February 6 by Jason Smith

I’ve always preached about the dichotomy in legal tech: On one hand you have the technology that enables the practice (and business) of law, and on the other, you have the emerging legal issues related to the use of technology – think autonomous vehicles and such.

But one session at Legalweek 2018, which took place in New York at the end of January, made me realize there’s actually a third, related approach, and that is that “law can enable technology, not just via regulation, but as a framing that will provide a trellis for growth.” This is a good discussion point for the emergence of blockchain – the technology underlying Bitcoin and Smart Contracts.

While blockchain is a very hot topic, I still think it’s got some more runway before we start seeing it truly hit mainstream adoption in legal. This year there were three big emerging areas of focus at Legalweek: Alternative Legal Service Providers, Diversity, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) & Contract Management.

Alternative Legal Service Providers

The Alternative Legal Services provider space is booming with the help of technology. From contract drafting, negotiation and review, to litigation support, e-discovery and compliance, we’re seeing the lines between legal work and non-legal work blurred.

While Legal Process Outsourcing and litigation support have been around for decades, technology is automating some tasks previously outsourced and enabling other areas of law department work. This is causing a disruption in the ecosystem as law firms circle the wagons around the work they believe should only be done by licensed attorneys, while technology is exposing clear lines of distinction between value-added, strategic legal work, and overpriced, basic administrative tasks.

The American Bar Association (ABA) rules still dictate lines between what can and can’t be done by those who are not licensed attorneys. But recent actions by global consulting firms have taken a shot across the ABA and state bar associations’ collective bows, by seeming to offer both legal and non-legal work from the same resources. The U.S. is one of the last places to hold out against non-lawyers performing legal work. Lately, there seems to be a momentum shift occurring as the alternative legal service providers scale up their efforts, leverage new technology and exploit the desire of law departments to be more efficient.

This shift is morphing the legal profession into a legal industry, and the other two areas of focus at last week’s show are helping speed up the transformation. While diversity is typically viewed in terms of race or gender, the kind of diversity being discussed at legal tech conferences is much more than that.

Diversity

There were tweets complaining about some panels being too “male” while other tweets hailed the large group of female thought leaders in our space, including executives in some of the leading legal technology companies.

The thrust behind this diversity push doesn’t seem as focused on surface diversity, but on truly understanding the need for a diversity of thought leadership and experience as the legal profession undergoes an historic transformation. There are some who blame the lack of this kind of diverse thinking for continuing the antiquated relationships between legal departments and outside firms. And the law departments who can take a new perspective on the same old problems, many of whom are using the vast amounts of existing and newly created data to aid this process, are finding themselves to be more competitive—and more in line with the executive suite of the companies in which they’re demanding a seat at the table.

But what would a legal tech conference be if there weren’t an entirely separate conversation swirling around the lack of gender diversity in the names of new artificial intelligence (AI) applications? Of course, most folks already know Alexa, Cortana and Siri, but others noticed that during the #RobotFight18 (an unofficial smacktalk-a-thon between two legal research companies) the names of their new products were blatantly… female! Some suggested this might indicate inherent bias in the space. (For the sake of transparency, Apttus’ artificial intelligence is named Max.)

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Contract Management

Artificial Intelligence has become a big topic at Legalweek. Granted, it was already a big topic in e-discovery over the last few years, but very few outside the e-discovery world were paying it much attention until now. The growth of AI (outside e-discovery) seems to be centered mostly on contracts. Of course, this comes as no surprise to us at Apttus, we’ve been innovating with AI in contract management for several years already and Apttus is recognized as a Legal AI Leader by The National Law Journal for our efforts.

However, the bulk of the new AI contract solutions are almost exclusively focused on reviewing existing repositories of contracts and the massive amounts of data, insight and risk hidden in those legal documents that are scattered across databases, file cabinets and desktops globally. (This is where the e-discovery and contract review components are colliding.)

Thankfully, Apttus has spent the last decade working with companies on best practices in contract management, which includes not only consolidating the disparate collections of unstructured contract data and documents into one global repository, but also improving the normal businesses process that give birth to those contracts and data.

Combining the functions of machine learning and natural language processing with contract management provides insight into the risks ahead as well as those in the rearview mirror. This capability allows legal to bridge the gap between front office sales and acquisition functions and back office financial and administrative functions, giving insight and foresight to the contracting process. AI helps legal to drive both back-office and front-office business objectives, which is why we call our technology the Middle Office Platform™.

So while some are still empaneling experts to discuss the threat to legal jobs by the evil robots, others are busy creating a new legal technology ecosystem that’s going to create more value for the lawyers who embrace it.

 

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