Above the Law

Towards A More Holistic View of Legal Tech

By Robert Ambrogi

May 18, 2017

I was in San Francisco on Friday to moderate a panel on the topic of taking a holistic approach to litigation technology. It got me to thinking about how both lawyers and tech companies often fail to think about technology holistically, and about how both could be better served by thinking about how particular technology products fit within the broader context of the work lawyers do.

The panel was sponsored by the ABA’s Young Lawyers Division and featured the CEOs of three legal technology companies whose products relate to some phase of litigation: PacerPro, a service for searching and managing PACER documents; Allegory Law, a litigation management platform; and Casetext, a legal research service.

(A recording of the presentation can be accessed here.)

The panelists walked through a simple scenario involving the filing of a memorandum in opposition to a motion for a TRO. PacerPro’s CEO Gavin McGrane led off, showing how his service ensures that everyone on the litigation team is notified of the filing and receives a copy. Allegory’s CEO Alma Asay then showed how her platform helps contextualize the filing within the broader litigation and facilitates its analysis. Finally, Casetext CEO Jake Heller showed his CARA tool, which analyzes legal documents and reveals relevant case law that the document omits.

Together, these demonstrations showed how distinct legal tech products can integrate with and even flow into each other in ways that can make litigation teams more efficient and better informed. The panel’s larger message was that there is value in thinking about legal tech products not solely as discrete applications, but as components of a lawyer’s overall workflow.

We tend not to do this. Lawyers, as consumers, are more likely to consider and evaluate software as a standalone product, based on the task for which it was designed. Lawyers are less likely to consider how that product fits into their broader workflow or with other technologies used in that workflow. Legal tech companies, as vendors, likewise tend to focus their development on their product and the particular purpose it addresses, without much thought about the broader context in which lawyers will use the product.

Of course, that’s not uniformly true. In fact, legal tech companies are getting much better at thinking about integrations between their products and others lawyers use. Some have made such integrations part of their core model. A good example is the practice management platform Clio, which extensively integrates with third-party applications. Many other legal tech companies have APIs – application programming interfaces – that make it easier for their software to work with other companies’ software.

Also, larger legal tech companies, including Thomson Reuters and LexisNexis, have focused their development strategies in recent years around integrating their various stand-alone products into more cohesive workflows that share common interfaces and controls and that better emulate how lawyers use their products in actual practice. However, these companies have not done much to integrate with third-party applications, short of acquiring them.

This lack of holistic thinking is understandable given that, historically, it was not how legal professionals bought technology or how companies marketed it. Software products were sold as stand-alone applications designed to handle a specific task – keep time, process words, present at trial, or whatever. To the extent companies thought about lawyers’ broader workflows, they did so by extending the capabilities of their own products, but not by thinking about well their products might play with other products.

But now, a more holistic view is possible, thanks in large part to two factors – the prevalence of cloud computing and the burgeoning number of legal tech startups. These days, cloud platforms and APIs make it easy for tech products to play well with other products. And, as startups develop new products for the cloud, they are more commonly likely to consider potential integrations in their designs. It behooves them to do this, because many startups’ products address a narrow niche and integrations can help drive users.

All of that said, holistic thinking remains the exception, not the rule, when it comes to legal technology. I believe that, in developing products for the legal market, companies should be mindful of the entirety of a lawyer’s workflow. While many technologies are sold as standalone applications, few actually operate that way. Rather, they are components of larger workflows driving lawyers’ day-to-day legal work and law practices. If companies think about how their products best serve these overall workflows, it follows that they will better serve their customers.

But the key to driving this kind of holistic thinking is not the companies, it is the lawyers and other legal professionals who, as consumers, buy their products. When shopping for a technology product, legal professionals should answer for themselves two overarching questions: First, how well does the product do the task for which it was designed, and second, how will does it fit within your broader workflow and the other products you use in your practice.

It might seem that I’m preaching the obvious here. But I’ve seen it too many times. A lawyer or law firm buys a shiny new product only to realize, too late, that it does not work with some other system or product already in place. The onus is on both product developers and legal consumers to take a more holistic view to technology, but it is more heavily on consumers, because the market will follow consumer demand.


Robert Ambrogi is a Massachusetts lawyer and journalist who has been covering legal technology and the web for more than 20 years, primarily through his blog LawSites.com.

 

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