WASHINGTON, D.C. — While the dominant themes of the International Legal Technology Association’s (ILTA)’s recent 2018 conference (ILTACON) might have seemed like blockchain, artificial intelligence, and innovation, in reality, one clear theme emerged: everyone in law firms, especially attorneys, need to collaborate with new roles and personas in their firms to better drive innovation, value, and profitability for both their clients and firms.
In this two-part blog series, I will look at this dynamic, both in what are these new and emerging roles in law firms (Part 1); and how law firms should involve more traditional roles in innovation projects (Part 2).
As attorneys start working with new types of clients and new forms of payment, they increasingly need to turn to technologists to ensure safety, compliance, and profitability. This discussion was on full display at ILTACON 2018 in several panels and plenaries.
For instance, Deborah Meshulam, a partner at DLA Piper, and Paul Knight, of counsel at Nossaman, warned that attorneys accepting cryptocurrency from clients or working with clients engaged in cannabis product distribution, need to have established specific technology frameworks to ensure compliance with all laws and ethical rules. “You should partner with technology experts at your firm to carefully track the source of funds from cannabis companies and ensure it comes from legal means,” advised Meshulam.
Formerly with the U.S. Attorney’s office for the District of Columbia, Knight suggested keeping stringent records of due diligence completed on the client to catalog that the client was only involved in legal activity in that state. He also suggested staying hyper-aware and up-to-date on distinctions between laws and regulations of each jurisdiction.
Additionally, Meshulam and Knight advised lawyers to immediately convert any bitcoin funds received for escrow into cash to avoid subsequent price fluctuations and potential “reasonableness” of funds arguments. Given this, consulting with your firm’s accounting team may be more necessary than in the past.
Talking to Data Scientists
Data scientists too can help attorneys with efficiencies and innovations both internally and externally. “Data scientists allow attorneys to do what they do best: analyze and synthesize information,” said Aaron Crews, Chief Data Analytics Officer of Littler Mendelson.
In today’s world, attorneys have more data at their fingertips — predictive data, evidence, and new forms of visualization-than ever before. Data scientists can take the data attorneys have in front of them and help the attorneys more rapidly understand, synthesize, and convey that information to a judge, jury, mediator, or client, Crews explained. But beyond just helping attorneys best utilize data — which Crews dubbed “value enablers” — he noted that data scientists can help serve as value creators, helping law firms generate revenue by building new platforms or services for the firm. “Most innovation projects in law firms should be client-facing and actually serve to make a law firm money.”
Data scientists allow attorneys to do what they do best: analyze and synthesize information.
Beyond data analysts and scientists, a firm’s technologists, legal process managers, and client services analysts can help support innovation and value internally as well. These employees can teach attorneys to better understand the profitability of their matters and drive conversations with clients toward more informed decisions.
DLA Piper Chief Delivery Services Officer Paul Nicandri said that his team provides firm partners with information and tools to show the leverage and profitability of each matter, such as a daily-updated partner dashboard or historic pricing databases. This data allows partners to have meaningful conversations with clients around billing and value, and even use a leverage analysis to explain to a client the billing ramifications of insisting a certain timekeeper conduct work on their matter.
Dentons Global Chief Innovation Officer John Fernandez agreed. “Partners can show general counsel how their outside counsel can make their lives easier with the team around them — legal process managers, business analysts, knowledge managers, data scientists, and so forth,” he said. Indeed, general counsel often prefer to see at a pitch the firm’s chief legal officer, anyone on the innovation team, or anyone who can tell the company how innovative the firm is willing to be in changing the previous way it did things.
Microsoft senior attorney Alonzo Barber noted that at this point, in-house departments expect outside counsel to be efficient and use technology to do that, which may necessitate more reliance on those individuals in the firm who have a more detailed and nuanced knowledge of those technologies.
And as use of artificial intelligence (AI) rises in the legal industry, attorneys need to understand the fundamental nature of AI and the impact of the biases within it. Daniel Katz, associate professor at the Chicago-Kent College of Law, suggested attorneys rely on legal technologists — such as those graduating with more training in law and technology from such schools as Chicago-Kent, Michigan State University, or Suffolk University — to understand the inherent biases in decision-making aided by AI.
In Part 2, I will be looking at how and where the more traditional roles in law firms should be involved in every innovation effort for maximum success.