/20 to consider whether advances in legal technology and the globalization of legal practice called for changes in the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct.

No one could have known then what a tumultuous decade it would be for legal ethics, or that the decade would close with major challenges underway to long-accepted standards of legal practice and professional regulation.

Indeed, the Commission on Ethics 20/20 did call for changes. To my mind, the most significant – one I described at the time as a sea change in the legal profession – came in 2012, when the ABA formally approved a change to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct to make clear that lawyers have a duty to be competent not only in the law and its practice, but also in technology. In the years since, I’ve tracked states’ gradual adoption of this duty, and as the decade comes to a close, the number of states reached 38.

On top of that, two states have now made it mandatory for lawyers to receiving continuing education in technology. Beginning in 2019, all lawyers in North Carolina were required to complete one hour per year of CLE devoted to technology training, joining Florida in mandating CLE, after it became the first state to do so in 2016.

But tech competence was only part of the decade’s ethics story, as various forms of alternative legal services companies began to test the limits of what was allowed in serving the legal needs of the public.

No company offers a better example of this than Avvo. Controversial from the moment it launched in 2007 for its then-audacious plan to rate lawyers, it further pushed the envelope in 2014 with the launch of Avvo Advisor, a service that provided on-demand legal advice by phone, delivered by an attorney within 15 minutes, for a fixed fee of $39.

A little over a year later, it pushed further, beginning the roll out of Avvo Legal Services, providing a variety of limited-scope legal services for fixed fees ranging from $39 (for 15-minute advice sessions) to $2,995 (for applying for a family green card).

Ethics regulators choked, prompting ethics rulings in several states saying Avvo’s marketing fee for sending lawyers these cases was an impermissible referral fee. In fact, for more than a decade, Avvo faced a constant barrage of lawsuits and ethics battles that led it eventually to give up on its alternative legal services.

The irony, of course, is that the legal world as the decade closes is a much-different place than it was in 2007. The innovations Avvo introduced (or refined) – consumer-friendly lawyer ratings, fixed-fee services by phone, fixed-fee limited-scope legal services, robust Q&A forums, and libraries of consumer-facing legal articles – are now broadly recognized as useful for consumers and even accepted as standard fare.

Now, as the decade closes, the most significant development of all is the emerging push for the kinds of regulatory reform that no one could have imagined 10 years ago – for reforms that would allow private companies to participate in the ownership of legal services providers and that would broaden the ability of individuals who did not attend law school to practice law.

Just a few weeks ago, Utah’s Implementation Task Force on Regulatory Reform – an initiative of the Utah Supreme Court – posted the website that will serve as the hub for its Legal Services Sandbox, an unprecedented experiment in enhancing access to justice through the loosening of traditional restrictions on legal services.

That follows a vote by a State Bar of California task force that could lead to sweeping changes in the lawyer regulatory structure in that state. In July, the State Bar’s Board of Trustees authorized for public comment a set of regulatory reform options, which the task force is now working to refine based on the comments received. Soon after, an Arizona task force made a similar call for fundamental changes in the regulation of legal services. Other states – including Illinois and New Mexico – are also looking at loosening regulations on legal practice, while others – notably Utah and Washington – already license non-lawyers to practice law in limited circumstances.

So in a decade that started with an ABA commission to explore whether lawyer regulation had kept pace with advances in technology, it ends with substantive initiatives to expand the delivery of legal services beyond lawyers – even to allow the delivery of legal services in some cases with no lawyer in the picture. In a decade scarred by battles between the organized bar and companies such as Avvo and LegalZoom, it ends with growing acceptance that we need companies such as these if ever we are to serve the legal needs of all.

This decade brought upheaval in legal ethics and regulation such as we have never seen before – and it has set us on a path of reform from which there is no turning back.

6. The Ascension of the Client

His timing could not be better. In a few weeks, as we edge our way into the next decade, Jack Newton, cofounder and CEO of Clio, will release his book, The Client-Centered Law Firm: How to Succeed in an Experience-Driven World. His thesis is simple – the firms that will see the greatest success in the future are the firms that adopt a client-centered mindset and consistently create client-centered experiences.

There is nothing new about the proposition that providing better client service is a key element of law firm success. Others have told us this for generations. But Newton puts his finger on the fundamental way in which technology has upended this equation. It is that clients (aka customers) have come to expect an effortless experience that delivers good value. This is how companies such as Amazon and Uber disrupted their industries – but it is a lesson many in the legal profession have yet to learn.

Over the past decade, the tables have turned, with clients wielding more power than ever before in the delivery of legal services. It has brought about a change that futurist Jordan Furlong captures succinctly in the title of his 2017 book, Law is a Buyer’s Market. “Newly empowered clients have adopted aggressive buying behaviours and begun dictating the terms of their relationships to law firms,” he says. “Law has become a buyer’s market, and it’s never going back.”

Indeed, the rise of the client has been a defining trend of this decade. It is a trend driven by the demand for better access to legal services, better service from legal providers, greater accountability from legal providers, and fairer and more-transparent pricing.

One place we have seen this trend play out dramatically over the past decade is within corporate legal departments. Seeking greater value and more control over their spending, corporate counsel have taken more work in-house and demanded greater accountability from their outside counsel. This trend is directly responsible for the growth in the use of alternative legal services providers over the decade and for the expanding influence and importance of legal operations professionals.

But there is another, potentially even more significant, way in which the client has driven the development of legal technology and of the legal profession over the past decade, and that is the growing recognition of the profession’s failure to meet the needs of the majority of those who need legal help. These are not the clients we serve well, they are the clients we fail to serve adequately or at all.

This has been a decade in which study after study has documented the failings of the legal system to serve the poor, the middle classes, the disenfranchised, small businesses, and many other segments of our society. It has been a decade in which companies such as LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer have prospered by seeking to serve those populations. It has been a decade in which we have come to accept that technology is an essential ingredient in serving those populations.

Thus, from all sectors of our society, from the very rich to the very poor, from the largest corporations to the smallest businesses, the needs of the client – or, I should say, the unmet needs of the client – have come to shape our thinking about technology and the future of legal services. The legal profession has always been about serving the client, but over the decade it has become the client, more than us, who is driving how we do that, now and into the future.

7. The Global Networking of the Legal Industry

Two trends converged during this decade, with dramatic results for legal technology.

Well before the decade began, the legal industry was already becoming more global, driven by developments in technology and trade well documented by Thomas Friedman in his 2005 book, The World is Flat.

And even as Friedman was documenting that phenomenon, another was occurring – the emergence of social networking. LinkedIn launched in 2003, Facebook in 2006, and Twitter in 2006, and by 2010, legal professionals were already beginning to make use of these networks. For example, in a 2009 review, I found that a number of bar associations had established Facebook pages, and in 2008, an AmLaw 200 firm became the first to use Facebook for recruiting. By 2013, 59% of lawyers said their firms had a presence on social network such as LinkedIn or Facebook (mostly LinkedIn).

But as the decade began, most of law practice – and therefore most of legal technology – was still primarily provincial, focused largely on what was happening here in the U.S. In the early part of this decade, most of us in the U.S. were ignorant of and uninterested in what was happening in legal technology in the rest of the world.
As the decade closes, the world of legal tech has become flat. We have discovered that we are anything but provincial in the problems we seek to address or the solutions that we seek to develop. We are learning that, to a surprising degree, the problems that face the legal and justice systems in any one country are the problems shared by every country. As the decade closed, I could attend a legal tech conference in Moscow and participate in conversations that paralleled those at any legal tech conference in the U.S.

