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Legal tech is over-hyped

By Anders Spile.

Legal tech is overrated. That is probably a surprising statement coming from a legal tech and innovation consultant who works in a successful Scandinavian legal tech company. I should preach and advocate in favour of the industry. Nevertheless, that is what I believe. I believe that legal tech is over-hyped, largely redundant and maybe even counter-productive to the much needed digital transformation of the legal industry.

Let me explain to you why.

I assume that most lawyers use an iPhone. Many have cars with autopilot functions, they watch entertainment on Apple TV, and they gladly binge what the algorithms recommend for them. They use AI-powered auto-correct when they text their kids about then they will be home for dinner. Dinner is sometimes even coming from AI-powered Uber eats. But next morning, when they arrive in at the law firm office, suddenly this comfort with tech seems disappeared. The same modern technologies now seem cumbersome at best, threatening at worst.

The reason is at least twofold: Firstly, legal tech is over-sold and wrapped in the wrong packaging. Secondly, lawyers over-estimate their own domain when they demand too industry-specific tech solutions. Legal tech vendors tend to alienate the lawyers they are selling to. They market their products as overly complicated, advanced technologies instead of making them seem edible and trustworthy. Moreover, the way we talk about legal tech is often a bit over-geared. We talk about whether lawyers should learn to code, but the fact is that some haven't even learned how to use the cloud properly yet. We talk about applying fancy AI when most lawyers are not even working in a machine-friendly data format and haven't organised it in streamlined manners that AI's can leverage. And we spend legal tech event after legal tech event discussing edge case liability and responsibility issues for autonomous algorithms when even the most simple tasks are yet to be automated. You've got to crawl before you walk and some legal tech vendors are trying to sign law firms up for a marathon. You don't see Netflix branding themselves as an AI-powered super cinema. And even Tesla, whose CEO is usually not holding back with the visionary speeches, have understood that they are not able to sell their vehicles as robots on wheels. They let their customers get familiar with their product by selling it as electric cars. Likewise, legal tech providers should focus on making their products seem non-threatening, easy to comprehend, and manageable to implement. However, it is not only the tech providers who should take it down a nudge. Law firms should also focus more on creating some simple digital workflows. The problem is that some parts of the legal industry are caught in the illusion that they need their own tech products tailored for their specific sector or even practise area. But what makes legal work so unique that it cannot be managed in Trello? Why should clients accept to collaborate with their lawyers on yet another collaboration platform? Why don't use Slack or Teams that solve collaboration and communication issues ideally just like everyone else?

Instead of re-inventing the wheel with special legal tech applications, law firms should stick to the tools that their clients are already using. If their clients communicate on Slack, so should lawyers. If the clients use a certain contract management system, so should the lawyers. Instead of adopting a million different small niche applications, law firms should adopt digital workflows that are proven in similar organisations, get accustomed to digital life and leverage the opportunities in products that are proven.

The only true client-centric approach to tech is to be where the clients are and adopt the technologies that they use. The client should feel that it is effortless and easy to work with the lawyer. They have multiple service providers, as least as long as law firms are not offering one-stop-shop concepts, and they have their own systems. They have limited resources to get accustomed to new products every time they use a new provider.

Secondly, lawyers will learn that there is a reason these tools are so widely used: because they work as intuitively as their iPhone and their Apple TV. Small legal tech applications will not have the chance to collect user-feedback and the necessary data to improve their platforms in the same way that broadly used products have. Because of this, they will be too dependent on what the law firms think they need, and not what the data suggest works. That will make the products to lawyer-centric and in the end be an even bigger annoyance to the user. The digital transformation of the legal industry is too important to be wasted on narrow legal tech applications with bad UI. It is too urgent to be postponed by over-geared marketing that makes things seem even more complicated. And it is too client-driven to be controlled by law firms sentiments.


About the Author

Anders Spile is client executive advisor in Contractbook. He has hands-on experience as to what it takes to develop an innovation strategy and implement legal tech solutions in larger law firms.


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