LONDON — How will we know when legal technology is starting to leave behind the hype and exaggerated promises that seem to have characterized the space since it first started to really take off several years ago?
Here are some things to look for:
1. The conversation becomes more about innovation generally, not just tech.
2. The focus is on customers and their problems, not on the specific solutions offered by technology vendors.
3. Most importantly, the conversation centers on collaboration and partnership, not disruption and obsolescence.
Believe it or not, there is a high-energy legal tech scene that features all of those signs of a growing maturity in the market. It’s in London, and it’s drawing adherents from the rest of Europe and the rest of the world. On October 17, that scene was focused on Legal Geek, the legal tech community and its annual conference by the same name that went down in Shoreditch, the East London neighborhood that has served as London’s answer to Silicon Valley.
Legal Geek, led by the peripatetic Jimmy Vestbirk, follows the TED talk model and juices it up with a high-energy vibe and what seems to be a pretty close-knit community of legal tech startups, complemented with just enough forward-thinkers from the established industry to give it some credibility. More than 40 legal tech startups were available in a “Startup alley” for connections and demos, and most of those were represented in a report published jointly this year by Legal Geek and Thomson Reuters: Movers and Shakers: UK Lawtech Startups.
Although legal tech is certainly catching on globally, what stood out in the London scene were again, the signs of a maturing market as described above. Here are just a few examples taken from the agenda, which consisted of more than 50 speakers:
A year’s progress — Richard Tromans of Artificial Lawyer led off an early session with a review of the past year. His talk centered on four major legal tech stories, all of which center around collaboration and partnership: i) Slaughter and May’s partnership with and investment in new artificial intelligence-based provider, Luminance; ii) the acquisition of AI player RAVN by iManage, effectively bringing AI tools to a wider user base; iii) the integration of Kira Systems’ contract review platform with several alternative legal services providers (ALSPs) such as Axiom, Deloitte and Cognia; and iv) a global first, the expansion of contract management solutions provider Seal Software into Egypt. All were signs of the deeper integration of legal tech into the legal industry itself, and of a broadening geographic range.
Believe it or not, there is a high-energy legal tech scene that features all of those signs of a growing maturity in the market. It’s in London, and it’s drawing adherents from the rest of Europe and the rest of the world.
Tromans also offered up some stats that belie the idea that AI in legal is hype. He found that the 30 top law UK law firms are now using or piloting some form of AI, and all 100 of the top firms are using, piloting or considering it.
Avocado toast: Winning the prize for best props, Noah Waisberg of Kira and Rick Seabrook of Neota Logic brought a toaster, an avocado, and a loaf of bread on stage to construct a metaphor of bricolage, the bringing together of diverse things to create something new. Just as avocado and toast coming together has led to a trendy growth in avocado toast sales, so does the combination of purpose-built legal tech solutions into legal tech solutions into new, valuable combinations represent something of a trend. Exhibit A: The Allens law firm leveraged solutions from expert systems provider Neota Logic, contract review platform Kira, and cloud-based software provider HighQ in order to build its Real Estate Due Diligence App, REDDA. Waisberg and Seabrook also mentioned Akerman’s Data Breach Advisor, built through collaboration between the firm and Neota Logic, with content provided by Thomson Reuters’ Legal Managed Services business.
More blended solutions: Similarly, Reed Smith’s innovation leader Alex Smith spoke of the importance of using blended solutions and finding best-in-breed solutions for each task. The idea of “owning the desktop” is out, as legal organizations now have access to a variety of vendor-provided point solutions that can be reconfigured and combined into their own solutions.
An ecosystem approach: Johnathan Patterson of DWF Ventures, a wholly owned research and development company for the DWF firm, works with clients to find solutions that involve technology or ALSPs. Patterson described an “ecosystem approach” in which not all resources provided to clients need to be “on the payroll” — the firm works with a network of other consultants and providers such as document automation and workflow consultants BAMLegal to find the best solution.
Running with the big dogs: Jim Leason of Thomson Reuters discussed the many ways that larger legacy players like Thomson Reuters are learning to engage with smaller startups. In the past, there have been periods where the large legacy providers’ engagement was limited to simply acquiring smaller players. These days, however, there are any number of ways for startups to engage, including through a global network of laboratories where Thomson Reuters works with customers, tech companies and universities to find new solutions.
Even the regulators and associations are getting into the act: Crispin Passmore from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the UK legal industry’s regulatory body, presented its SRA Innovate initiative, which among other things seeks to encourage innovation that might otherwise be outside the regulatory comfort zone. He spoke of less prescriptive, “client-centric” regulation, supporting new business models and a competitive legal services market. Not to be outdone, Peter Nussey, Director of Innovation at the Law Society — which was one of the major sponsors of the Legal Geek Conference, along with Freshfields and Thomson Reuters — announced that the Society was partnering with the SEEDRS crowdfunding platform to encourage investment in legal tech, including by people in legal services careers who might otherwise be shut out of traditional venture capital investment opportunities. It’s hard to imagine North American regulators and bar associations showing that level of commitment to innovation that could prove competitive with the legacy profession.
In short — for all the shenanigans and high-fiving offered by Legal Geek and its hangers-on — there are real signs of a maturing legal tech market coming out of London. Legal innovation is not a zero-sum game, with the gains of disruptive newcomers necessarily coming at the expense of legacy firms and tech providers. This more mature environment is one in which all of the players can learn to get along and succeed together by doing what they each do best.