In a post here last year, I credited this development, at least in part, to the Global Legal Hackathon, an event that united 600-1,000 teams in 40 cities and 22 countries around a global effort to hack better legal tech. No question, that event was successful in opening many people’s eyes to the global nature of legal technology. But, as I look back over the decade, I realize that the real credit for that globalization lies elsewhere.

The real credit lies in the convergence of the economic flat-world syndrome and the world-shrinking impact of social network – with emphasis on the latter. Not only did world trade bring us together on an economic level, but social networks facilitated our personal connections and our ability to discuss and share our commonalities. As successful as was the Global Legal Hackathon, without the underlying connections of social media, it could never have occurred.

Think about how the legal profession’s use of social media evolved over the decade. In 2010, both Facebook and Twitter were still relatively nascent companies, and LinkedIn, although eight years old, was just beginning to gain significant momentum. In that year, just 17 percent of firms maintained a presence on any social network, with most of those on LinkedIn. By 2019, that number had risen to 80% of firms.

Social media knows no borders. Through blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, legal professionals are connected to and engaged with their peers in every corner of the globe. The problems we face as legal and justice professionals are universal, and so are the solutions we build to address them.

8. The Widening Adoption of Artificial Intelligence

At the start of the decade, AI wasn’t really a “thing” in legal. At the close of the decade, it seems to be everything.

At the start of the start of the decade, to the extent lawyers even knew about AI, many feared it as a robot competitor (as exemplified in the New York Times headline, Armies of Expensive Lawyers, Replaced by Cheaper Software). At the close of the decade, they understand that AI is not a robot that will replace them, but rather a robotically enhanced exoskeleton that will give them superpowers.

At the start of the decade, AI’s primary use in legal was in e-discovery, where machine learning was employed to cut the time and cost of document review. At the close of the decade, AI is pervasive, used not only in e-discovery, but also in legal research, contract review, contract management, litigation, expert systems, e-billing, and more.

As I look back over my own year-end reports, I see the progression of AI’s adoption in legal:
• In 2013, I discussed the increasing use of technology assisted review (TAR) in e-discovery and cited it as evidence of lawyers’ growing acceptance of AI.
• In 2014, I said (optimistically) that AI technologies were becoming accepted as essential and commonplace (again still primarily in e-discovery).
• In 2015, I took note of Judge Andrew J. Peck’s decision stating that TAR had become so widely accepted by judges that it had become “black letter law.” That year, I also noted that AI had come to legal research, with the launch of the AI-driven legal research company ROSS Intelligence.
• In 2016, I said that the legal industry had finally gotten smart about AI, with its use growing by leaps and bounds, as evidenced by developments that year such as search giant Thomson Reuters’ announcement that it was getting into the AI game, and the announcement of an alliancebetween Deloitte and Kira Systems “to bring the power of machine learning to the workplace.”
• In 2018, I said it was the year that AI got an MBA, noting that the once-fledgling technology was now among the most dominant technology businesses in in legal.

In 2018, of $1 billion invested in legal technology that year, $362 million went to companies whose products use AI. In my post earlier this year charting 2019 investments to date, the majority of the companies used AI in some fashion.

Many say that AI is still a nascent technology. But over the past decade, it has gone from virtually unheard of in legal to pervasive. It may be true that we are still in the early days of realizing AI’s full potential in the legal field, but it is also true that AI will continue to dominate the legal tech conversation for years to come.

9. The Accelerating Influx of Investments

I have not yet tallied the total investment in legal technology during 2019, but when I added up the numbers in September, I found that the year had already set a record. At that point, the total investment had already surpassed $1.2 billion, exceeding the 2018 record of $1 billion.

Now consider this: For all of the decade’s first seven years, from 2010 to 2017, the total investment in legal tech was $1.5 billion. That included the “fluke” year of 2015, in which over $426 million was invested – a number skewed by two major investments that year, $125 million in e-discovery company Relativity and $71.5 million in legal directory Avvo. In both 2016 and 2017, funding dropped precipitously from that 2015 high.

So it is likely that, when the final tally is made, the total investment in legal tech for just 2019 will exceed the total for the decade’s first seven years.

And further consider this: While that $125 million Relativity investment in 2015 was considered huge, we have now seen a series of investments that dwarf that.

The year 2019 was bookended by two examples of this. First came news in January that Onit, a company that provides enterprise workflow products for legal management and contract management, had received a  $200 million strategic investment. Then in September, the cloud law practice management company Clio announced a jaw-dropping $250 million Series D funding round – one of the largest investments ever in a legal tech company and the largest ever in a Canadian technology company.

Investors’ tepid interest in legal tech during the early years of this decade was likely attributable to a variety of factors, among them the legal industry’s slow adoption rate for new technology, the industry’s notoriously long sales cycle, and investors’ lack of familiarity with the industry.

But as the decade progressed, the legal industry’s adoption and use of technology quickened and innovative new products caught the attention of a market ripe for innovation. Investors saw this and became increasingly interested in – and knowledgeable about – the legal industry.

The legal industry has turned a corner on its use and adoption of technology. Law firms are becoming innovators, legal departments are demanding efficiencies and process improvements, a cavernous justice gap cries out for better delivery systems, and regulatory reform efforts foretell a new era of private-sector involvement in the delivery of legal services.

Investors get this. The surge in investment that marked the end of this decade is not just a trend – it is a condition of the market from which there is no turning back.

10. The Emergence of Data-Driven Legal Practice

For generations, the watchwords of the legal profession were intuition and experience. Whether as a lawyer advising clients or a judge deciding peoples’ fates, our wisdom was our most-valued asset, and the primary driver of our decision-making was gut instinct. Not only did we not use data, but it was not available to us even if we wanted to.

The problem with that is that we have no real understanding of what works and what does not. As James Greiner, director of the Access to Justice Lab at Harvard Law School, told me in 2017, “In no field is resistance to evidence-based thinking more ferocious than in United States legal practice.”

However, in the last few years, lawyers have started to appreciate the value of data and the insights it can provide. The most dramatic example of this has been litigation analytics – tools that take data derived from court dockets and documents and apply analytics to make predictions about likely outcomes or patterns. As I wrote in a column a year ago, we could be nearing the point where it would be malpractice for a lawyer not to use analytics.

At the center of the litigation analytics story has been LexisNexis. Following its acquisitions of Lex Machina in 2015 and Ravel Law in 2017, it expanded on the foundations established by those products and integrated them into its legal research platform Lexis Advance. The defining moment for LexisNexis came in July 2018, when it put a stake in the ground to claim the analytics space.  “Our vision … is to put the power of data-driven law in our customers’ hands,” Jeff Pfeifer, vice president, product management, said at the time.

Of course, LexisNexis is not the entirety of the litigation analytics story. Thomson Reuters put down its stake with its 2018 launch of Westlaw Edge, which for the first time brought detailed docket analytics to the Westlaw research platform. Elsewhere in the legal world, Fastcase released its Analytics Workbench, to allow legal professionals to build their own bespoke litigation analytics, and judicial analytics company Gavelytics got new funding and expanded the scope of its coverage. A study this year looked at many of these products and compared their results.

And litigation is only one facet of the larger analytics story. Legal professionals are using analytics in an array of applications, from business development to law firm ranking to legislative tracking to practice management to contract management to public records and beyond.

