Home » Law 2050 Initiative » Lex Machina a Smash Hit in Law 2050

Lex Machina a Smash Hit in Law 2050

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.

My reactions:

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.

1 Comment

  1. Jay Guiliano says:

    It’s fantastic that you’re excited about legal-based technologies. The profession needs more of that passion.

    Think about this quick comment to part of your post: you suggested “[Lex Machina] adds a tool, but it does not necessarily [1] replace lawyers, or [2] suck away billable hours, or [3] “commoditize” a lawyering function; indeed, by giving lawyers more power over how to analyze patent law’s expanse, it may do just the opposite.”

    Here’s my critique as a 15+ year practicing patent lawyer: (1) in some instances the lawyer does need to be replaced, e.g. gather research on judges and judge decisions – Lex Machina does this so the lawyer does not have to (law librarians are very skilled at gathering this information) – that’s a positive, not a negative; (2) billable hours are a difficult metric to evaluate value provided to a client so even if billable hours vanish, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, provided that value/solutions are provided and the lawyer is compensated for delivering that value/solution (no matter the “time” spent to do so); and (3) commoditize is a bit vague, but consider precisely what a lawyer does and whether Lex Machina actually solves the problem of how a lawyer delivers a solution to the client – can the lawyer really leverage LM to provide a solution to the client’s problems or merely provide a very high level overview – facts, patents, accused products, arguments, etc. are different in most cases.

    The best way to think about this issue is by considering the overhead view of of a football defense for a particular play in a game – the QB, RB and wide receiver still need to execute, as do the TEs and offensive line – just because the players review the overhead view of the defense for a certain play-calling sequence, doesn’t mean there will be success. Lex Machina only shows you the alignment of things, but moving down the ball down the field, you need a completely different approach.

    I’m biased of course, but this isn’t an anonymous comment.

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