Legal Tech is Solving All the Wrong Problems

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Law has a tech problem. No, I am not talking about how we are a bunch of Luddites (although many of us, including SCOTUS, are) or that we refuse to learn to do things like encrypt our email (although many of us will never learn to do so). Rather, I am talking about the idea that we seem unable to figure out how to leverage technology for the greater ease of the profession. We think we know what we need, but we really don’t.

Things We Don’t Need

Another Case Management Program

A few years ago, the case management program field was wide open. There was room for an upstart program that would somehow understand what lawyers craved. However, we now have an unnecessary glut or a glorious smorgasbord of case management software, depending on your viewpoint.

Given that the market already has heavy-hitters like Clio, MyCase, and Rocket Matter, and fresh young faces like Ciinch and CosmoLex, what is it, exactly, that you want from practice management software that you cannot already get?

Sure, there may be things in each of those programs that are sub-optimal for your personal practice, or you may wish that you could somehow put all of the programs together to form a Voltron of case management software. Unless you  get that cool tech from Minority Report and we can all manage our cases by flinging holograms around the room dramatically, you would be hard-pressed to create a new case management program that does things in a radically different fashion.

Bottom line: you need some sort of practice management program. You really do. But just go buy the one that best suits your needs. Heck, check our user guides if you need more information on what program is best for you. Just don’t wait around for some new shiny program. And for the love of Pete, do not go build a new case management program.

Law Firm–Specific Apps

Please trust me when I say that this is literally the worst idea ever, and if you are thinking of commissioning one for your law firm, you are a bad person and you should feel bad. If there is a person out there who is lawyer-shopping, they are not doing it by flailing about in an app store. They are looking on the Internet, like God intended.

If there is a person out there who is already your client, the last thing they want to do is to download an app that does nothing but recreate what a decent mobile site will do. On the go, people generally want to look up your contact info and send you an email or give you a call. They are not buying things from you. They are not playing Candy Crush with you. Just ensure that your mobile site is not terrible, and you will be fine.

Paid Compilations of Free Statutes and Rules

A while ago, I rounded up comprehensive lists of iOS and Android apps for lawyers. One of the things I omitted from those lists were the approximately one zillion things out there where someone has simply hoovered up the whole of the California statutes or the federal codes of regulation or some such — all of which are free — and turned around and repackaged it as a $2.99 app. You do not need to buy those things. You can find CFRs and statutes all by your lonesome, because you are a lawyer.

Things We Really Need

Lawyers Who Understand Coding and Coders Who Understand Lawyers

There is a thriving legal hacker movement full of people that want to disrupt and synergize and whatever else people like that want to do. However, lots of the bright shining stars of that movement are people who haven’t written a line of code. That is a huge disconnect.

On the flip side, genius coders are not exactly going to know what you, a lawyer, need most, because they are busy being genius coders. If you are a young lawyer starting out and you have any technical aptitude whatsoever, you could do a lot worse than to learn to code and spend some quality time thinking about what you, your friends, and your colleagues need.

Business Analysts

At root, one of the biggest things we need is a class of free-roaming business analysts. Business analysts are the folks that tie tech people and business people together. They typically have enough of a background in both worlds to be competent when speaking to both sides. They generally only exist in big companies and big firms, because you have to have already scaled up to afford to pay someone whose job is basically to be a bridge between other employees. Your one-person or two-person or five-person firm may not even have an IT department, much less want to pay a person to liaise between the two.

However, those same small firms might be happy to have someone who could spend a week embedded with a firm finding out about workflow and technology needs, and then turn around and talk tech to an IT company about how to implement solutions. You need someone who speaks tech and someone who speaks lawyer, but they do not actually need to be a lawyer to pull this off.

Basic Tech Competence for Law-School Deans, Not Just for Law-School Students

There is a great movement afoot to get law schools to teach practical skills, like how to go paperless and automate documents, particularly at schools that focus on getting students to be practice-ready. This is really critical stuff, particularly for wannabe solo-small practitioners who will not have a team of administrative professionals at their disposal. However, often the deans championing these programs are completely unqualified for the job because they couldn’t set up their own email account in Outlook.

You cannot have predictions about the future of law tech taught by people that cannot manage the here and now of regular old non-law tech. You cannot adequately prepare lawyers for a profession that relies on technology by simply bolting some basic tech competence skills onto their general coursework. This means forcing the people at the top to lead on tech or get out of the way, which is going to be exactly as hard as it sounds.

Low-Cost Big Data

I think we trumpet that [fill-in-the-blank] is the future of law at least semi-monthly. Open-source software is the future of law! Access to justice is the future of law! Those fancy new donut shops with things like bacon-maple crullers are the future of law! Trust me, however, when I say that Big Data really is the future of law.