To go back to Greiner’s point, the legal industry is even beginning to understand the need to collect better data for evidence-based decision-making. Consider Utah’s new Implementation Task Force on Regulatory Reform, which says its experimental sandbox will be “driven by data” in order to protect consumers and design effective solutions for narrowing the access-to-justice gap.

At last, it seems, the legal profession has discovered the value of data as a tool to drive more-informed and more-strategic decisions across all aspects of practice.

Five Honorable Mentions:

Here are five other developments over the decade that will shape the legal profession for years to come:

1. Cybersecurity insecurity. Ah, for the naïve days of 1999, when the ABA issued an ethics opinion saying in so many words, “Don’t worry about encryption, your data is secure.” Fast forward to 2017, when the ABA felt compelled to update that opinion. This time, said the ABA, the cybersecurity question lawyers need to ask is not if, but when.

2. The buzz around blockchain. One of the most talked-about technologies of the last half of the decade was one that did not exist in the first half. But for all the buzz around blockchain, we are still waiting for the killer app.

3. The growth of the ALSP. The decade brought the rise and proliferation of alternative legal service providers such as Elevate and UnitedLex. They have become so dominant and mainstream a force that it is no longer accurate to call them “alternative.”

4. The rise of legal ops. Over the past decade, the legal operations professional has become one of the most influential positions in legal departments and law firms. Reflecting this has been the founding of the Corporate Legal Officers Consortium (CLOC) and the creation of a legal operations section within the Association of Corporate Counsel.

5. Women move to the forefront. Women have played leading roles in the development of legal technology for as long as there has been legal technology. But as I wrote in a 2017 column, the latter part of the decade seemed to be a turning point for women in legal tech, with women at the forefront of the industry to an unprecedented degree, leading companies and holding other positions of influence.

Richard Susskind: My case for online courts

This article was originally published on Legal Cheek and has been republished.

If you plan to be a litigator, you should know that most disputes in the future will be resolved in online courts rather than in physical hearings.

Other than in high value and complex cases, oral advocacy will diminish in significance as the years go by. This is what I argue in my latest book, Online Courts and the Future of Justice (just published by Oxford University Press).

To lawyers who have followed developments in Canada, the USA, Australia, China, and Singapore, this projected future should come as no surprise. But it is time now for law schools and professional training providers to factor online dispute resolution into all courses relating to litigation and arbitration. It is also time for aspiring lawyers to think about becoming involved in the development of online courts or preparing themselves for conducting litigation on an online basis.

What will drive this move to online courts? The basic case for change is that court systems around the world are pretty much broken. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), more than 4 billion people live beyond the protection of the law and courts. In some countries, the backlogs in the courts are astonishing — 100 million cases in Brazil and 30 million in Indian.

Even in countries that claim to have the most advanced legal systems, it costs too much and takes too long to pursue civil cases, and the process is intelligible only to lawyers. This, in a nutshell, is the access to justice problem. Hardly anyone can afford to pursue legal action in public court systems. Significantly, the conventional court system is increasingly unaffordable for major businesses too.

My solution to this inaccessibility is that we should introduce online courts, in the UK and worldwide. There are two different dimensions to the idea. The first I call ‘online judging’. This involves the determination of cases by regular judges but the parties do not gather together and set out their stalls in a bricks-and-mortar courtroom. Instead, evidence and arguments are presented to judges via some kind of online service and the judges then deliver their decisions not in open court or in any kind of virtual hearing room but again across an online platform.

Court proceedings using an online court are not therefore conducted in a hearing by video link, or by telephone conference call, or by real-time chat. There is no hearing. Instead, like an ongoing exchange of emails and attachments, cases are progressed and disposed of without oral argument. Of course, this approach is not suitable for all cases, but it does make sense for many low value civil disputes (although, interestingly, similar techniques are already used in high value commercial arbitrations).

In the language of technologists, the communication in physical courtrooms and virtual hearings is synchronous whereas online judging involves asynchronous forms of interaction. This means that, for the former, the participants need to be available at the same time for a case to progress. In contrast, with the latter, as with email and text messages, those who are involved do not need to be on tap simultaneously — arguments, evidence, and decisions can be sent without sender and recipient being physically or virtually together at the same time.

This shift from a synchronous to an asynchronous court set-up is not a mere exercise in process improvement. It involves and requires radical change. Even in the first generation of online courts, when human judges (and not AI-based systems) are deciding cases, online judging takes away much that many people hold dear — the public hearing, the day in court, the direct interaction with other human beings. On the other hand, experience from operational systems shows that it can make court service much more accessible and affordable, and will chime with those who spend much of their working lives online.

The second sense of online court is more general. I refer to it as the ‘extended court’. The idea here is that technology allows us to provide a service with much wider remit than the traditional court. The additional services include tools to help users to understand their rights, duties, and the options open to them, facilities that assist self-represented litigants to marshal their evidence and formulate their arguments, and systems that advise on or bring about non-judicial settlement, not as an alternative to the public court service but as part of it.

Looking much further ahead, we can also imagine a second generation of online courts in which AI will play a role, in providing focused legal advice to court users, in offering facilities to enable parties to resolve disputes without human intervention and even, I argue, in making binding determinations. This last development is some years away and may seem outlandish if not seditious. But if we are to stand any chance of clearing the backlogs around the world and are serious about access to justice, we will need to look beyond human beings assembling in hearing rooms.

Court is a service not a place.

Why Law Firms and Their Clients Will Be the Big Legal Tech Winners

This article was originally published on Attorney At Law and has been republished.

Today’s lawyers don’t need to fear being replaced—at least not by robots. They should, however, fear being outpaced (and eventually replaced) by peers who have effectively harnessed and deployed AI-powered legal tech.

Early adopters of AI legal technology stand to benefit by reducing less productive research time, leveraging data-backed insights, and outmaneuvering opponents who are content to rely on heuristics and informed guesswork.

The laggards of the industry? They won’t be leveraging the emerging legal tech tools. They will probably find themselves struggling to keep clients happy and to bring new ones in. They will increasingly face prospective clients who want to know just what efforts the firm is making to remain competitive with respect to fees and quality of advice and representation.

Two of the most significant trends affecting the industry include clients demanding more cost-effective services and the main-streaming of alternative legal service providers (ALSPs). A recent study found that the price of hiring a law firm lawyer increased by 131% between 1996 and 2018, outpacing inflation. The rising cost of hiring a law firm lawyer is cited as one of the main reasons for the significant growth of in-sourcing that took place after 2010. ALSPs are on the rise and are providing clients with more sophisticated offerings—and a significant number of them are using AI to help facilitate their growth.

Even in the face of a real need to innovate, firms may find the task of innovation to be daunting and cumbersome—but the benefits of innovating in a timely way are many and the costs of sitting out while competitors ramp up are apt to be increasingly significant. There is a goldilocks zone—that I would argue that we are in now—in which it’s not too late to begin to adopt the market leading innovations and not too soon to be taking too much risk in adopting insufficiently developed solutions.

Innovation is a commitment, not a checkbox

Facing demands from clients and a changing competitive landscape, forward-thinking law firms are rising to the challenge and solving it by innovating and embracing the change.

What sets them apart from firms who don’t innovate at all, or firms who innovate ineffectively, is a genuine commitment to innovation as a means of providing better service to clients. As the leading firms realized, when assessed carefully and deployed thoughtfully, legal tech can delight clients—leading to a stickier relationship and high satisfaction with your services.

