Originally published for Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute on March 24, 2015
How exactly will technology change the way legal service is delivered?
Nearly everyone in law accepts that great change is underway, and that it is driven significantly by technology. But, there is less clarity about how the change will proceed.
Some see technology touching nearly every facet of legal service. Others see it as largely about communication and processing information.
Some see technology as an ally of the lawyer that will enable better client service and make careers more rewarding. Others see it as a potential threat to professionalism.
Some think change is proceeding at a snail’s pace. Others think it is moving like a freight train.
It is easy to analogize the future of legal tech to the way technology has dramatically changed our lives in other respects—Apple, Google, Facebook—but harder to anticipate the specifics, even the categories of change that lie ahead.
In Legal Technology 3.0, Oliver Goodenough, Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Legal Innovation at the Vermont Law School, recently provided a valuable construct for thinking about the future of legal technology. Borrowing from Internet nomenclature, Prof. Goodenough staked out three places on a spectrum of the evolution of legal technology: Legal Tech 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0. Each segment involves a distinctly different relationship between technology and legal service.
In Legal Tech 1.0 the technology helps lawyers do their work. The lawyers perform the tasks, but they are assisted by technology, such as legal research and practice management tools. This phase of the technology arc is quite mature.
In Legal Tech 2.0, the technology actually performs parts of the work. It does tasks previously done by lawyers. It reviews documents in e-discovery. It drafts contracts and other legal documents. It distills learning from massive sets of data. This is where the action is today.
In 3.0, the technology not only does the work, it substantially replaces the legal infrastructure. Contracts, compliance systems, and dispute resolution systems are created in computer code, rather than natural language, and are able to operate within their own encoded systems. As Prof. Goodenough observes, “aspects of 3.0 sound a bit like science fiction,” but so did many other developments we now take for granted in our day-to-day lives. This phase lies in the future.
We are in Legal Tech 2.0 today. Technology no longer merely supports the lawyer, it works in collaboration with the lawyer to deliver elements of the service. With the progress of machine learning and artificial intelligence, technology can take on progressively more tasks that were previously the exclusive province of lawyers and other humans. It can share the work with them, producing a better service model.
To be clear, the technology is not engaging in “the practice of law.” It is doing tasks embedded in legal service that, themselves, are not “the practice of law.” It is in Legal Tech 2.0 that real progress in the quality and efficiency of legal service can be achieved. Technology can do some tasks more accurately and reliably than humans. It certainly can do them faster. And it can do them cheaper.
Teams that optimally blend human and technology resources can achieve far more than either alone.
Realizing the promise of Legal Tech 2.0 requires a number of disciplines to work together: process design to imagine how the work might be done; computer science to engineer the technology to do its part ; management to organize the structure and optimal set of resources; and strategic planning and budgeting to make the investments that will be necessary.
It also requires lawyers and their firms to embrace the imperative for change. To believe that they can create a model that will serve clients better, create more rewarding careers, and produce adequate financial results for the lawyers and their firms. And to believe the prospect of such improvement warrants the disruption and investment necessary to make it happen.
The opportunity for progress in Legal Tech 2.0 is enormous. The more clarity we have about technology’s potential role in law, the other disciplines we need to engage, and the commitment we need to make, the faster our progress will occur.