By Barry Solomon, Vice President, Sales Advisors, Litera
Part of series of articles from Litera leaders on themes related to this year's ILTACON event.
As I prepare to attend ILTACON in person once again, I've been thinking about how far we've come since legal tech and ILTA were in their infancy – and what remains to be done.
I like to categorize the various changes I've seen during my career in three phases. At each phase, essential milestones were passed, but new challenges emerged. Here's how I see these three phases:
Phase 1: Centralized but Inaccessible Technology
My career began at a time when my fellow associates and I would stay up late at night, with a red pen and ruler in hand, manually marking up changes to documents we negotiated during the day. For us lawyers, the process was entirely manual. We had central word processing back then, but that often entailed sending off handwritten documents to be processed – we lawyers didn't get our hands on the technology (more on this later).
There was technology, but the legal teams didn't have it!
To the extent the lawyers provided input to centralized systems, it was often manual (think drafting on legal pads) and tedious (think entering time and billing data). We are not too far removed from a time when email was a novelty, and many partners had their email printed to read offline.
Outside of our practice, technology was taking on an increasingly important role for lawyers. At the office, however, much of our legal work involved drudgery and manual processes. Due diligence reviews, for example, involved long days and nights reading printed documents. Even when some technology did work its way into the mix, the work was still tedious – budgeting in spreadsheets, cutting and pasting text among agreements and proposals.
Phase 2: The Age of Point Solutions
At some point, some of us practicing law in that first phase of legal tech decided that we had had enough of the drudgery. Many founders of legal tech companies were lawyers who started to create terrific products out of a passion for removing the friction and tedium of repetitive work and helping members of legal teams have a more satisfying life. Several products that are now part of the Litera ecosystem got their start this way:
- Pieter van der Hoeven created Clocktimizer to relieve the monotony of some of his work at DLA Piper, where he tired of spending late nights and weekends pulling together accurate budgets. He built a system that uses Natural Language Processing to mine the data in lawyers' time sheets for insights that can be used to support data-driven decisions, budgeting, pricing, and legal project management.
- While at the law firm Ice Miller, Haley Altman began to create products to help streamline the services provided to clients, which led to the creation of Doxly. This transaction management platform solved many of the pain points she experienced trying to manage the complex processes that go into an acquisition.
- Noah Waisberg spent several years as an associate at Weil, Gotshal & Manges performing M&A due diligence, manually reviewing contracts, before concluding that there had to be a better way. He built Kira, which uses Artificial Intelligence to automate contract data analysis and expand the review scope.
- As an associate at Sidley Austin, I saw that law firms needed a legal-focused Client Relationship Management system to manage client relationships and communications. So, I left my practice for a legal tech startup, where we developed a CRM platform. I later helped develop Foundation, an enterprise experience management system that solves many barriers to effective knowledge management, marketing, and business development at law firms.
Each of these lawyer-built solutions solves a discrete problem faced by legal teams trying to win and serve clients more efficiently. In the process, they make the practice and business of law more enjoyable and satisfying. They free lawyers and other legal professionals from various lower-level tasks, enabling them to focus on higher-level, more satisfying work for their internal and external clients.
In recent years, thousands of lawyers have adopted these solutions and hundreds of other legal tech offerings, significantly benefitting the legal profession. Legal tech is a success story.
However, all that success has created a new type of challenge. Many legal tech applications are point solutions that help users solve specific problems but otherwise operate in isolation from each other. All of them use data, but that data tends to reside in separate silos, so users expend a lot of effort moving in and out of those applications and sometimes re-creating the same data multiple times. That separation means firms lose the valuable insight buried in all that data.
Phase 3: Integration and Collaboration
Litera has acquired all the above products and many more, but not out of a desire to grow larger. Nor is it merely a consolidation play, although offering customers a single vendor for multiple solutions is valuable. We've set out to create an ecosystem with integration among these applications and the data they operate on to enable firm-wide collaboration across practice areas, geographies, and functions.
I'll draw an analogy. Think of several high-quality boutique law firms, each with a practice area specialty. They merge to form a new firm yet continue to operate as multiple law firms under one roof. They share a common name and perhaps some administrative functions, but the whole would be no more than the sum of the parts. That is until the new firm begins to operate collaboratively across practice areas, to focus on the client's business problems rather than on their separate practice silos.
Similarly, we believe there is a better way for legal teams to collaborate within and across other legal teams and functions using technology rather than just adding more. We want to break down the silos that separate legal teams and the software with which they work. We want to integrate the data that runs through a legal organization to give everyone in the firm visibility into data about clients, lawyers, matters, and related information and content. We want to eliminate duplicative efforts where separate applications share the same data. And we want to drive broader technology adoption to deliver even greater value across the firm.
That integration and collaboration represent the third phase of legal tech, and we are living through this transformation today.
ILTA and the Third Phase of Legal Tech
I'm looking forward to returning to ILTACON this year, partly because I see in the development of ILTA this same progression into this exciting third phase of legal tech. ILTA President Joy Heath Rush and I "came of age" in that first legal tech era when we were both working at Sidley Austin – me as a young lawyer, Joy as the head of our centralized word processing center. I wasn't entirely honest earlier when I wrote how, back in the day, "we lawyers didn't get our hands on the technology." You see, I distinctly recall a weekend evening when the partner asked that I make needed changes to a set of documents. Joy's team wasn't on duty, so I called her in a panic. Joy carefully (and patiently) talked me through the process of firing up the word processing system, which no lawyer had ever done, and walked me through the changes I needed to make. We've come a long way since then!
ILTA started in that first phase of legal tech, focused on the centralized technology systems and the CIOs that ran them. ILTA and its members have continued to develop alongside the legal profession, opening itself up to the many new solutions of Phase II and now beginning to work on the opportunities created by Phase III.
Joy and I crossed paths again when she served as VP of Client Development at Litera. Now she's presiding over ILTA as we all move into this new third phase, colleagues and friends from law firms, in-house legal departments, and legal tech providers. I look forward to continuing this journey with all of you at ILTACON this year.
Posted in Legal