Legaltech 2015, Part 2: Room for the Newbies: The Stages of Technological Innovation

Topics: ediscovery, Government, Law Firms, Thomson Reuters

(This is the second part of David Curle’s coverage of the Legaltech 2015 conference. Read the first part of his coverage here.)

CodeX, the Stanford Center for Legal Informatics (with whom Thomson Reuters has an ongoing partnership), had a special presence at Legaltech this year. CodeX is (among other things) a center of legal startup activity in Silicon Valley, and this year it struck a deal with Legaltech to sponsor a section of the exhibit floor devoted to 10 new startups, who were provided with free booth space (that they would not otherwise have likely spent money on). CodeX also sponsored a separate track of conference sessions devoted to innovation in legal technology on the final day of the conference. Details about the Codex presence here: CodeX at LegalTechNYC Conference.

The first panel in the Codex track—featuring a collection of forward-looking judges, academics and technologists—took the deepest dive into the more distant future. They addressed topics that are hot but still a ways off in widespread practical application, such as computable contracts and the implications of a more open legal information and computing environment. Vermont Law School’s Oliver Goodenough brought it all down to Earth with a three-stage description of how he saw technological change coming to law:

  1. Legaltech 1.0—Technology empowers the current players. This is where we are today. As Goodenough put it, “it’s here, it’s now, it’s almost over.” This is all about lawyers using better tools to carry out their existing roles more efficiently (think online legal research, practice management, and document automation). “The Legaltech show itself is 1.0”
  2. Legaltech 2.0Technology replaces activities now carried out by current players. This is where we start to see things like predictive analytics and expert systems supplementing and replacing parts of lawyers’ work. It’s also where the traditional rules around what constitutes legal practice and who can perform it will be challenged and neutered.
  3. Legaltech 3.0Technology overturns the system itself and replaces it. This is still a long way off, but this is where machines really start to take over, and lawyers become the knowledge engineers behind technology-based processes. There’s still a big need for lawyers, but large swaths of the legal system itself are automated and functionally very different from traditional legal practice.

CodeX startups: Still mostly Legaltech 1.0 and 2.0.

The startups that exhibited at the Codex Pavilion were a pretty good cross-section of some of the early-stage startups trying to break into the legal market, with offerings for law firms, clients, or other players in the legal ecosystem, but most are still in the early stages of Goodenough’s three-stage progression.

Docket Alarm (https://www.docketalarm.com), legal research tool providing analytics and predictions for PTAB and SCOTUS.

IPNexus (https://www.ipnexus.com), a global, online services marketplace for intellectual property that links startups, inventors, SMEs  (small and medium-sized enterprises), universities, research institutes and other entities with lawyers, patent attorneys, patent agents and other professionals offering professional advice and services.

Lawdingo (http://www.lawdingo.com), handles the marketing, screening, intake, routing, connection, payment process and follow-up in the attorney/client engagement process.

MeWe (http://www.mewe.org), a company that provides a collaborative workflow tool that improves public health and safety by making inspections easier, faster, and better.

One400 (http://one-400.com), a digital marketing agency devoted to the legal industry.

PatentVector (http://www.patentvector.com), a company which has scrapped the entire global patent registry and is building a valuation engine based on network property analysis.

Plainlegal (https://www.plainlegal.com), a legal technology company that provides a cloud-based software that handles paralegal work, including client intake, document assembly, filing and docketing.

Priori Legal (http://priorilegal.com), a platform for businesses to find, hire and pay for legal services.

Shakelaw (http://www.shakelaw.com), a platform making the law accessible, understandable and affordable for consumers and small businesses.

Wizdocs (http://www.wizdocs.net/2012), a company providing a software solution that makes corporate transactions and legal document management more efficient and cost effective.

There’s really a lot of variety here. Some are marketplaces that link clients with lawyers and other advisors (IPNexus, Lawdingo, Priori Legal); while others automate and improve existing processes performed by lawyers or their employees (Wizdocs, Docket Alarm, Plainlegal). Others are targeted to people who aren’t lawyers, bringing technology to tasks that are legal-related but don’t usually involve a lawyer (Shakelaw, MeWe).

These 10 startups are just the tip of the iceberg of new tech companies entering the legal market (and attracting significant investment). Tuning into Codex and its stable of startups, and paying attention to where lawyers-turned-entrepreneurs are finding opportunities, will go a long way toward helping practitioners and firm leaders understand where some of the frontiers of change in the industry will be coming from.

Part 2 of 2