LegalTech NY 2016: Is the Legal Industry Getting the Most from its Technology?

Topics: Corporate Legal, ediscovery, Law Firms, Legal Managed Services

technology

NEW YORK — Last week’s LegalTech New York 2016 saw a heavy emphasis on the potentials and pitfalls of current legal technology — especially ediscovery — as well as a questioning of whether technology itself is best being applied and utilized to the benefit of law firms and their clients.

LegalTech New York 2016 also saw the formal launch of Thomson Reuters’ new ediscovery product, eDiscovery Point, which was unveiled and demonstrated throughout the three-day event. (For more on the multi-firm collaboration that helped create eDiscovery Point, click here. For more information on the product itself, visit Thomson Reuters’ Legal Solutions.)

As a run-up to the launch of eDiscovery Point, Thomson Reuters featured panels at LegalTech New York 2016 that surveyed the current landscape of legal technology and discussed the current technological innovations evolving in search strategies within ediscovery.

Re-Thinking Legal Work

In one such panel, entitled “How Is the New What: Re-thinking Legal Work”, Joe Borstein and Edward Sohn, both Global Directors for Thomson Reuters’ Legal Managed Solutions and co-authors of the “alt.legal” column at the Above the Law blog, discussed the fundamental shift that legal technology has caused and continues to cause on the practice of law.

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Thomson Reuters’ Joe Borstein (left) and Edward Sohn (right) at LegalTech New York 2016

The panel suggested that legal tech should not be viewed solely in terms of speed, efficiency or cost, but instead should bring about a re-thinking of the process of how legal work is delivered to clients. “Now legal tech is used to manage for time,” said Borstein. “Next, it will be used to manage the process for quality.”

As part of that examination, the pair surveyed all parts of the legal sphere where technology was having a significant impact, from new entry start-ups and automated contract work, to the work of in-house legal departments and access to courts. For example, the advances in automating the contract process — which as Borstein pointed out, is a significant work load challenge for many firms and companies — has potential benefits far beyond law. “Contracts are what companies do,” said Borstein. “And during the financial crisis it mattered a lot what was in those contracts and what contract-holders didn’t know about.”

New technology that allows for automated and easily searchable contracts would “bring a net good to the whole world,” he added. “It will revolutionize how commodities are viewed and valued and accelerate the effect on the global economy.”

Thomson Reuters’ Sohn agreed, saying the key for lawyers is to use technology to magnify their own abilities and expertise. “Legal tech is about making things cheap, fast, good… and now big,” he said. “Lawyers need to be able to scale their expertise — something that lawyers never have done to a large degree — which in the end, would allow lawyers to handle more matters.”

One growing and potentially very positive development in the use of legal tech is the increased amount of co-creation and co-innovation among companies and law firms to solve problems or develop products, the panel noted. “The best legal tech comes out of asking clients what they want a product to do, and to be given a real problem to solve,” Borstein said, adding that co-innovation is really about the platform future, the linking of several players’ legal expertise and process expertise to problem-solve or to develop solutions.

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Paul Hastings’ Tom Barnett at LegalTech NY 2016

This co-operative use of talent, skills and resources could have several positive effects for the legal industry, including pushing in-house legal departments to realize that a sharing effort with law firms and tech companies may produce results the department alone could not.

“I could see in-house bringing the business back to law firms, reversing the one-way trend of the past several years,” Borstein added. “The question being: Who is in the best position to do this work?”

Search Technology Boosting eDiscovery

Another panel was hosted by Tom Barnett, Special Counsel for eDiscovery and Data Science at Paul Hastings LLP, and entitled, “Away with Words: The Myths and Misnomers of Conventional Search Strategies.” Barnett discussed how massive advancements in computing power and data analysis have spurred business growth in the information economy, but left some industries, including some areas of law, struggling to keep up.

If you look at how the technological advancements in document search, for example, progressed — from key word and pattern matching to predictive coding and finally looking at each document as one big key word — it’s important not to get lost in the technology, and take a step back on occasion, Barnett said. “If you strip away the technology, you can more easily ask yourself: What do I need to know or do?”

The discovery process, instituted in law in the 1930s, was created to better allow people to take their story to court and solve their problems, he explained. “Now, even with making the technology accessible for people and given the millions and millions of documents that exist now, as compared to the 1930s, it’s still important to remember why we’re doing this,” he added. “It’s why discovery exists in the first place.”