FutureLaw 2016: Pragmatic True Believers Assemble at Stanford to Explore the World Ahead

Topics: Access to Justice, Corporate Legal, Law Firms, Legal Innovation, Stanford Law School

STANFORD, Calif. — More than 250 spirited participants assembled for the fourth convening of the annual CodeX FutureLaw 2016 conference. Organized by Stanford Law School’s CodeX center, the conference provided uniquely detailed and up-to-the-minute insights into the issues surrounding the impact of technology on the modernization of legal service.

Thomson Reuters’ David Curle has written an excellent account of the substance of the FutureLaw sessions for this blog, which anyone interested in legal technology should read. In this post, I want to talk about the spirit of FutureLaw and its participants. As a new fellow at CodeX, I was honored and excited to be part of FutureLaw again this year.

A True Phenomenon

There is no conference quite like FutureLaw. From the pre-conference coffee in the law school courtyard to the closing reception, the event has an energy and vitality all its own and brings together a diverse set of participants from across the entire ecosystem of legal service. The participants often have quite different perspectives, but share one common belief: Technology has the promise to transform the way legal service is delivered. Participants include lawyers from the public and private sectors, “new entrants” to legal service, engineers and other technologists, as well as policy makers, investors, academics and journalists. Each participant is deeply into his or her facet of law and technology and arrives ready to engage.

The agenda addresses a thoughtfully-chosen set of issues that range from overarching policy questions to granular and practical details. The key to this dimension of the conference is Roland Vogl, Executive Director of CodeX, who brings to his work a command of legal technology and a determination to present a balanced and comprehensive program each year. FutureLaw would not be the same without his leadership.

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The speakers and panelists reflect the broad diversity and deep experience of the attendees. Each panel involves a range of outlooks on the topic; and each panelist and speaker brings genuine experience and valuable insights.

Illustrations of the FutureLaw Spirit 2016

Here are some moments from FutureLaw 2016 that illustrate its spirit.

Sandman Keynote — The conference opened with a keynote from Jim Sandman, former managing partner of Arnold & Porter, who now serves as president of the Legal Services Corporation (LSC). Sandman delivered a moving portrayal of the shortcomings of our system in serving the needs of our citizens, with a detailed analysis of the challenges and potential solutions. It set a tone for the urgency of drawing on technology to improve the way legal service is delivered.

Hartman’s Presentation — Eddie Hartman, co-founder of LegalZoom, followed Sandman with a colorful, cogent and entertaining assessment of the potential risks and benefits of permitting investment in law firms by participants who are not themselves licensed to practice law. By analogy to other learned endeavors — from medicine to pharmaceuticals to aerospace — he artfully made the case for permitting broader participation in the financial outcome of law firms.

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Legal Tech Data Base and Legal Tech Link — CodeX unveiled the result of a longstanding project to create, maintain and publish a comprehensive taxonomy of the dimensions and participants in legal tech. This is a much-needed resource for all who share an interest in legal technology. The work that went into assembling this database and that will go further into keeping it up to date, all with the imprimatur of reliability that CodeX brings to it, is indicative of the FutureLaw spirit.

Computational Law and Cognitive Computing — Two separate panels presented detailed assessments of the current and near future impact of technology in the actual performance of legal service. These sessions plunged below the surface, getting beyond the theoretical to the actual.

Barriers to Legal Tech Adoption — Similarly, one session addressed why the pace of adoption of legal technology is not faster, and what can be done to speed it up. The panel (in which I participated) got into specific and hard questions, from the way start-ups approach their work, to the ways traditional lawyers approach theirs, to the natural and artificial market and regulatory barriers.

From the opening keynote to the final panel, the conversation at FutureLaw 2016 was specific, expert and candid. Everyone left better informed and intent on pursuing the shared mission of engaging technology to improve the way legal service is delivered.