Open, Connected, Standards-based: The Digitally Transformed Legal Industry Comes into Focus at the Emerging Legal Technology Forum

Topics: Artificial Intelligence, Corporate Legal, Data Analytics, Efficiency, Emerging Legal Technology Forum, Law Firms, Legal Executive Events, Legal Innovation, Legal Managed Services, Midsize Law Firms Blog Posts, Practice Engineering, Process Management, Thomson Reuters

Emerging Legal Technology Forum

TORONTO, Ont. — The idea of digital transformation is one that is rattling around the legal industry at an increasing rate over the past several months — and this year’s Legal Executive Institute’s 2019 Emerging Legal Technology Forum, was no exception, making digital transformation its overarching theme.

The annual event provides a chance for leaders from all over the legal industry, including law firms, in-house counsel, and technology providers, to take a step back from the day-to-day and assess how well the industry is moving along toward a more digital future.

For participants, the big lesson learned this time around was that an industry going digital has many moving parts, and that a fully digital industry will require the participation and engagement of all parts of the industry. That includes firms, clients, tech providers, individual lawyers, and allied professionals, all working together, but perhaps in re-jiggered constellations.

Many aspects of digital transformation rose to the surface during the conference: human change management, technology, business models, and the client perspective. Three key themes came through during the event: culture change, interoperability, and customer experience.

Cultural Change

The Forum started off with a very lively and candid panel discussion about the challenges legal organizations face as they move toward a digital future. Law firms and corporate legal departments are dealing with a variety of emerging technologies. At the same time, their organizations are finding new, mobile, and collaborative workstyles. As session moderator Karen Wiltgen, a principal at RSM US pointed out, this is all leading to a new transparency in relationships between colleagues, between firms and clients, and between legal organizations and their technology vendors.

Several panelists drove home the importance of bringing everyone on board in challenging the way legal work is performed and offered examples from their own environments.

Ross Paolino, Counsel & Director of Strategy, Digital & Innovation at Western Union, described his company’s process for rebuilding its contracting process, much of which involved education (including building and implementing playbooks), and standardization of data, including things like categorizing work so that the right people were doing the right job. Paolino’s main point was that yes, technology is an element of this change, but ultimately the changes to human processes is where the biggest impact is felt.

Carlos Gamez, Client & Partner Lead in Legal Tech Innovation at Thomson Reuters, summed up the session nicely in a tweet: “Digital Transformation goes well beyond digitizing analog processes. It involves rethinking processes, enabling w/ tech and adjusting culture and organizational capabilities to draw adoption. The key word is transformation and not digital.”


One of the bigger topics discussed at the Forum was the emerging interest in various types of platforms in the legal industry. Platforms address the industry-wide problem that a lot of players in legal tech simply do not play well together. In some ways , this is because the legal tech industry is becoming a victim of its own success.

Emerging Legal Technology Forum

Attendees listen in at the Legal Executive Institute’s 2019 Emerging Legal Technology Forum, held recently in Toronto.

A decade or so ago, legal technology was limited to a few major applications: practice management, legal research, and timekeeping. The explosion of new legal tech providers in the 2010s presented significant challenges to traditional legal organizations, including figuring out how to evaluate technology in their own firms, long sales cycles, difficulty integrating applications with other applications into coherent workflows, and getting data from all these new systems into standardized forms to allow applications to work with data from customers and from other applications.

In a session on legal tech platforms, representatives from three companies offered various types of platforms aimed to address customers’ interoperability problems. Alex Shipillo, Director in Growth Marketing for Clio, for example, noted that Clio’s platform offers infrastructure, while the various application developers build out the last mile of unique value proposition of their offerings. Shipillo also emphasized that Clio is targeted to the small law market.

On the other hand, Andrew Klein, Founder & CEO of Reynen Court, said his company is working to serve larger firms, especially those with the relatively larger headaches that occur when selecting, purchasing, and deploying software. And Rawia Ashraf, Product Lead in Tech Innovation for Thomson Reuters, presented the company’s (post-High Q acquisition) vision of a platform driven on the workflow and customer experience end of things, with standardization not just of data and functionality, but also of legal work itself.

Panelists Andrea L. Alliston, a Partner & Leader in Knowledge Management at Stikeman Elliott; and Zena Applebaum, Director of Customer Insights & Engagement at Thomson Reuters Legal for Tax & Accounting Canada, represented the customers’ point of view, saying that the idea of standardization of data is really the bigger part of the interoperability problem, rather than the technology itself.

Overall, it became clear that today, law firms and legal departments are operating in isolation, using their own nomenclatures and their own data models. That must change if the industry is to effectively adopt these new platforms.

Customer Experience

Unfortunately, a lot of these discussions of digital transformation tend to take place in the heads of technologists, leaders of innovations, legal operations specialists, and futurists of all kinds.

Sometimes that thinking fails to consult the very people who’ll actually need to use the tools that the innovators are building. At the Forum, a whole session was devoted to lessons learned by firms that are building tools and getting them into the hands of the people who are supposed to benefit from them — the lawyers and their clients working on legal problems.

Elizabeth Evans, Senior Manager in Knowledge Management, Legal at TD Bank, discussed the bank’s matter management system, which plays a central role in knowledge management within the firm. Other panelists mentioned examples of new drafting tools and processes, document analysis, CRM systems, a matter intake portal. Now, the thought is that firms are really making progress in addressing end-user concerns, not just throwing technology at problems. They are actively engaging the users of the systems — lawyers or their clients — in designing systems and re-engineering processes.

In his wrap-up of the conference, Pablo Rodriguez, VP in Strategy and Commercial Policy at Thomson Reuters Canada, put a positive spin on the litany of challenges that panelists and audience members recited throughout the day.

Rodriguez said that the drudgery of much of legal work, limited cooperation from lawyers, bad data, barriers to evaluation and adoption of new technology, etc. — all of these things, are opportunities for everyone in the room. And the fact that so many legal industry participants were engaged on this topic, he added, means that there is progress to be celebrated.