Spring 2020 Virtual Legal Conference Highlights: The Times are Ripe for Technology Investment
This spring has been filled with a myriad of virtual conferences. From home, we’ve been given the opportunity to attend more webinars and roundtables than we could physically muster if we weren’t in the midst of a pandemic. Most recently, I attended the Artificial Lawyers’ Legal Innovators Online Conference, CLOC’s Legal Ops 2020: Building the Future of the Legal Function event, and the Legal Value Network’s State of Play of Legal Innovation and Client Value event. There was great content all around, brought by subject matter experts from firms, incubators within firms, in-house counsel, and alternative legal services providers. Throughout these conferences, some noteworthy trends have bubbled to the surface in terms of technology innovation within the legal industry.
Specifically, everyone is vying for a slice of the action. According to Bloomberg, investment in legal tech soared past $1 billion in 2019, landing at $1.23 billion in funding by Q3 2019. The Legal Innovators Online conference smartly sliced each day by looking at supply and demand for this funding cycle, focusing attention on alternative legal service providers one day, in-house counsel on another, with law firms rounding out the agenda. Each day showcased the legal technology innovations supporting lawyers and clients.
CLOC and LVN panelists amplified this story: Driven by in-house client demand, the same themes came up — repeatedly — in terms of allocating technology investment. This included not only firms growing their own solutions and incubating products, but also legal tech vendors and alternative providers productizing their solutions.
Two key areas of focus stood out across conferences:
- Client-Facing Software: Virtualization has only helped the cause for client-facing software that provides more transparency into the work and the relationship between in-house teams and their outside firms.
- Augmentation: The advantages are well documented for efficiency gains and revenue growth; however, with the pressure from in-house on rates and showing value, the need for augmentation is only exacerbated by the business effects of COVID-19. The opportunity is clear, and now is the time for lawyers to get on board with accelerating well-established tasks through technology. Many panelists noted that the added structure provided by augmenting tasks helps to drive value. Notably, investment in this area applies to six different tasks:
- Contract review
- Expert workflows and templates
- Data extraction
- Just-in-time-knowledge, also known as predictive analytics
- Drafting assistance
- Data structure creation, and surfacing more data
With respect to realizing the benefits of this investment at the firm, there are a few lessons to learn from those who have already walked the path. The good — albeit anecdotal — news is that lawyer adoption of technology is on the rise. It had to happen, but — like other things — the pandemic has forced the issue. Collaboration software has opened the door for lawyer technology adoption, as the need and importance of using this software couldn’t be clearer.
The current climate is presenting a nice opportunity for firms to accelerate technology investment and adoption. However, certain elements remain at play and should be taken into consideration before diving in.
- Align Output to Business Value: To gain support from stakeholders, it’s important to frame output in terms of business value, in order to establish a point of departure. From there, you can identify what you want to solve for, and create a baseline to measure success. Using data ethnography — watching the way the function works — is one way to do this; it’s a best-practice methodology used within software development, especially around AI. It helps to get at the meat between what we say we do and what we actually do — essentially, it’s getting to the heart of the problem where technology can help.
- Decentralize Innovation: Progress doesn’t happen in a vacuum, so innovation should not be a centralized function. Rather, a dispersed calling across functions and stakeholders is a key driver of fruitful and timely innovation.
- Co-Develop with Technology Partners: Building alongside technology partners and continuing to highlight business value — and what problems you are solving — helps maintain focus.
- Educate Internal Stakeholders: From the onset of an initiative, continuously educate internal stakeholders. Start with creating awareness, and keep stakeholders in the loop as the project progresses to show best use and instill confidence.
- Create a Feedback Loop: More data generates more questions; many firms find it’s valuable to creating a feedback loop capturing insights into fundamental business value, needs, and usage. On the upside, the more data you have, the better the questions you can ask.
We’re optimistic that increased lawyer adoption to technology is on an upward trend along with investment in innovation. And we’re confident that these themes will position the legal market to align with technology trends in other industries. Stay tuned for our next Pulse Survey as we look to quantify these outcomes.