Interview with Joseph Raczynski, written by Michelle Worrall Tilton
Attorneys look to precedent to solve today’s legal problems. “Steeped in tradition” is how we often describe the legal profession. As result, it’s no surprise that there is inherent tension between emerging technology and the legal profession. The American Bar Association’s 2020 TechReport, which surveys firms and tracks attorney use of technology in their practices, reported that only 7% of attorneys are using tech tools, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), for document review and research. Firms with more than 100 attorneys are more likely to use AI, as well as firms that engage in mass tort litigation. Despite promises of increased efficiency, productivity, and profitability, a significant number of attorneys cite distrust of the technology and underlying algorithms.
Even though the legal services market is estimated to be a $1T industry globally, Forbes reports that it is also one of the least digitized:
That is, until the COVID-19 pandemic forced the legal community to remote hearings, yoga pants, and dining room tables seemingly overnight. Prior to the pandemic, the ABA’s 2019 TechReport estimated that the vast majority of law firms of all sizes – other than solos – worked in traditional law firm environments. Now, many managing partners are rethinking their office space needs because technology allows attorneys and staff to work from home. Cloud-based document storage doesn’t demand the physical space once required for the paper detritus of the legal practice.
According to commercial real estate brokers with expertise in law firm office space, firms have been downsizing for some time – and the trend is expected to intensify post-pandemic. It’s anticipated that firms will increasingly implement a hybrid model where employees schedule the use of a community workspace or a conference room, but otherwise work remotely. This provides the opportunity for collaboration and meetings with clients in a professional and inviting setting – think chic hotel lobby – while reducing the real estate footprint and attendant expense.
Despite the occasional mishap of appearing in virtual court as a cute kitten, the legal profession has progressed in dog years with respect to the use of technology during the pandemic. Remote hearings provide greater access for certain types of cases and hearings. Litigants and their attorneys are saving time and money by not having the hassle of travelling back and forth to court. It’s easier for litigants to attend hearings remotely without having to take off as much time from work or to arrange for child care. Corporate clients are now accustomed to remote environments and online meetings. Many companies, such as Salesforce, American Express, and Microsoft, have reverted to permanent work-from-home arrangements for some employees. A silver lining of the pandemic is that the legal industry has had no choice but to embrace technology. So, what will the practice of law be like in the next twenty years?
Fortunately, we don’t have to guess how technology will transform the legal profession in the years to come nor do we need to rely on a DeLorean time machine with a mad scientist sidekick. Thomson Reuters Corporation has a forward-thinking technology specialist on the payroll with the title of “Futurist.” Joseph Raczynski is a Technologist & Futurist, Manager of Technical Client Management for the cutting-edge legal products and services company. Raczynski, who is based in Washington, DC and focuses globally specializes in the future of technology and its impact on the legal profession. He has expertise in cybersecurity, blockchain, artificial intelligence, cryptocurrency, and drone technology. Raczynski also hosts a popular podcast, The Hearing, which focuses on legal innovation.
After talking with this fascinating tech expert via halo-conferencing (not really, but made you wonder), it’s clear that technology will play a significant role in the future of the practice of law. While firms were pushed to adapt and use new technology during the pandemic, some firms that have operated for decades with little change, may revert back to that mindset. Firms, however, that buck the system and invest in technology will thrive in the long term. According to Raczynski:
Firms that are willing to embrace technology will provide better services for their clients. They will be better able to quickly sift through and digest immense sums of information. “In the decades ahead, data and services to understand that data will reign supreme,” Raczynski predicts. Facing pressure from corporate clients to cap rates and reduce billings, some firms are incubating legal tech companies to speed development of software and other products to facilitate the efficient delivery of client services. Those that are successful will license their internally developed tech services to other firms or sell the technology to companies. Either way, these entrepreneurial firms are generating new revenue streams while developing tools to better serve their clients. For example, national plaintiff personal injury firm, Parker Waichman, developed case management software, which it licenses to other firms to help them manage mass tort litigation. Not to be left out, smaller firms are banding together in collaborative settings to invest in technologies together that they wouldn’t be able to manage financially on their own.
With insight from Raczynski, let’s zoom ahead for a glimpse into the future. Raczynski predicts that current roles undertaken by attorneys will change significantly over the next twenty years. “Much of the rote work being performed now, will be gone,” he says. “That said, many new facets which we haven’t even conceived will likely supplant some of those activities.” Certainly, AI imbued eDiscovery tools will be the norm for document review. This technology eliminates the “amounts of eyes on pages,” he says.AI and machine-learning will continue to facilitate and expedite research and trial practice. Raczynski describes how attorneys will have computer applications at their. Research platforms will have semantic and nuanced understanding of the actual meaning of legal opinions and will go well beyond key-word matching. The applications will quickly access every case and ruling on point and “spit out decisions,” which will likely be “the final decision,” or at the very least be “augmented intelligence” to assist the judge or jury, he predicts. Litigation will become less burdensome and more efficient for the majority of cases. Perhaps, too, this will result in significant financial savings to clients. Interestingly, Raczynski anticipates that technology will reduce courtroom drama as finders of fact will make decisions based on data – and be less influenced by attorney performance. Courts will be virtualized with mixed reality 3D glasses for the judge and jury that will bring crime scenes, accident reconstruction, and other cases to life.