Your clients stand to benefit—here’s how

Legal tech, especially technology powered by AI, is elevating the professional standard across the industry. This has significant impacts for the professionals working in the industry, and legal technology changes the game for clients, too.

Clients gain quality, cost-effective advice.

Clients are seeking better results with lower costs when it comes to paying for legal advice. Amidst the changing trends of the legal services industry, including the rise of in-sourcing and ALSPs, law firms have a real incentive to drive efficiency in how they provide legal services to their clients.

It should come as no surprise that AI plays a significant role in realizing efficiencies. From automated contract analysis to natural language processing-enabled searches to using machine learning to gain insights into how your case would be decided on its merits, legal technology is generating a rich array of solutions to help professionals serve their clients in a more cost-efficient way.

Clients gain data-backed advice.

Legal technology isn’t limited to taking care of the tedious routine tasks that plague first and second-year associates. AI is actively making professionals better at their jobs by enabling them to leverage data-backed insights hand-in-hand with their professional instincts.

Firms may well find themselves staring at a dizzying number of legal technology companies purporting to give them a competitive edge when it comes time to litigate. The technology may rely on a judge’s or opposing counsel’s identity or which court will address their case.

There are also a number of leading firms that are leveraging AI technology to gain unparalleled insights into specific areas of law and make highly accurate predictions as to how those scenarios would be resolved if they were to go to court. This technology makes more substantial predictions and can help lawyers quantify risks and cover all of their bases when providing their clients with advice.

Clients get the best from their lawyers.

When AI-powered legal tech can accurately resolve low-impact, routine tasks and it has developed enough to meaningfully bolster a professional’s legal expertise, it’s understandable that some lawyers begin to feel curious about what’s left for them to solve.

After AI, what is left for the expert lawyer? For the next few decades (at least), the core role for lawyers will be shifting even more in the direction of the novel, interesting, high-impact, and challenging problems that only humans can excel at—the elements that led them to practice law in the first place. AI is far from replacing lawyers. It frees them up to focus their energy on the expertise-driven work that clients truly value. One thing about the end game we can be certain about is this: lawyers who choose to use AI will replace lawyers who are not using AI.

Law In The Age Of The Customer

This article was originally published on Forbes and has been republished.

This is the age of the customer. The asymmetrical advantage that sellers long held over buyers is gone. Consumers have access to market information and choice that has transformed the buy-sell dynamic. Social media provides them with a reference source and a voice. The balance of power has shifted from the supply to the demand side. The customer is king in the digital age.

Leading companies across multiple industries are engaged in multi-pronged efforts to align with customers. They are upskilling their workforces; investing in technology, people, and processes; and reimagining traditional delivery constructs to improve customer service, experience, and outcome. Digitally advanced companies are mining and analyzing data to refine target markets, better understand consumer buying habits and profiles, and track competition. They are  committing capital to shift risk from buyer to seller and updating service and product offerings to meet customer needs. They assiduously track internal performance, and monitor customer satisfaction. Data, sometimes called “the new oil,” promotes a proactive mindset and advances rapid, informed decision making.

Customer alignment is the foundation upon which successful businesses are built in the digital age. It is a holistic compact between provider and customer, a melding of buyer/seller objectives and outcomes. This is the new buy/sell paradigm and the reason why it is the age of the customer.

Where is law in this process? Unsurprisingly, it lags other industries and professional services. The principal cause is the divide between the legal profession and the industry. How this tension is playing out in the marketplace provides insight into the pace and scope of legal transformation as well as the contours of law’s future.

The Profession and Business of Law

The legal sector has two parts: profession and industry. The profession is comprised exclusively of lawyers. The industry is a trinity of legal, technological, and business management expertise. There is a cultural divide between the two; the profession is precedent bound and inward-facing. It is rooted in “how things have always been done” and is generally resistant to change. The industry is driven by a growing market void for reimagined legal delivery and customer demand for delivery models with the capability and scale to provide bundled professional skillsets proactively competently, efficiently, predictably, and cost-effectively.

The profession is tenaciously clinging to legacy regulatory, structural, economic, and hierarchical models. Lawyers have relied on self-regulation to eliminate competition and to blunt the impact of megatrends that have disrupted multiple industries. This parochialism explains why most in the legal establishment—law schools, partnership model law firms, in-house legal departments, and the  press—resist material change and pay lip service to it by operating at its margins.

Professional resistance to ‘non-lawyer’ ownership and engagement in legal activities—as lawyers define it— is alive and well even as lawyers tout “partnering with clients” and “innovation.” The American Bar Association (ABA) has nixed efforts to re-regulate the industry since the turn of the millennium. The reforms sought to relax current ownership rules that fail to recognize the distinction between legal practice and the business of delivering legal services. So too has the ABA and its dues-paying lawyer membership maintained rigid control over an archaic, one-size-fits-all core curriculum for law schools even as student outcomes have been decried by the Department of Education. These are two of a legion of examples of professional resistance to industry change and its denial that law is no longer solely about lawyers.

There are many reasons for the profession’s resistance to change—financial, structural, and cultural to cite a few. Lawyers are trained to produce the best possible legal work product no matter its materiality or client value. They are taught not to make mistakes and to identify and avoid risk, not to balance risk factors, be proactive, and deliver creative solutions. Doctrinally-skewed legal training provides a sound foundation for critical thinking that can be leveraged in many ways, but few lawyers currently possess the skills and training required to engage in the business side of legal delivery. Law schools remain diploma granters, not learning centers for life. Upskilling is virtually nonexistent among lawyers.

Law’s skills gap has led to the rise of legal service providers whose ranks are populated by licensed lawyers and allied legal professionals—technologists, project and process management experts, data analysts, risk managers, design thinkers, cybersecurity experts, and a slew of others. They engage collaboratively in multidisciplinary teams, sometimes with other providers/resources in the supply chain. Their mission is to provide solutions to business challenges that include legal as well as other risk factors. They are trained to quantify risk, the customer’s tolerance, and the risk: reward ratio before rendering a recommendation. Their decisions are data driven and they invest heavily in technology to streamline internal efficiency and to promote closer customer alignment.

A handful of tech-enabled, process-oriented, data-driven, agile providers are filling the market void created by practice-centric law firms. They are prompting legal consumers to consider whether, when, from what delivery model, and at what price point licensed attorneys are required.  This is new to law but not to other professional services. Medicine, for instance, experienced a similar metamorphosis from profession to profession-within-an industry decades ago.

Law’s Taxonomy Reflects Its Guild Hangover

Why do lawyers bristle when clients are called customers? Are legal buyers clients, customers, or both? Does it matter? Short answers: legal exceptionalism; sometimes clients and always customers; and yes. Law is locked in a culture war pitting the profession and the industry.

The client/customer distinction is more than fodder for semantical debate in a cheroot-filled drawing room. The blurring of the client/customer line results from the ongoing transformation of the legal function as well as how, by whom, from what model, and at what cost legal services are delivered. Law is undergoing a convergence of systemic changes that include: the erosion of lawyer hegemony in legal delivery, multidisciplinary practice, technology, process, data, and capital utilization, new delivery models with corporate structures and customer-centric models, and a shift in the legal buy-sell balance of power from provider to consumer.

