As many interested in Law 2050 topics will know, Nashville has the pleasure of hosting this year’s International Legal Technology Conference. I have not been able to attend much of it given the ironic detail that I have been teaching Law 2050 classes the same days as the conference. So it was a real treat to be invited to a dinner gathering to discuss the law+tech landscape along with several current and former Law 2050 students, other Vanderbilt Law students, and local legal community members. .
Our hosts were Michael Dunn and Aria Safar of e-Stet, the California based litigation technology company. Also present, and presenting tomorrow at the conference, was Noah Waisberg, founder of Diligence Engine, which has developed transaction due diligence review software. E-Stet treated us to an excellent Nashville hot chicken spread and opened an informal forum on the state of play and future of law+tech and its impact on the legal services industry. Although I can’t speak for anyone but myself, here’s my take home from the discussion:
- Legal technology developments like those represented by e-Stet and Diligence Engine (and a fast-expanding universe of other developers) will make lawyers better and more efficient. Law is one of those professions in which making a mistake can be very, very costly, so why not reduce the risk of missing an important document or detail? The downside may be that efficiency cuts into hours billed, but the offsetting upside is that better lawyering results attract more work.
- These advances in law+tech are going to flatten the legal services industry in two ways. First, it will make it more possible for lawyers to service the mid-tier market of consumers and small businesses. Firms that might in the past (and present) have seen their market as large corporations and wealthy individuals might very well be in a position to provide reasonable-cost services to those markets. Whether they will deign to do so is a different question. But one thing is for sure–if they don’t, someone will.
- The other flattening effect of law+tech is that it levels the playing field between the AmLaw 50, concentrated as they are in New York, L.A., and other mega markets, and the major regional/city law firms. If you have a significant deal or piece of litigation in Nashville or Denver, why fly in lawyers from New York or L.A. when law+tech has made everyone better? The experiential advantage of spending 10 years working deals in New York etc. will erode as everyone, everywhere, has access to aggregated databases of deal documents and the computational analytics to crunch through them. Bespoke lawyering may still be more concentrated in a few major cities, but over time this trend could revolutionize the legal services industry, giving law grads and young lawyers even greater flexibility to combine a sophisticated legal practice with quality of life preferences.
- I think I can speak for all present in concluding that law+tech is not headed in the direction of robot lawyers any time soon (speaking of which, here’s the program for a conference session on that tomorrow). Perhaps a substantial chunk of lawyering can be mechanized, commoditized, and computerized, but the bottom line is that life is complicated and as soon as a client’s preferences or needs depart a smidgen from the default context built into the “robot,” you need a human. But the human will use law+tech to provide a faster, better, more efficient outcome. Maybe the better way to think of it is lawyer+robot.
The most gratifying aspect of this fascinating evening (besides the ridiculously spicy hot chicken!) was seeing my students engage in the discussion at what I considered to be a high level of knowledge and insight. Most if not all of them are members of our Journal of Entertainment Law & Technology, and it was clear that their experience on the journal has paid off in terms of enhanced awareness of the trends in law+tech. Go Vandy!