ILTACON – Legal Technology Innovation: Bolstering and Destroying the Legal Profession

The Napsterization of the legal industry is growing more plausible every day. The innovation and disruption seen in the music business around digitization and file sharing is happening right now to the legal industry.

Ryan McClead of Norton Rose Fulbright led a panel discussion, “Legal Technology Innovation: Bolstering and Destroying the Legal Profession,” at ILTACON 2015. Looking at the current state of the legal market, McClead drew a comparison to Napster and record companies circa 1999. The music industry thought their customers were interested in the CD and the packaging. The reality was all customers wanted was the music. Napster saw this and without intending to do so, used common technology to disrupt the record business.

McClead then applied this logic to the legal industry. His premise: law firms think that they are selling a lawyer’s time. However, if you ask a lawyer’s customers, they are most interested in the outcome, not the time itself. Law firms must adopt new technologies which focus on the outcome, not the time spent billing or even fixed pricing. With automation, firms can begin to replicate processes; establishing a faster, better, cheaper solution for their client.

McClead stated to the audience that the legal industry is partaking in its own version of the Napster event, adding “We have a choice to restructure our firms, rebuild our processes or the industry can do nothing, maintaining the status quo and see what happens.”

Stuart Barr, Chief Strategy Officer for HighQ, had an equally riveting discussion. He spoke about the real fears and promises of what is coming in legal. He noted that the advent of cognitive computing will see white collar jobs being eliminated. Using various examples, Barr cited how the revolution started with blue collar positions being jettisoned and will shift to white collar workers soon.

While jobs are being eliminated, new opportunities are emerging. Eight years ago, the mobile app industry didn’t exist; now it is a $100 billion business. Barr suggests that the legal industry will shift and lawyers will have to become more technical. He calls this new lawyer a hybrid legal engineer who knows both the law and technology.

The last discussion of the panel focused around M&A and contracts. In this arena, the panel saw huge possibilities leveraging cognitive computing. Currently a firm might review only the top 300 of 10,000 contracts for a large corporation’s pending merger. The firm may charge $500,000 for this work. The corporation is taking a gamble by not having the other contracts reviewed to save some money. With contract reviewing software, a law firm could offer to review 1,000 contracts for $750,000. In this scenario, both the corporation and law firm win.

The panel left many jaws agape after their rapid fire predictions. There is little question that many of these technologies are going to have a significant impact on the legal industry in the months and years to come.