NEW YORK—Change was definitely in the air at the Emerging Legal Technology Forum, being held today in New York City, as Forum Co-Chairs Ralph Baxter and Prof. Phil Malone spoke with attendees about the potential for risk and opportunity in the myriad changes that technology has brought and will continue to bring to the legal industry.
“Technology has the promise to allow massive change in the delivery of legal services,” said Baxter, Chairman of Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute. “Not just cheaper and faster delivery, but better delivery of legal services for the client.”
The Forum, which was themed How Technology and Design Are Changing the Way Law is Practiced and was co-sponsored by Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute and Stanford Law School, featured four panels discussing separate aspects of the how technological innovation is reshaping how legal services are delivered now, by whom, and how that change will continue to progress in the future. Panels included consideration of how technology is already making possible contract automation and impacting the industry’s transactional practice, and how legal analytical tools are allowing for much more comprehensive review of massive amounts of data.
“We are at a moment where the market for the delivery of legal services needs to change,” explained Baxter. “Not just because technology has created new tools to allow it, but because the market is demanding it.” Baxter described how the need for legal services has never been more in demand, yet the cost of delivery of these services has grown exponentially more expensive, especially for large law firms. “Law was never intended to be a billion-dollar business,” he said. “When it began, it was simply professional associations.”
“We are at a moment where the market for the delivery of legal services needs to change. Not just because technology has created new tools to allow it, but because the market is demanding it.”
Prof. Malone, professor of law and director at the Juelsgard Intellectual Property and Innovation Clinic at Stanford Law School, agreed, saying that what is driving these “rather profound changes to the legal system” is not some “shiny new toy” but rather the push for efficiencies from both the clients whenever they outsource or take in-house some piece of business that used to be delegated to large law firms, and from consumers on the lower end of the market who currently have little access to legal services. “This is not technology driven—it is market driven,” said Prof. Malone.
He gave several examples, which were expanded on later in the Forum, on where current technology has taken us in changing the way legal services are delivered. For example, in e-discovery there are already systems of “thinking machines” in place that can learn by doing and refine their approach on future work; also, there are automated bidding systems that allow firms to price their work based on their peers, their past experience and their clients’ needs.
Unfortunately, some legal industry experts dismiss these innovations because they thus far have impacted low-margin, hours-intensive legal work that big law firms may not really miss. But that attitude is a mistake, Prof. Malone said. “The loss of this work may be easy to dismiss, but the principles that apply here are the same that would allow this technology and future technology to advance up the chain,” he noted. “In many cases, technology starts at the bottom and moves up.”
Baxter echoed those comments but noted that this wave of current technological innovation really presents a tremendous opening for the industry to re-invigorate its approach to the delivery of legal services. “Overall, this is a moment of opportunity,” he said. “The table is set, the clients need it, and our ability is present.”