Legal Geek North America: Standards and Platforms Will Knit Legal Tech Together

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BROOKLYN — The moveable feast that is Jimmy Vestbirk’s Legal Geek Event/ Community/Zeitgeist rolled into Brooklyn late last month. The event featured rapid-fire 8 to 10 minute TED Talk-style presentations from about 60 speakers in addition to a lively networking scene.

The talks were wide-ranging, presenting ideas and business plans that addressed everything under the sun including new industry business models; embedding law in technology solutions; the demands of client corporations who are digitizing everything including legal work; the #DoLessLaw movement and lawyers working at the “high-end of their licenses;” talent solutions for getting the right lawyer on the right work; law firm practice groups constituting portfolios of separate businesses; and the challenges of law firms working with legal tech startups.

Not surprisingly, it’s a jumble. And it all left the impression that much of legal tech and the new thinking about the legal industry is excellent, but fragmented and disconnected.

Later in the day, when blood-sugar levels were drooping, Clio’s Joshua Lenon, cut through the tech-speak fog nicely when he pronounced: “We are building, and we are building well, but we are not building together.” The fragmentation, siloed point solutions, and lack of interoperability we see today is the result of not working hard enough to put standards — not just tech standards, but legal standards as well — at the heart of legal tech development.

Suddenly the Legal Geek’s big theme seemed more apparent. Everyone so far had been talking about discrete software, data, legal operations, and business issues — but only a few were talking about knitting it all together. Those who did address this theme in their talks included:

  • Christian Lang, Head of Strategy at Reynan Court and head of the NY Legal Tech Meetup group, who spoke on the power of platforms. Reynan Court is building, in partnership with a consortium of major law firms, an app store and services automation platform that will allow firms to deploy containerized computer applications from multiple legal tech vendors.

  • Dan Jenson of Denton’s venture capital arm, NextLaw Ventures, gave a talk about what VCs really think about your legal tech startup pitch. But he also noted the current environment where hundreds of overlapping point solutions, each with its own interface and poor interoperability, don’t play well with the rest of the user’s workflow. He, too, sees the industry “evolving to platforms” that will whittle down the number of vendors and interfaces that lawyers will have to deal with.

  • Irish McIntyre, Head of Legal Product Strategy & Legal Tech Innovation at Thomson Reuters, addressed TR’s plans for an open legal platform — a rising tide that would lift all boats. (See graphic) Such an open legal platform will bring transparency and interconnectedness to the tools and data that lawyers use every day. It will be a common platform linking firms, clients, tech providers, governments, and all other providers together with common technical, legal, and workflow standards. Thomson Reuters also demonstrated its new Litigation Analytics API as an example of this “new open” platform.

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  • Tim Pullan, Founder and CEO of ThoughtRiver, provided a look at Lexible, a contract description framework that underpins the company’s contract analysis solution. Lexible is an ontology that includes thousands of questions about contracts that can be applied to pre-screen a given contract in order to build a detailed picture of obligations and rights within an agreement. Lexible also is fully extensible to accommodate different types of agreements.

Legal Geek underscored that the players in legal tech have not always played well together; not necessarily out of malice but out of a lack of experience in deploying technology on a larger scale. Accomplishing this, of course, will increasingly require the establishment of standards and new levels of cooperation among players. This standards work will require tech companies to first get underneath all the workflow, data, and applications employed by their companies, and sort out the industry-standard ways of doing things.

It’s not an easy task, but with some leadership and some cooperation all around, there is hope that the rising tide will lift all boats, and the fragmentation and silo-dwelling will turn into more coordinated, cross-industry development cycles by the time future Legal Geek events roll around.