The profession now functions in a marketplace with allied professionals, paraprofessionals, and machines. Lawyers are part of a supply chain, and law firms are no longer the only game in town. Legal expertise is one in a trinity of core delivery components that also include process and technological. This expansion of delivery elements requires new skills that include risk management, data analytics, project management, and design thinking. The practice of law—differentiated legal expertise, experience, skills, and judgment— has been subsumed by the trillion-dollar legal services industry. Practice—as it was once defined by lawyers— is shrinking. The business of law—everything else required to deliver legal services— is expanding rapidly.

The legal function and legal delivery are being reimagined and refashioned. There is a marked increase in the volume and complexity of work migrating from law firms to in-house departments, agile talent management companies like Axiom, and a handful of enterprise legal service providers that include UnitedLex and the Big Four.  A common element of each of these provider types is that their lawyers collaborate with allied professionals, paraprofessionals, and machines.

This does not mean—as many lawyers suggest—that the profession will be gutted. The unique characteristics of the attorney-client relationship, notably confidentiality, privilege, and the rules and ethics that are the cornerstones of legal practice remain intact. What’s changing are the models, skillsets, capital investment, data, and other tools and resources required to improve legal delivery.

Several large law firms have recently launched and/or expanded ancillary services   to preserve revenue, protect client relationships, and offer end-to-end capability. These are legitimate reasons from the firm perspective, but that is no longer what matters—legal buyers do. Law firms are practice-centric organizations; that is their core business. Legal service providers are technology and process organizations with different organizational structures, management, expertise, workforces, DNA, agility, access to capital, and customer dynamics than law firms. This is not to say that law firms cannot succeed in their efforts to deliver legal services, but the jury is out. Sellers and buyers of legal services confront a common question: “Who should do what?” This is the seminal issue that is reshaping the legal industry.


Record-setting capital investment in a handful of customer-centric providers is a bellwether of legal consolidation, platform models, continued market share shift, and scalability. Providers that are differentiated, scaled, capitalized, and aligned with customers will dominate the legal marketplace. That’s who customers and clients will align with.

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What will lawyers do now?

This article was originally published on L21 Law Twenty One and has been republished.

Modern Law Magazine in the UK asked me to submit an article for their January 2020 issue, which featured a host of luminaries discussing the near and mid-term future of the legal marketplace. You can find the current issue here, with my article (“What will lawyers do now?”) starting on page 7.  Below you’ll find an excerpt from the piece, but I’d encourage you to read the full issue online and in particular, the terrific contributions from Mark Cohen, Jane Malcolm, Stephen Mayson, Helen Phillips, Richard Susskind, and Joanna Swash, among others.

The rise of a new legal economy over the next several years will require a thorough review of all our assumptions about what legal work consists of and, ultimately, what purpose it serves. Everyone in legal services, buyers and sellers alike, will need to rethink their possibilities, interests, and opportunities.

For the legal profession, one question above all others demands our attention: In the new legal economy, given the rise of “I don’t need a lawyer for this,” what will lawyers do?

Answering that question will, or should, preoccupy the leaders of the legal profession over the course of this coming decade. My small contribution to that effort would be to suggest the following four categories of responses, which can be arranged in the consultant’s favourite diagram, the four-quadrant chart.

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What will lawyers do in the new legal economy? One of at least four things:

1. Retreat to higher ground. The rising waters of commoditization and systematization will submerge many of the low-lying sectors of activity that have traditionally supported legal careers. But some lawyers will be able to escape the surging tide by virtue of their specialities.

There will be fewer trial lawyers in future, as I’ve argued; but there will still be some, and they will be the most exceptional advocates practising at the highest levels. Clients will also still need empathetic advisors and well-informed counselors, even more than they do today, and some lawyers will develop these skills to their utmost. A few genuine experts, possessing unparalleled knowledge and insight that cannot be adequately reflected in a database entry, will also thrive.

The coming changes to our legal ecosystem will not render all species of lawyer extinct — even in the distant future, there will be lawyers performing services and helping clients in ways that will be familiar to those of us with roots in the 20th century.

2. Support the new systems. Many lawyers who find that systems and software are performing tasks for which they once billed hours will decide not to rage against the machine, but instead to support the machine, maintaining and further developing its effectiveness.

After all, someone will still have to understand how the law works, in order to translate statutory guidance and common-law reasoning into lines of code and algorithms. And someone will have to create the risk-monitoring mechanisms, design the workplace standards, and carry out the data analysis in the examples cited at the start of this article. These are lawyer tasks, and lawyers will be needed to perform them.

The development of artificial general intelligence is a very long distance away, and most AI developed in the meantime will augment human reasoning and ingenuity, not replace it. The machines still need us more than we need the machines.

3. Address unserved markets. It is a truth universally acknowledged, although seldom addressed to any practical degree, that only a small fraction of the legal problems and opportunities that people and businesses face ever make their way to a lawyer. That will change.

All the new legal systems and software coming our way sound wonderful — but not everyone will be able to afford them and access them. While rich people and large in-house law departments will experience a Golden Age of Law, the vast majority of individuals and businesses will be left to struggle through increasingly underfunded government programs and antiquated courts. These people will be in truly dire need of help — and some lawyers will respond, sacrificing higher incomes and more prestigious postings in order to serve the greater public good.

Providing community-based legal aid, building street-level systems to help people get the benefits they’re entitled to receive, crowdfunding the resources to fight for just causes — those are just some of the tasks lawyers will render in the early days of the new economy. As time goes on, more will emerge. And that bring us to:

4. Create new opportunities. If the only answers to the question, “What will lawyers do?” are “Retrench,” “Assimilate,” and “Help the poor,” then the future of the legal profession will be significantly less interesting than its past. But I’m willing to bet on lawyers, and on our creativity and passion, to do better than that.

In a legal economy premised on fewer problems, higher standards, faster performance, and integrated solutions, lawyers will be challenged to come up with new value propositions, new ways of helping people live better lives with fewer complications. What will they come up with? Maybe a “law school” that educates individuals on their legal rights and risks? An affordable online “legal utility” that replaces arcane legal information with clickable solutions? An AI-guided digital resource to replace linear and analog advice paths? A travelling dispute resolution roadshow with pop-up locations in marginalized communities?

The unexpected gift to lawyers of the new legal economy is this: Losing our old tasks will liberate us to find new purpose. Lawyers’ future will be limited only by our imagination, ambition, and compassion. We can forge the legal profession we truly want, not the crumbling legacy institution that was bequeathed to us.

What will lawyers do in the new legal economy? It’s really up to us — which means, of course, that it’s really up to you.

5 Legal Technologies You Thought Were Dead But Aren't

This article was originally published on Above The Law and has been republished. 

The 2019 Legal Technology Survey Report raises the specter of the law office of the past.

“The more things change, the more they stay the same,” goes the epigram attributed to 19th century French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr. I could not help but think of that as I reviewed the results of the 2019 Legal Technology Survey Report produced by the American Bar Association’s Legal Technology Resource Center.

For all the development and innovation we have seen in legal technology in recent years, some legacy technologies stubbornly stick around. Here are five technologies that you might have thought were dead within law practice but that, according to the survey, are still being used by lawyers.

1. Books

Never before have legal professionals had access to such a wealth of online research materials. From paid services to free ones, from established providers to innovative startups, we have an array of tools available to us for virtually any legal research task.

Given this, you may be surprised to learn that print materials are still widely used for legal research. According to the survey, 44% of lawyers say they use print materials for research regularly, and another 32% say they use them occasionally. Only 5% of lawyers say they never use print materials.

