Gillian Hadfield, Author and Law and Economics Professor at University of Southern California. Find her on Twitter @ghadfield.
How did you become involved in legal tech?
I’m an economist as well as a lawyer and about 20 years ago I started asking questions about why law was so expensive, and why it seemed not to be meeting the needs of ordinary people and global businesses alike. The economic problem was pretty obvious: our legal markets are regulated by bar associations in a very restrictive way and as a result have failed to produce the kinds of innovation we need to make law more accessible and responsive to social and economic needs. Legal tech is not the only innovation we need but it’s a critical part. In 2006 I started talking with general counsel at our most innovative technology companies like Google and Cisco about how law can help promote innovation in the economy generally. The surprising answer was by using more of the technology tools we use throughout our businesses and that we are developing for the economy. Cisco’s general counsel, Mark Chandler, told me about internal software Cisco was using to automate non-disclosure agreements and legal review and introduced me to Legal OnRamp, which he created with Paul Lippe in 2007 as a networking and information exchange platform for corporate legal departments.
From there I started talking to and working with as many legal innovators as I could. The access to justice piece began when general counsel at LegalZoom and JustAnswer.com reached out to me in 2011 and I started thinking with them about how to promote legal technology to reduce the cost of legal help for ordinary people. The Hague Institute for the Innovation of Law reached out in 2012 and I began thinking about legal tech to help poor and developing countries. And then I brought my law students into the game, starting with a course on legal innovation at Harvard in 2012 and continuing since then with the USC Legal Design Lab.
What projects have you been focused on recently?
I’ve spent the last year talking a lot about my book, Rules for a Flat World, which lays out the case for changing the rules for how we produce legal goods and services so we can catalyze legal technology. On a practical level, I’ve started focusing a lot on how we’re going to build the legal technology we need to manage the challenges of artificial intelligence and blockchain. I’ve just joined the advisory board for Sagewise, which is a company founded by Amy Wan to create a digital jurisdiction capable of hosting dispute resolution for smart contracts.
I’m also excited about working with the Global Legal Hackathon to take legal innovation to the next level globally. This year we issued the Hadfield Challenges to get the teams worldwide thinking about problems worth solving with legal tech—I hope we can maintain that focus.
Is there a legal tech resource of any kind that you find yourself returning to or that was particularly formative for you?
I’m not a builder of legal tech, but I’m a builder of the environments and rules and people we need to catalyze legal tech and I think I can fairly say I’ve been in the legal tech space from the beginning. And from the beginning I’ve been focused on the most fundamental resources for legal tech—access to both financial and human capital, which our current professional rules severely limit by preventing legal entrepreneurs who are going to “practice law,” as in, deliver goods and services that help people solve legal problems, from seeking funding from ordinary sources (VCs, private equity, stock markets) and from sharing revenues or profits with people who are not JDs. A better set of rules for regulating legal markets is the most important resource for legal tech in my mind—everyone who wants to build legal tech should understand that and join the effort to change the rules.
What technology do you think lawyers could look at in a different way that would benefit society?
For ordinary people, it’s pretty basic: lawyers should be looking at what online platforms and mobile apps can do for law. I think it’s still the case that lawyers are thinking of these technologies in overly limited ways: connecting people to lawyers and documents which then operate in pretty conventional ways. I think we need to be thinking much more radically about how online platforms and apps can help people solve their legal problems—visualizations and scenario-running that can help people make better choices with respect to consumer, employment, family, probate, and credit situations, for example. Most of what people find valuable about lawyers is not the management of a process (although we’ve made that so complex you need a lawyer for it)—it’s helping people evaluate their situation and make better choices. Same is true for business. We need to be looking at how we can use technology tools—including artificial intelligence and blockchain—to solve the underlying problems businesses face, not just how to better manage our existing processes. The iPod didn’t just give you a better way of playing your records or CDs. It completely transformed the relationships between musicians, producers, manufacturers, radio, retailers, and listeners/consumers. It completely transformed the music industry. We should be aiming for that in law.
What advice would you give to other women who want to get involved in legal tech?
Don’t start with the tech. Start with the underlying challenges people and businesses are facing in their lives: keeping their families on an even keel, getting their products to market, making better strategic decisions. If it’s a stereotype that women are problem-solvers, let’s make the most of it—not getting distracted by shiny tech objects. A solid solution to a real problem is what ultimately sells. And then, of course, learn everything you can about how the tech really works—you need to be able to hold your own in a conversation about tech. You don’t have to know how to code or how to solve the complex computational puzzles that miners solve to create new blocks on the blockchain, but you do need to know how to talk intelligently about that with people who do.
Give a shout-out to another woman in legal tech who you admire or have learned something from!
Amy Wan! I’m really a fan of Amy’s smarts, passion, and fearlessness. Plus she’s building what I think could be one of the most transformative bits of legal tech we’ll see.
Feature image from #WOCinTechChat