What if you could drill down and see how a specific judge ruled on very specific arguments at the trial court level and make some predictions about how that judge might rule in the future? What if you could completely automate your e-discovery — and manage to do it with greater accuracy than having lawyers review your documents? What if you could predict the cost of your litigation? What if, rather than getting those email digests that are nothing but piles of cases, a machine could learn what types of cases you wanted and switch up the digest based on those needs?

Ravel already exists to help you with things like judge analytics. Ross is working on behind-the-scenes data crunching that will send you law developments that will affect the actual case you are working on at that very moment.

The catch? Big data costs big money. Ravel costs, at minimum, $1800/year, which is not at all bad until you realize it will not obviate the need for legal research software. Ross does not actually exist yet in a form you can use, but it will likely not be cheap once it is fully-formed. These are tools for big players that have a lot of money to throw at tech, which is not generally the case for solo-small practitioners. Someone far more tech-savvy than me needs to figure out how we can scoop up all that delicious data on judges, cases, and other attorneys and spit it back out in easily searchable and crunchable ways without it costing an arm and a leg and most of your torso.

Get on it, future lawyer-coders and coder-lawyers.

Featured image: “Failed and stressed businessman is tired to work on the computer” from Shutterstock.

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  • Legal Tech Badass

    Lisa, that’s not how legal tech works. Here’s how it really works:

    A lawyer (who is not very tech savvy but is making some decent money) has to first identify a problem in their own law firm that could be fixed with “technology”.

    Next, that lawyer has to ask a few lawyer friends if they have the same problem. Not a whole lot, but a few. And these friends asked are not allowed to be tech savvy.

    There is no more research that goes into this. That’s it. The lawyer then asks the others “Would you use this software if I made it to fix this problem?” They all enthusiastically reply “Yes”, but don’t say that they would actually pay for said software.

    Then, that lawyer, thinking they have found a pain point among many law firms around the country, pays thousands of dollars for an overseas app developer to fix the problem.

    And this is how you get 10,000 unoriginal practice management software platforms…

  • I’m definitely an optimist when it comes to technology and the future of law and law practice, but it’s certainly depressing how many people are wasting time and energy “solving” the same “problems” over and over. And there’s zero chance that today’s ambitious practice-ready curricula are actually going to prepare lawyers to practice as long as the most high-tech thing the instructors have done is host a Legal Hackers meetup.

  • AFF

    Will a cloud-based practice management software company (let it be Clio), please make decent, simple document assembly software to integrate with their product. I would like to enter my client’s name once during the intake process, and then click a button and have it put my client’s name in the caption of the pleading. That would be magic. It also seems like it should be extremely easy to code and the purpose of the damn software.

    There are tools out there (Formtool, a bunch of trust and estate specific stuff, and maybe express docs), but nothing that works with a Mac, is cloud based, and would generate a .docx file, at least to my knowledge.

    • Legal Tech Badass

      Netdocuments?

    • Clio already does this, both natively (Word files only) and through third-party integrations that are not as easy to figure out (though I believe their customer support will help you set it up).

      (Disclaimer: Me and Clio are homies.)

    • Brian Milanese

      I’m hoping that I won’t get my hand slapped by Mr. Glover in addressing your dilemma since I work for Merus, Inc., but our cloud based practice management system has accomplished this feat since 2009.

      MerusCase does what you’re asking without the need of third party integrations or having to save the merged document locally. It saves directly into your MerusCase matter/case file from Microsoft Word (or Word for Mac) magically ;)

      We also keep track of document versions/history so that older documents can be accessible and editable when needed with the same magical properties.

      Hope this helps!

    • barbara occhiogrosso

      I’m starting work at an office that uses Amicus Attorney, and this seems to be one of those cloud based all-in-one software solutions. Can anyone weigh in on this app and what you think of it? Firm founder (sm law firm category) wants to switch to an all Mac environment soon from PCs and Amicus IS one of those services that supports the OSX platform in addition to PC. Also apparently integrates Quickbooks and Word. So I’m thinking I’ve hit a dream situation re a very solid and sound all in one solution to create an all digital/”paperless” office (which is what my employer wants, and what I’m eager to make happen) but I’m curious as to whether anyone here has any experience with Amicus Atty, and how it compares with the other all in one solutions being mentioned here. Appreciate any feedback on the matter!

      • It sounds like you are using Amicus Cloud. Our forum members have some thoughts.

        • barbara occhiogrosso

          Thank you for the link, Sam. Very, very helpful! Just got off the phone with an Amicus Cloud rep who answered all of my preliminary questions (I used the link you sent to compile a list of questions re issues to discuss). I am set to work with Amicus Cloud in my new position in about a week, and I’m happy to report back with my findings after I’ve had some time with it.

  • Lisa:

    I couldn’t agree more. I’d add the focus on really expensive toys, like $500/month software to automate intake, to the list of stuff we don’t need as well. And legal social networks.