Even more surprising, when lawyers were asked the resource they turn to first when starting a research project, 7% answered print materials. This was only slightly behind the 10% who said they start with a bar-sponsored free research service such as Fastcase or Casemaker.

As you might expect, age is a factor here. Lawyers over 60 are more likely than younger lawyers to regularly use print materials. Fifty-three percent of those over 60 regularly use print materials, compared to 29% under 40.

2. CD-ROMs

In the early days of what was then called computer-assisted legal research, when computers were slow and Internet connections even slower, legal research companies often delivered their materials to lawyers on CD-ROMs. But as online legal research flourished, research via CD-ROMs became all-but obsolete.

“All-but” being the operative phrase. According to the survey, 6% of hangers-on still regularly use CD-ROMs. Solos are most likely to use CD-ROMs, but even at the largest firms, 4% of lawyers still regularly use them.

But the CD-ROM may be close to its last breath. Nearly half of lawyers (48%) say they never use CD-ROMs for legal research and 29% say they seldom do.

3. Fax

The fax machine is like that nagging cough that persists long after your flu symptoms have subsided. There is no rational explanation for why the legal profession continues to use the fax, and yet it does, in surprisingly large numbers.

According to the survey, more than three-quarters of firms (77%) still use the fax as a form of communications software. That number has not changed over the survey’s past three years and has actually gone up since the 2016 survey, when it was 70%. Among individual attorneys, 43% say they personally use the fax for law-related tasks.

In fairness, it appears that the bulk of those who are sending and receiving faxes are doing so via electronic fax software, with the most popular software brand being eFax, used by 57% of lawyers. The survey makes no mention of the legacy fax machines that were once ubiquitous in law offices, so it offers no insight into the extent to which they are still used.

4. BlackBerrys

It sometimes seems as if every lawyer has an iPhone, and the survey confirms this. When asked what smartphone they use, 79% answered iPhone and 18% answered Android. Two percent do not use a smartphone.

But a small sliver of loyalists sticks to a BlackBerry. According to the survey, BlackBerry remains the smartphone of choice for 1% of lawyers.

It was not long ago that BlackBerrys seemed ubiquitous among lawyers, especially among lawyers at large firms. But its decline was precipitous. In 2011, 40% of lawyers used a BlackBerry. By 2013, that had dropped to 16%, by 2016, to 3%, and now, to 1%.

5. WordPerfect

Another product that once dominated the legal market is WordPerfect. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, you would be hard-pressed to find a lawyer who was not using WordPerfect (at least among the lawyers who were using computers). But from the mid-1990s on, lawyers’ loyalty began to shift to Microsoft Office and Microsoft Word.

Aficionados will debate what caused WordPerfect’s demise. Some say it was Microsoft’s monopolistic tactics. Others blame it on WordPerfect’s failure to smoothly transition from DOS to Windows. Whatever the cause, Word is now the legal profession’s word processor of choice. According to the survey, 98% of lawyers say that Word is available to them at their firm.

But guess what? WordPerfect is still alive and kicking. Eighteen percent of lawyers in the survey said that WordPerfect is available at their firms. That is more than offer access to Google Docs, which just 9% of lawyers said their firms offer. Note that the survey question was not whether the lawyer personally used WordPerfect but whether the software was available at the lawyer’s firm.

In addition, when lawyers were asked what software they use for PDF creation, 14% answered WordPerfect — almost as many as use Power PDF (15%). The same percentage of lawyers said that they use WordPerfect as their redlining software, second to Word (86%) and ahead of CompareRite (10%).

Which, by the way, should be sixth on this list. LexisNexis retired CompareRite in 2002, yet 10% of lawyers still use it.

Some of us spend a lot of time talking about the law office of the future. But the Legal Technology Survey Report raises the specter of the law office of the past. Somewhere out there, a lawyer is picking up a book, sending off a fax, loading a CD-ROM, pecking keys on a BlackBerry, and rejoicing in WordPerfect’s much-vaunted Reveal Codes.

Plus ça change!

GCs favouring legal tech over external counsel

This article was originally published on the Australasian Lawyer and has been republished.

In-house legal teams are handling larger volumes and complexity of work and are looking to technology to help.

Rather than outsourcing more work to external law firms, general counsel are focusing on how tech can drive efficiency within their own legal teams according to a new survey.

The research from Konexo, the alternative legal services business of global law firm Eversheds Sutherland, found that 63% of in-house practitioners say they are dealing with increased pressures compared to 12 months ago.

These pressures include demands to reduce costs, while coping with a lack of resources, and a resulting impact on team culture.

“General Counsel today are operating in a rapidly evolving business landscape,” said Graham Richardson, Partner and Head of Konexo. “Despite developments in the sector, legal services have not yet been at the forefront of this evolution. However, as legal teams are increasingly asked to do more with less, technology, new operational processes and big data are rewiring how in-house legal professionals conduct their work.”

The survey shows that just 19% of respondents are planning to ease pressure through greater use of external counsel while increasing their tech usage in areas such as document automation and intelligent data analytics.

“There is significant scope for innovation in the industry and there is a real opportunity for in-house teams to assume a more strategic purpose in their organisations and outsource more, but not back to the traditional law firm model. Technology driven ALSP, with fixed-price models, will be a big part of the solution and we will continue to see the rise of legal managed service providers,” added Richardson.

Why Companies Do "Innovation Theatre" Instead of Actual Innovation

This article was originally published on the Harvard Business Review and has been republished.

The type of disruption most companies and government agencies are facing right now is a once-in-every-few-centuries event. Disruption today is more than just changes in technology, or channel, or competitors — it’s all of them, all at once. And these forces are completely reshaping both commerce and defense.

Today, as large organizations are facing continuous disruption, they’ve recognized that their existing strategy and organizational structures aren’t nimble enough to access and mobilize the innovative talent and technology they need to meet these challenges. These organizations know they need to change, but often the result has been a form of organizational whack-a-mole – a futile attempt at trying to swat at problems as they pop-up without understanding their root cause.

Ultimately, companies and government agencies need to stop doing this or they will fail.

We can build a mindset, culture, and process to fix this — what I think of as an Innovation Doctrine. But first we need to step back and recognize one of the problems.

I just spent a few days with a large organization with a great history, which like most of its peers is dealing with new and rapidly evolving external threats. However, its big best obstacle is internal. What had previously been a strength — its great management processes — now holds back its ability to respond to new challenges.

Companies Run on Process

Once upon a time every great organization was a scrappy startup willing to take risks — new ideas, new methods, new customers, targets, and mission. If it was a commercial company, it figured out product/market fit; if a government organization, it focused on solution/mission fit. Over time as these organizations got large, they built process. By process I mean all the tools that allow companies to scale repeatable execution. HR processes, legal processes, financial processes, acquisition and contracting processes, security processes, product development and management processes, and organizational forms etc. All of these are great strategies and tools that business schools build, and consulting firms help implement.

Process is great when you live in a world where both the problem and solution are known. Process helps ensure that you can deliver solutions that scale without breaking other parts of the organization.

These processes reduce risk to an overall organization, but each layer of process reduces the ability to be agile and lean and — most importantly — responsive to new opportunities and threats.

Process Versus Product

As companies and agencies get larger, they start to value the importance of “process” over the “product.” And by product, I mean the creation of new hardware, services, software, tools, operations, tradecraft, etc. People who manage processes are not the same people as those who create product. Product people are often messy, hate paperwork, and prefer to spend their time creating stuff rather than documenting it. Over time as organizations grow, they become risk averse. The process people dominate management, and the product people end up reporting to them.

