Legal Tech is Solving All the Wrong Problems

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.

Lisa Needham
Lisa Needham is a contract writer & editor at, helps direct the legal writing program at Mitchell Hamline School of Law, and still believes in the Oxford comma.