Outside of the courtroom, Raczynski anticipates that technology will automate transactional work. While contract negotiations will still exist, “everything will be interactive, voice automated, templated, intuitive, and securely stored on a blockchain,” he says. Blockchain creates an immutable, digital record of transactions. It eliminates human error, which is commonplace in contract drafting. Retinal scans will be used to confirm the validity of executed documents.
Blockchain technology, according to Raczynski, will be run so that triggering language on this platform will automatically negotiate deals or execute contractual obligations. “What we are talking about is fully codified contracts,” he predicts, “with the ability to interact with factual data and either negotiate on its own, based on Party A’s and B’s preferences, or even self-litigate when something in the code goes awry.” While blockchain is still somewhat nascent and the stuff of computer scientists, it will transform global commerce and the practice of law.
Technology will also transform law practice management and allow attorneys to spend more time serving clients instead of handling administrative issues. Thomson Reuters conducted a study on time management and reported that with smaller firms, approximately 61% of their time was spent practicing law. The balance of their time was spent on the business of running the firm, which is crucial, but not a billable activity.
The larger the firm, the less time spent on administrative work. In the future, law practice management will be facilitated through the use of a decentralized autonomous organization or DAO. This is a business model structured on self-executing smart contracts that function without the need for in-person decision-making. Smart contract governance doesn’t require boards of directors or firm management committees to meet, analyze data, and make decisions. Rather, a DAO outsources the analysis through smart contracts allowing for token-holder network consensus. Voting attorneys would hold tokens based upon their seniority, billings or pecking order status.
Admittedly, much of this technology is difficult to explain let alone visualize in practice. However, there are steps that law firms should be taking now to better position themselves to be able to leverage emerging technology. “Opportunity abounds in the legal market right now,” Raczynski says. He portends a golden age for the practice of law: the intersection of where the legal industry marries technology. While firms of all sizes were once reluctant to spend disposable income on technology – even on network security – large firms, in particular, are starting to increase their IT spend and budget for the future. Planning and budgeting for the proactive use of technology are key first steps.
There has been a significant shift in law firm operational budgets allowing for an increase in technology spending. As attorneys have become more technologically advanced, there has been less need for clerical staff to draft pleadings and correspondence, perform filings, mail letters, and other tasks. Younger lawyers, who have never used a Dictaphone or fax machine, have long been drafting their own briefs. Since the recession in 2008, firms have been increasing attorney-to-clerical ratios and spending less on clerical support staff. A legal secretary, who once supported one or two attorneys, is now working with eight or more. As described earlier, firms are spending less on their office leases by reducing square footage. Technology has filled the void left by these drastic operational changes, while freeing up cash for reinvestment in IT products and infrastructure.
Importantly, technology also levels the playing field. Solo and small firms are poised to benefit as the cost of technology decreases. “If they decide to embrace technology, Raczynski says, “it enables them to automate, find answers quickly, and respond to their clients with aplomb.” He recommends that solo and small firms connect with the growing LegalTech community to see how they can learn, interact, and leverage new ideas to benefit their practices. Additionally, law schools are excellent sources for technology training and incubating new ideas.
In Tomorrowland, there will be significant opportunities for tech forward iGeneration attorneys. Law school graduates, who grew up with mobile devices in their strollers, will have key leadership roles. Attorneys with degrees in engineering, network security, computer science and coding will be valuable hires. As technology is second nature for them, they can undertake important IT operations and reverse-mentor firm members who aren’t as tech savvy.
Finally, corporate clients aren’t going to wait for their hometown attorneys to become comfortable with emerging technology – especially when some firms are deploying high tech tools in their practices. Corporations are investing in their own technology infrastructures and expect the same commitment from their professional service providers. They also expect law firms to engage in vigorous network security to protect sensitive client data from malicious actors, which is a real threat. Ideally, law firms will automate routine research, drafting, and discovery review, so that attorneys can focus on customer service, including responsive and timely communications, learning about their clients’ unique business needs so they can be proactive instead of reactive, and cultivating new client relationships.
There is no time like the present to prepare for the future. Attorneys should attend technology conferences, network with legal service vendors, join cyber law committees, and connect with futurists like Raczynski to gain a better understanding of the technology that is already transforming the practice of law. Learning something new will feel uncomfortable at first, but it will get easier. The DeLorean is idling out front and ready when you are.