If the company is large enough it will become a “rent-seeker” and look to the government and regulators as their first line of defense against innovative competition. They’ll use government regulation and lawsuits to keep out new entrants with more innovative business models.

The result of monopolist behavior is that innovation in that sector dies — until technology/consumer behavior passes them by. By then the company has lost the ability to compete as an innovator.

In government agencies, process versus product has gone further. Many agencies outsource product development to private contractors, leaving the government with mostly process people — who write requirements, and oversee acquisition, program management, and contracts.

However, when the government is faced with new adversaries, new threats, or new problems, both the internal process people as well as the external contractors are loath to obsolete their own systems and develop radically new solutions. For the contractors, anything new offers the real risk of losing a lucrative existing stream of revenue. For the process people, because the status quo is a known and comfortable space, if the contract and contractor are large enough, they put their thumb on the scale and use the political process and lobbying to maintain the status quo.

The result is that legacy systems live on as an albatross and an impediment to making the country safer and more secure.

Organizational and Innovation Theater

A competitive environment should drive a company/government agency into new forms of organization that can rapidly respond to these new threats. Instead, most organizations look to create even more process. This typically plays out in three ways:

  1. Often the first plan from leadership for innovation is hiring management consultants who bring out their twentieth-century playbook. The consultants reorganize the company (surprise!), often from a functional organization into a matrixed organization. The result is organizational theater. The reorg keeps everyone busy for a year, perhaps provides new focus on new regions or targets, but in the end is an inadequate response to the need for rapid innovation for product.
  2. At the same time, companies and government agencies typically adopt innovation activities (hackathons, design thinking classes, innovation workshops, et al.) that result in innovation theater. These activities shape and build culture, but they don’t win wars, and they rarely deliver shippable/deployable product.
  3. Finally, companies and government agencies have realized that the processes and metrics they put in place to optimize execution (Procurement, Personnel, Security, Legal, etc.) are obstacles for innovation. Efforts to reform and recast these are well meaning, but without an overall innovation strategy it’s like building sandcastles on the beach. The result is process theater.

For most large organizations these reorgs, activities, and reforms don’t increase revenue, profit or market share for companies, nor do they keep our government agencies ahead of our adversaries. One can generously describe them as innovation dead ends.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Today, companies and government agencies are not able to access and mobilize the innovative talent and technology they need to meet these challenges. The very processes that made them successful impede them.

Organizational redesign, innovation activities, and process reform need to be part of an overall plan.

In sum, large organizations lack shared beliefs, validated principles, tactics, techniques, procedures, organization, budget, etc. to explain how and where innovation will be applied and its relationship to the rapid delivery of new product.

We can build a mindset, culture, and process to fix this.


Big money is betting on legal industry transformation

This article was originally published on Forbes and has been republished.

If “Money makes the world go ‘round,” then the legal world is spinning as never before. Law has been big business for decades, but only recently has significant venture capital, private equity, and entrepreneur money been pumped into the legal sector. Last year saw an eye-popping 718% increase in legal industry investment, and this year’s capital infusion through the third-quarter has already surpassed last year’s $1 billion total and could well double it. Capital is turbocharging customer-centric providers that are leveraging technology, process, new skillsets, and data to transform the legal function and the delivery of legal services.

Why the sudden legal investment boom; what’s changed; and what does it portend? Short answers: legal delivery is ripe for scaled transformation; legal buyers are driving change and have disaggregated legal practice from the delivery of legal services; and the lawyer-centric, labor-intensive, fragmented legal industry is ripe for tech and process-driven consolidation. Technology, process, labor arbitrage, an agile workforce, the proliferation of cross and multi-border business, automation, products replacing services, platforms, automation, data, and incipient regulatory reform are transforming the legal sector—just as they have others. Capital is accelerating, scaling, and consolidating the industry.

Legal Delivery Is Not Unique—It’s Tech And Business Driven

Legal practice may have its own practice rules, but legal delivery is now operating by business standards. The practice of law has not changed much, although what is now deemed practice is a shrinking subset of what it was even a decade ago. The delivery of legal services, however, has undergone a dramatic transformation during this same period. Law firms have lost their hegemony over legal delivery. Their market share is eroding. A growing number of corporate legal departments and customer-centric providers with corporate structures, economic models that reward output (results) rather than input (hours billed) are reshaping legal delivery. They deploy business process, project management, and fiscal responsibility, new tools, new skills, data-driven, multi-disciplinary workforces, and a customer service mindset necessary in the digital era.

Law is a Trillion-dollar global industry with no Goliaths. The legal industry is fragmented, growing, has a huge untapped market for its services, and is ripe for digital transformation. Lawyers long peddled the now debunked myth that legal practice is bespoke and unique. No such claims can been made for legal delivery that has the same core ingredients as a slew of upstarts that have disrupted other industries. That list includes customer-aligned, tech and process-enabled, differentiated models; technology platforms that integrate internal resources, align with others in the supply chain, and provide easy access to clients; upskilled workforces; cultures of constant improvement; a re-imagination of the customer experience; and capital to scale. These are among the reasons why capital is pouring into the legal delivery (a/k/a legal tech).

Law’s Shifting Focus: From Lawyers To Customers

Law has long been inward-facing. Its focus has been on input--hours and billing-- not output--results and customer satisfaction.  So too has profit-per-partner, not net promoter score been law's Holy Grail. Lawyers, not clients, long called the shots. They defined what a legal matter was; used self-regulation to parry competition from other professionals; carved out territorial practice boundaries to discourage competition from “outside” lawyers; and retained near-exclusive access to legal source materials. Law firms sold one thing: legal expertise, and they cornered the market. Firms dictated the terms of engagement to clients—what they determined was best; the value they ascribed to a matter; what was necessary to achieve what they deemed the best possible legal work; who performed it and how much time was required; how and when work was delivered; and at what cost. Clients were generally compliant because law firms had a uniform modus operandi.  Law was a guild.

All that has changed. Now firms face competition. The cognitive bias  among legal buyers to engage traditional partnership model law firms has eroded. The global financial crisis and its reboot of the buy-sell dynamic of goods and services; globalization; astonishing advances in technology; and digital transformation have convinced legal buyers that legal practice is no longer synonymous with the delivery of legal services. These factors, coupled with unmet market need, are the fertile soil that new providers have cultivated. Capital is now scaling their harvest.
Clients—not lawyers—are now calling the shots and driving the transformation of the legal industry. Lawyers long controlled the delivery of legal services because legal expertise was its sole ingredient. Those days are gone—both for lawyers as well as allied legal professionals who, with machines, are now integral components of the legal workforce and supply chain. Legal delivery has morphed into a three-legged stool supported by legal, technological, and business expertise. Legal expertise is no longer, to borrow from Reggie Jackson, “the straw that stirs the drink.”

It’s The Model That Matters

Smart money is betting that lawyers can function far more efficiently outside the traditional partnership model. It’s also betting that elite legal talent can, as necessary, be dislodged from traditional firms. There’s good reason for them to think so-- peripatetic partners (“laterals”) have swapped firms for decades. That means that money--not the firm--is the glue that binds.

