Back in 2014, venture capitalists Bob Goodman and Josh Harder (now serving California’s tenth district in the House of Representatives) wrote that the client experience for most law firms had remained stagnant for the past five decades. They argued the billion-dollar legal sector was primed for innovation and, as investors, showcased a few legaltech companies in their own portfolio.
Since that article’s publication, the legaltech sector has blossomed, reshaping the industry’s landscape to appear far different than it was fifty, or even five years ago. But despite the rapid change, we’re still stoutly in the midst of it—the law market hasn’t completely modernized just yet.
We still have yet to see a major legal tech company score an IPO (though some experts predict 2019 will be the year), but the more damning evidence is that most law firms are still hesitant to embrace new technology. But why?
As a UX design agency whose relationship with user research borders on obsession, we recently attended the American Bar Association’s 2019 Tech Show to learn what obstacles were stopping law firms from embracing new technology (and to show off some of our legal tech solutions as well).
We discovered there were quite a few misconceptions concerning legal tech circulating, so we took the top five we heard, listed them out, and refuted them for you. Here are five common myths about law firms modernizing, and why they’re exactly that: myths.
This has been the longstanding response to the mass adoption of advanced legal tech solutions, a falsehood entrenched in the industry’s notoriously traditional old guard.
And in their defense, it makes sense: most legal experts and law firms bill clients at an hourly rate. If you’re using, say, an eDiscovery solution that turns four hours of work into four minutes, that’s money out of your pocket.
But when you consider that efficiency legal tech adds to your processes, where that profit reappears is evident. It obviously betters the attorney-client relationship, as the cost isn’t billed to the client, which results in a healthier, more profitable practice.
But it also helps by allowing talented attorneys to focus their time and energy on the legal work that actually requires their attention, the ones that factor much more in the profitability of their firm than the tedious, time-consuming tasks inherent to the legal process.
Long story short: what makes a firm profitable isn’t the time spent on the mundane and repetitive tasks—it’s the time attorneys have more energy to distinguish themselves from their competition.
Similar to the profitability of legal tech, many attorneys and law firms balk at the idea of entrusting potentially fallible technology with incredibly high-stakes tasks, decisions, and processes. Even a small technical difficulty could result in disastrous consequences for both the firm and their clients.
Again, a reasonable argument, but one that misses the point of prudent, intelligent user experience design. Failsafes and redundancies are pillars of a well-designed platform, especially ones used in potentially risky situations.
Other industries that operate in high stakes situations, where failure is a matter of life and death, have embraced digital transformation in a way the legal sector hasn’t. Airlines, construction firms, and hospitals have all adopted new technology in a way to make themselves safer and less prone to risk. They recognize the need for humans and machines working in tandem, and implementing a system of checks and balances between the two.
The same applies to the law sector. Legal tech isn’t here to replace lawyers—in fact, it can’t. Most legal tech solutions exist to streamline the rote and mundane necessities of a lawyer’s workload and to assist in the parts of the job that still require a human. There exists machine error and human error, but entities that pair the two can minimize both.
The legal tech solutions I’ve referenced in this article specifically deal with process automation and eDiscovery. These are two of the key areas in the legal sector that Goodman and Harder identified as ripe for innovation, and their prediction proved to be correct—both are by far the most popular applications for legaltech yet.
Some attorneys then dismiss legal tech as a whole—why pay for newfangled technology when they can get by just fine with a jury-rigged version of Microsoft Excel?
The answer? Because to say that legaltech is only helping with the paperwork aspect of practicing law is to miss its full potential.
Last December, Law.com gathered a few industry experts to predict which legal tech applications would breach into the mainstream in 2019. Their answers were well-informed and more importantly, incredibly diverse.
“Mobile devices will automatically capture email interactions with clients—recovering billable time that used to be lost,” said Alex Babin, of Zero. “The device’s accelerometer will even detect when you’re working or paused. Manual time-entry will go the way of the fax document.”
And Rick Merrill, of Gavelytics, predicted that “legal analytics—and specifically, judicial analytics—can really super-charge a litigation strategy. Very soon, no Am Law 100 litigation department in the country will dare send an attorney into the courtroom without actionable intel on the presiding judge.”
Whether some or all of their prognostications come to fruition, one thing is certain: legaltech is going to be doing much more than automatic filing, very soon.
Other than potentially saving costs on their legal bills, many attorneys don’t see how a legaltech solution could directly benefit the consumer. And after all, wouldn’t a client prefer to interact with a human during their legal case than a portal or AI?
In reality, consumers not only want—they expect— their legal counsel to have the latest tech at their disposal. Take it from Mihui Pak, the Vice President of Product for legaltech company LegalMation.
“A common complaint of clients, is that they do not want to pay high hourly rates for a junior associate to carry out routine, repetitive tasks. They are, however, willing to pay significantly for the judgement, strategy, and creativity of experienced attorneys. By building products that take care of the routine, repetitive tasks, we are freeing up attorneys’ time and energy and allowing them to focus on higher value work that clients want to pay for and that lawyers actually want to do.”
Those eight words are the last line of defense when someone stands against change, and I don’t think I have to tell you it’s not a particularly strong defense. The status quo, while comfortable, impedes progress and quashes innovation.
And this isn’t innovation for innovation’s sake. Just last year, a survey conducted by the Conser Group found that 69 percent of legal professionals reported that their legal technology infrastructure “did not meet their needs.” There exists in the legal sector not a hole to be filled, but a problem to be solved. And as a UX design and development agency, we’re here to help make that happen.