This week my Law 2050 class has been all about Lex Machina, and to quote one student at the end of the two sessions: “I can’t imagine being a patent law firm and not wanting to purchase that!” [Note: I have no connection whatsoever with Lex Machina other than having them appear in my class, nor, I believe, did this student.] That sentiment was widely shared.
I contacted Lex Machina early in the semester to explore how I could give the class a deep dive in their technology. Jeremy Mulder, Lex Machina’s Director of Customer Success, worked closely with me to make the site available to the students, design an exercise for us to complete in one class, and guide us through the site and the company’s vision over a JoinMe link the next day.
First, the Lex Machina product is a truly awesome example of turning Big Data into a useful, user-friendly legal analytics product. The depth and breadth of data contained in the site, particularly for patent law, was astounding. For example, pick any federal district judge and within a few seconds the site provides an array of data, including outcomes at granular levels, patents handled, time to case termination, lawyers appearing in the court, and many more. The site display and navigation is a breeze. The class started to tackle the questions together at the beginning of the first class, and within about 10 minutes, with no instructions from Lex Machina, we had begun to navigate the site with ease and, over time, learned how to tap into one after the other of analytic tools. The site is a model for other law+tech developers.
Second, as the exercise progressed I began to wonder how I would describe Lex Machina within the “disruptive technology” space. Disruption comes in many forms, and whether good or bad depends on the beholder. Lex Machina strikes me as disruptive primarily by providing an additive function—it makes possible what a lawyer could not have imagined he or she could do, at least without a tremendous amount of effort, time, and cost. It adds a tool, but it does not necessarily replace lawyers, or suck away billable hours, or “commoditize” a lawyering function; indeed, by giving lawyers more power over how to analyze patent law’s expanse, it may do just the opposite. More on the “disaggregation” of the disruptive legal technology concept into more descriptive and refined categories in an upcoming post.