ABA TECHSHOW 2018: The End of History and the Rise of Legal Ops

Topics: American Bar Association, Artificial Intelligence, Business Development & Marketing Blog Posts, Client Relations, Cybersecurity, Data Analytics, Efficiency, Legal Innovation, Midsize Law Firms Blog Posts, Small Law Firms


CHICAGO — The American Bar Associaton’s (ABA’s) TECHSHOW 2018 conference held earlier this month brought together legal professionals and technology around central concepts of integration, impacting the business of law and the rising importance of the legal operations function at many law firms.

In past years, the ABA TECHSHOW has been mostly about solo practitioners, small law firms, cool tools, and Apple MacOS and iOS-centric law practice management. But the past few years I have attended the meeting, TECHSHOW has increasingly dispensed information on integrating technology into the business and practice of law, albeit the conference still sports a Mac Track of sessions.

The keynote speaker, Daniel Martin Katz, a professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law, shared his observations on the legal industry. “The law is not working for the clients we serve,” Katz said, adding that “as a field, the law fails to deliver value, commensurate with the cost, to clients.” He then stopped short and announced, “The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.” From there, the Daniel Katz show took off.

Historically, the law field centers on subject matter expertise and not operational excellence, said Katz, but the “road to redemption is through operational excellence.” The law has long considered performance contingent on pedigree, where performance is not rigorously measured, he explained, adding, however, that makes competing in the legal services marketplace and selling professional services difficult — it’s easier to sell legal innovation ideas and products.

Katz then offered up six vectors for legal innovation that included “productization” of legal knowledge, process improvement, AI and legal analytics, and smart monetization.

Daniel Martin Katz of Chicago-Kent College of Law

I wish Katz’s keynote speech had actually opened the conference so I would have had his notes and observations to guide me in selecting from more than 90 educational sessions and reviewing more than 120 exhibits in the Expo Hall. Instead, the second annual Startup Pitch Competition began the conference, featuring come-ons from 14 legal technology startups. A social media data analytics provider, Voluble, won the contest for its technology in creating trial exhibits from consumer posts that discuss products, manufacturers, and purchasing decisions. Voluble marshals the data to evidence anti-competitive behavior, deceptive advertising, secondary meaning, the likelihood of confusion and dilution, and more.

Two pitch contestants, Digitory Legal and Qualmet, appeared out of place at the conference, which again, had its roots in solos and small firms. The startups market to large law firms and corporations and operate along vectors of legal innovation that Katz identified; namely, process improvement and smart monetization using metrics-centric performance measurements. Digitory Legal collects and analyzes billing data from traditional law firms and corporate legal departments to discern industry trends and understand what matters cost in order to create fee arrangements that account for all variables. Qualmet is a Web and mobile platform that allows corporate legal departments and outside counsel to measure and benchmark performance to drive business value.

Besides those two startups, e-discovery provider ZyLAB showcased its Web-based ZyLAB ONE eDiscovery, which the McLean, Va.-based company offers to law firms and corporate legal departments of any size. ZyLAB ONE supports all the functions of the Electronic Discovery Reference Model (EDRM), including collection, processing and analytics, early case assessment, document review, and production. And it uses the latest techniques in artificial intelligence for machine learning and predictive coding. ZyLAB ONE is easy to deploy in Microsoft Azure, integrates with Office 365, supports workflow automation to enhance productivity, and has plugins that address areas of concern for every corporation, including antitrust, bribery, and the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). With sophisticated but easy-to-use features, ZyLAB’s e-discovery products are used in Fortune 1000 companies, courts, government agencies, and law firms worldwide.

NetDocuments exhibited its cloud platform for document and email management and its forthcoming ndMail product at TECHSHOW. The cloud platform is compelling for small and large law firms and corporations for its collaboration tools, integration with Office 365, file and device synchronization, geo-aware storage, and support for regulatory compliance, document-level encryption, and mobile access via Apple iOS and Google Android apps. NetDocuments has more than 2,000 global customers that enhance their productivity from the Lehi, Utah-based company’s secure access to documents and email from any device, anytime.

ABA Techshow

These startups and others show that the law technology field is becoming more metrics-centric, and the technologies to measure performance and improve processes are becoming more standardized via the Web and easier to use. As vendors develop business models for any size organization, they will come to TECHSHOW to offer their wares to solos and small law firms. Otherwise, vendors will miss a vast market opportunity since the majority of lawyers in the US practice in firms with 20 or fewer attorneys.

Educational Sessions

To be sure, solos and small firms and corporate legal departments have the same problems as Big Law and corporate legal departments in Fortune 500 companies. That much was evident in TECHSHOW’s educational sessions. Many educational sessions and Continuing Legal Education (CLE) programs at TECHSHOW could appear at any legal conference. They addressed concerns to lawyers and legal professionals in any size organization.

TECHSHOW’s educational tracks included Advanced IT, Cybersecurity, Litigation, Practice in the Cloud, and Process Management. Sessions focused on business development and digital marketing strategies, cloud technologies, safeguarding data, e-discovery, key performance indicators (KPIs) to increase law firm profitability, and advanced technology, such as artificial intelligence, Blockchain, even Virtual Reality for training and professional development.

Not surprisingly, the sessions on cyber insurance and ransomware were of particular interest to attendees. Sharon D. Nelson, president of Sensai Enterprises, and Judy Selby, principal at Judy Selby Consulting, provided the basics of cyber insurance regarding coverage, cost, and who’s buying it. Jason McNew, CEO of Stronghold Cyber Security, and John Simek, vice president of Sensei Enterprises, discussed how ransomware attacks occur in law firms of any size, where criminals encrypt client files and demand payment for their release. Even after payment, said Simek, there is only a 50% chance you will receive the keys to decrypt the ransomed data. Endpoint: don’t pay; put your money into prevention, detection, and backup and disaster recovery.