After nearly 20 years of steady innovation-focused primarily on e-discovery, legal technology appears to be entering a new phase. While the legal profession as a whole is still somewhat skeptical of technology and wary of change—especially when compared to other industries—most lawyers now accept the premise that automation and process optimization are essential to managing law firms and legal departments more efficiently in a dynamic, hypercompetitive business environment that is increasingly data-driven.
Our understanding, however, of what makes automation effective is changing. For years legal organizations have had to make do with tools that are expensive, complex, difficult to use, and inflexible. They have learned that investments in technology can be a trap, with hidden costs, built-in obsolescence, and dependency on vendors to configure, maintain, and upgrade products. Over the years, they have purchased multiple applications to address specific pain points, but these tools rarely “talk” to each other and can’t easily share data, requiring workarounds and disjointed workflows.
Law firms and their corporate clients are under tremendous pressure to provide more value for less and to be more accountable to stakeholders. This pressure is also being felt acutely in the legal technology sector, where companies seeking a path to sustainable success will need to adapt their business models to rapidly changing market conditions and customer requirements.
As a long-term veteran of the legal industry who has worked on both the vendor and the client-side, I see a remarkably clear picture emerging from my conversations with consumers of legal technology. While specific requirements vary considerably from one organization to another, they are remarkably consistent in their priorities:
Ease of use.
This is the most important requirement for firms and legal departments, and I expect it to be the driving force behind all innovation for many years to come. This isn’t just about developing well-designed tools that are simple and elegant and require no particular technical skill or know-how to deploy effectively. Ease of use also means a dramatic reduction in the number of tools organizations require, and seamless integration of applications within a single platform and interface (more on those requirements below). The best way to overcome the resistance to technology and reluctance to change that have characterized the legal industry for so long is to create an outstanding user interface and user experience while increasing the power of the technology to manage data and simplify workflows.
Over the past decade, we’ve learned that building more applications to address individual pain points is a short-sighted approach to automation and ultimately adds to the complexity of legal workflows. A focus on applications means we have too many tools to learn and adapt to, we are frequently moving data from one tool to another, and we are constantly logging into and out of multiple applications. It also means that sensitive data is more susceptible to loss and spoliation. As the number of tools increases, the strain on IT resources to stitch the applications and workflows together also increases.
Comprehensive e-discovery covering every phase of the EDRM in a single platform is finally becoming a reality, but we shouldn’t be satisfied with that. Increasingly, legal organizations are realizing they need a platform that supports a virtually unlimited range of legal workflows in a single interface. Applications will still be an important part of the landscape, and they will still proliferate, but a client-centric approach demands that we shift our focus to the integration of applications.
Scalable, extensible platform architecture.
Increasingly, clients want technology designed for maximum flexibility, easy configuration and maintenance, and rapid customization and application development. Innovations like cloud-based software-as-a-service and N+1 architecture allow organizations to rapidly scale up and expand capabilities without impacting day-to-day operations. Web API enables fast development and deployment of new applications. The legal technology platform of the future must allow firms and law departments to readily adapt to evolving technical and business requirements—whether they do so with the assistance of a vendor or on their own.
Advanced technologies built into the platform.
Artificial intelligence technologies like machine learning, natural language processing, and data analytics must be included in legal technology platforms rather than dangled as extras for an additional cost. The utility and power of these technologies have the potential to transform the industry if organizations can apply them—at a reasonable, predictable, and sustainable cost—to workflows where they make the most sense. These capabilities are game-changers that can be applied to nearly every facet of legal operations and litigation, whether it’s ECA and TAR in discovery or billing and invoicing or long-term multi-matter management. AI and analytics help organizations leverage data to understand the details of their operations, monitor trends, refine processes, and predict budget and resource requirements.
Simple, transparent, and sustainable pricing.
Market forces will soon force technology vendors to abandon complex licensing agreements, itemization of technology enhancements, per-document fees and other arrangements that make it difficult for legal organizations to predict and control technology-related costs. All-inclusive pricing will become increasingly attractive to consumers of legal technology and a key differentiator.
Technology vendors in the legal space are learning that a transactional approach to client relationships is self-defeating in the long run. The industry is changing, and clients are driving the change. It’s time to listen.