If lawyers can jump firms, so too can they jump delivery models—for a price. The Big Four and other legal providers have already cherrypicked elite legal talent from top-rank firms. This means that practice expertise—even at the elite level—is available. Powerful, scaled legal delivery providers like the Big Four, UnitedLex, and others with global reach, multidisciplinary workforces, models aligned with business, deep war chests, and digital transformation expertise can readily meld legal expertise with delivery capability to provide end-to-end enterprise legal services. Law firms continue to provide single-point, practice-centric solutions. Law firms were once sole-source suppliers. Now, they are a diminishing segment of a legal supply chain where differentiated legal expertise is part of a larger whole.

Capital And Scale

Legal providers must deliver at scale to be competitive in today’s emerging global marketplace, and that requires capital. LegalZoom recently received a $500M round of secondary funding at a $2Billion valuation—almost 500% more than what it was in 2014. That brings the company’s total capital haul to approximately $800MillionUnitedLex, a leading enterprise legal services company took in $500M from  private equity powerhouse CVC Capital Partners to capitalize on a “multi-billion dollar opportunity.” Axiom, the leading agile legal talent management provider, recently received a “very substantial” investment from Permira, another private equity heavyweight. This was not Permira’s first foray into the legal vertical; it had previously made substantial investments in LegalZoom and Duff and PhelpsBob Ambrogi, a legal industry stalwart, provides a fuller 2019 investment scorecard here. The list includes investment in artificial intelligence (AI) and other tech plays that are rapidly transforming the legal function and its delivery.

Then there’s the Big Four whose presence and imprint in the legal sector is receiving heightened attention. The Big Four are formidable players. They have deep C-Suite ties; multidisciplinary expertise and cross/multi-border transactions; global footprints; digital transformation prowess; commitment to constant improvement; significant investment in technology; and are doubling-down on enterprise legal services. Their annual revenue is approximately twelve times that of the largest grossing law firms. All this positions them to be major players  in the current global legal landscape.

Teaser alert: what’s to prevent AmazonGoogle, or some other tech giant from entering the legal space, creating a global platform, injecting billions into infrastructure and talent, creating a global legal services hub  that connects consumers with global legal delivery sources as never before imagined? Short answer: the inclination to do so.

Big Money Has Been Watching From The Sidelines—Until Now.

Big money has closely monitored the migration of work from firms, changing consumer attitudes, an evolving regulatory climate, and the deployment of technological advances to legal delivery. They recognize the lawyer-created barriers that balkanized legal practice do not apply to legal delivery. Technology, process, data, and other essential legal delivery components transcend geographical boundaries and can be scaled around the globe. The commonality of delivery challenges—contract management, knowledge management, data collection and mining, morphing services into products, automation, and other delivery elements-- far outweigh the differences. There is enormous opportunity for consumers to benefit from a mature global legal marketplace where a myriad of local solutions are replaced by scaled, global ones.

Capital is required to scale legal services; to keep pace with the warp-speed of business, to attract and retain top talent, to invest in upskilling , and to promote a customer-centric, diverse culture of constant improvement. Capital can, of course, come from a variety of sources—going public (permitted in the UK, Australia, and a handful of other jurisdictions), institutional capital, self-funding, and collaborative ventures. The common thread is that legal industry investment is focused on providers offering new delivery models that are aligned with the needs of consumers, not the maximization of short-term lawyer profit.


The recent infusion of capital into the legal industry is the best evidence that a tipping point has been reached. The hegemony of the traditional law firms is over,  and the partnership model will experience further consolidation and a thinning of the herd. This process is well underway and will accelerate.

It’s not simply how and by whom legal services are delivered that’s changing. The legal function is being recast. The legal industry would be wise to note what’s different about the models, skillsets, workforces, diversity, cultures, technology, processes, and customer service of well-capitalized providers. That’s what the smart money is doing.

Innovation in Law: An Oxymoron?

This was originally published on Above The Law and has been republished.

Some of the most intelligent, interesting, and high-achieving people I know are lawyers. Yet, few people would describe most law firms as anything close to “innovative.”

In my lifelong quest to encourage innovation in law, I had a conversation with Alicia Ryan, who leads the practice innovation group at Fenwick and West. She left her high stakes M&A practice to help a law firm embrace 21st century technology and social trends, developments, and innovations. According to Alicia, there are well-known historic and systemic reasons for the slower rate of innovation in law firms.

She explains, “For one, some law firms can lack disruptive competition. The billable hour model can also make things challenging. And then there’s the culture of ‘following the precedent.’” Alicia believes that new market realities are coming to law firms. According to Alicia, “The need to innovate at law firms is real. And, many folks are increasingly engaged on the subject.”

So, if you want to further the innovation effort at your firm, here are some of the best practices, according to Alicia, for getting around the institutional barriers to innovation that we all face as lawyers.

Create a Sense of Urgency

Alicia is convinced that change won’t happen unless people believe it is necessary. She explains, “New market forces are on your side and can make this an organic process.”

So, where to start? Alicia recommends talking to the people in your firm who are close to the “pain.” “Those in finance or client marketing face challenges firsthand,” she explains. She advises to “find out which practice groups or tasks are facing the most price pressure. Find out which of your peer firms are innovating and whether those innovations are viewed by partners or management as competitive threats.”

According to Alicia, if you go through this exercise, you’ll learn where innovation efforts can be most impactful. That is also where they will be more eagerly received. It’s where you’ll find more enthusiasm and open minds. Most importantly, “You’ll also learn which executives or partners are likely to champion which types of efforts,” Alicia says.

Allocate Adequate Staff Resources – Time & Expertise

Once you’ve got buy-in and a partner champion for your innovation project — like bringing on a new AI tool or piloting a robotic process automation (RPA) initiative (yes, think big!), you may think you’re ready to go. But Alicia cautions, “Don’t underestimate how high-touch managing innovative change can be! People want to see the change, but also are afraid of uncertainty and risk.”

Alicia advises to actively hold hands and manage expectations throughout the entire process. “Sending a few emails with instructions and some marketing blurbs won’t generate usage and adoption,” she explains. According to Alicia, “You’ll need staff resources and experts for whom this is a priority. They’ll need training and a mandate to stick with the project and be a resource for users for the first year of its use.”

Incentivize People to Help

Alicia explains, “It goes against human nature, especially the nature of humans who bill by the hour, to work more slowly NOW in order to go faster LATER.” But according to her, your communication plan will clarify this as you outline the vision and goals while highlighting successes.

But how can you really get people motivated to learn a new tool or update a form document? Alicia explains, “In the former case, we’ve seen peer presentations have a powerful effect. When associates who are proponents of a new tool or process present their experiences to the rest of the group firsthand, others want to get on board.”

“In many cases, your efforts will be more fruitful if you can get a bucket of billable credit hours approved in advance,” she notes. Make sure you rally up a big army of people to help. Alicia explains, “Need associates to help create and maintain forms for the corporate group? Offer some billable credit for that work. It’s an incentive, but it’s also about removing obstacles. Find out what keeps people from driving or adopting change, and start chipping away at those obstacles.”

Innovation doesn’t have to be slow and painful. It doesn’t have to be painful at all. It is a tremendous opportunity and a huge benefit to a profession that can be stuck in its ways. In fact, the greatest challenges of innovation in law may have nothing to do with innovation itself, but in convincing the risk-averse professionals of its benefits.

That’s where you come in. Arm yourself with knowledge, open-mindedness, and stubbornness to meet the stubbornness of those around you. Change doesn’t always come easy, but it’s worth it in the end! Please let me know if you have other tips for innovating in law. I would love to share with everyone.