  • Paul Spitz

    Also, we don’t need another lawyer-client matching app or website, that exerts downward pressure on legal fees. We want quality clients, not to offer quality legal services at a steep discount to clients who have been coached to expect low prices.

    • Amen.

    • 55YearBroncoFan

      Well……that downward pressure has helped to give rise to the nonlawyer limited license legal technician movement. LLLT proponents propose to handle routine matters and paperwork without attorney supervision at a fraction of what attorneys charge.

      I am against the LLLT movement. I feel the public deserves the best the legal industry can provide. In my mind, that is attorneys teaming with paralegals; the notion that attorneys can provide clients with more value for less money spawned the paralegal movement. Nonetheless, the LLLT movement has gained traction.

  • Simpleman

    She’s very correct about the need for business analysis and business education among lawyers. Most lawyers lack any education or practical background in business fields. While any lawyer could benefit from learning about these topics, it’s surprising how many people who start law firms, or lead medium to large firms, make no effort to learn about them.

  • Amy Hrehovcik

    Love the post! Hear, hear.

    As a “free-roaming business analyst” clocking time at Thomson Reuters and court “big data”, I feel moderately obligated to highlight the other half of this (over) supply equation. Demand.

    Getting a room full of attorneys to invest in assessing a workflow — read: their existing ‘process’ that needs to ‘improve’ — is pretty tricky (understatement). Building and selling concepts that are already proven is safe. And if staying in business is a priority, I can certainly empathize with the Rocket Matters of the world.

  • Sorry in advance for my poor english.

    Lisa, you focused exactly the bug. I’m a solo developer since 1986 (!), son of a lawyer, I’ve practised italian courts for 7 years, than I’ve founded IusOnDemand srl (ltd).
    In 1999 I’ve developed IusSeek.com, then a cms, then a forum, then a database of law cases, then a social network, now some mobile apps.

    What does it work ? Solving single issues for single lawyers with focused process.

    99% of lawyers tells me: “Why don’t you solve this problem ?”. I answer in 2 ways:
    1) some institutions will solve in the next 12-18 months
    2) how cares about this problem ? (the answer is: “many !”; and I reply: how should you pay for it ? “100 euros una tantum”. Me: but it’s a service: “It shouldn’t cost more than 100.)

    What is the problem I should solve ? It’s often a very complex solution so dressed to the lawyer I cannot sell to anyone else. Customizing, as many lawyers ask, is very expensive.

    This is the loop I’m not able to stop, also here in Italy.

    There are some great customers that ask me to follow them in every problem. They talk to me so often that I really know they work, and they now what i develop, day by day. So usually after 12 – 18 months they ask to me to develop a solutions almost similar to something I’ve suggested to them before. But now they have understood how they can apply in their ordinary daily work.

    I’ve tried to work with judges. It’s great to talk with them, they simply think to solution to pratical issues. But it’s difficult to spread an idea from a judge to a court, and to the lawyers. Everybody fears to make mistakes.

    Finally I’m a customer of lawyer too, and as an entrepreneur I know all my friend literally desperate because they don’t know how to choose a lawyer. Is it as simple as this: they don’t know. And they don’t call any lawyer. I can call at least 5 lawyers from Milano to Sicily, from Florence to Venise. And so on. But people have too fear to call many lawyers (or, on the opposite, they call tens of lawyers because they don’t want to pay any lawyer).

    It’s a problem of language. Everybody talks is own dialect, and it’s difficult to work on solutions instead of methods, rules, praxis.The laws don’t allow to find new solutions, but only new methods.

    I would offer a solution. I’ve found that as an innovator, in Italy, many lawyers calls me to discuss their ideas. The better ideas comes from small firms where the lawyer need a solution to an imminent problem. But often there’s a lack of time to deeply discuss about it; or simply to test the solution.

    My better clients have the best secretary in the world. The secretary call me and ask me what they need, and it’s great. When theres’ something to do, the secretary does it. If the lawyer has something do test, he doesn’t find the time.

    Finally the mobile revolutions has changed the rules of the game. So we have to finally start from a new point of view. I’m working on it. It’s the new point of view can help all of us.

    But I’d the most happy in Italy if I could talk with a secretary that wants to solve the problem of his lawyer, with a small budget to start with. Nothing more. Develop, test, and go on. Little steps. It could be great If someone would talk with such a secretary for me.

    What I see in Italy is that some secretaries are starting a business for many lawyers by remote tools. This is innovation from bottom. Few of them, italian justice is hell.

    I would only know: what’s the task in which you loose your time ? Than I could solve. I would try to open a section to collect ideas from lawyers and secretaries. Would you share with me the results ?

  • William Finn

    There is an Irish Startup called VizLegal.com who are building exactly what you are looking for

  • Rakesh Madhava

    This is dead on.