I recently had the opportunity to (virtually) attend the first three days of Legalweek, the most important conference for those in the legal tech industry. Obviously, this year’s event looked very different in terms of structure and content than in previous years. But when I listened to legal and technology experts discuss the state of the art in the industry, I was happily surprised that the message conveyed wasn’t of doom and gloom as one might expect in a pandemic year. Instead, a more inspiring theme has emerged for our industry – hope through innovation.
Just as we as individuals have learned hard lessons in this unprecedented year and now look to a brighter spring, the legal industry has learned valuable lessons about how to use technology and innovate to meet the challenges this year has brought Has. From working remotely in scenarios never before possible to recognizing the critical role diversity plays in the future of our industry, this year has forced lawyers to adapt quickly, adopt new technology and listen more to some of our most innovative Leader.
Below, I’ve highlighted the key lessons learned from the first three days of Legalweek, as well as the opportunities to use the lessons learned this year to give your organization or law firm a better future.
“Man + machine” not “man against machine”
Almost as soon as artificial intelligence (AI) technology began to play a role in the legal industry, it was debated whether machines could (or should) eventually replace lawyers. This debate often turns into a simple argument, which is better: man or machine. However, if the past year has taught us anything, it is that responses to social debates often require nuance and introspection rather than a “hot attitude”. The truth is that AI can no longer be viewed as a futuristic option that is only used in certain types of ediscovery matters. Nor should it be viewed as having the potential to replace lawyers in a dystopian future. Rather, AI has become indispensable to the work of lawyers and will ultimately be necessary to help lawyers serve their clients effectively and efficiently
The volume of data is growing exponentially year after year, so that even the smallest internal examinations will soon require too much data to be effectively checked only by human eyes. AI and analytics tools are now required to prioritize, sort, and categorize data in most litigation so lawyers can efficiently find and review the information they need. With advances in AI technology, attorneys can now quickly identify categories of information that previously required expensive linear verification (e.g. using AI to identify privileges, protected health information (PHI), or trade secrets).
Aside from finding the needle in the haystack (or simply reducing the haystack), these tools can also help lawyers make better, more strategic advisory and business decisions. For example, AI can now be used to better understand a company’s entire legal portfolio, which in turn enables lawyers to create better frameworks and burden arguments, as well as develop more informed process and compliance strategies.
Hence, the centuries-old debate about which is better (human or machine learning) is actually out of date. Instead, the future of the legal industry is one in which attorneys and legal professionals use advanced technology to competently and effectively serve their clients.
Remote working and cloud-based tools are retained
Of course, one of the biggest lessons the legal industry has learned over the past year is how to work effectively remotely. Almost every organization and law firm around the world has had to quickly move to a more remote workforce – and most have done so successfully, despite facing a host of new data challenges related to the move. However, as we near the second year of the pandemic, it has become clear that many of these changes will not be temporary. In fact, the pandemic just seems to have been an accelerator for trends that were already underway before 2020. For example, many companies have already taken steps to move to a cloud-based data architecture. The pandemic has only forced this transition over a much shorter period of time to make moving to a remote workforce easier.
This means that organizations and law firms need to leverage the lessons learned over the past year in order to remain successful in the future and to cope with the new challenges that arise from a more remote, cloud-based work environment. For example, many companies have implemented cloud-based collaboration tools like Zoom, Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Google Workspace to make it easier for employees to collaborate remotely. However, legal and IT professionals quickly realized that while these types of tools are great for collaboration, many are not geared towards data security, information governance, or legal discovery. The data generated by these tools is very different from conventional e-mails – both in terms of content and structure. For example, audible conversations that used to be about the water cooler or an impromptu face-to-face meeting are now happening through Zoom or Microsoft Teams, and therefore may be discovered during an investigation or legal dispute. Additionally, the data generated by these tools is structured significantly differently than data obtained from traditional email (think chat data, video, and the dynamic “attachments” created by teams). As a result, organizations need to learn how to put rules in place to manage and manage these data sources from a compliance, data security, and legal perspective, while law firms continue to learn how to collect, review, and create this new type of data.
Going forward, it will also become increasingly important to work with legal and IT stakeholders within organizations so that new tools can be properly reviewed and data workflows in place early on. In addition, organizations need a plan to stay one step ahead of technological changes, especially when moving to a cloud-based environment where updates and changes can be rolled out weekly. Lawyers should also consider technology training courses to stay up to date and learn about the various technology platforms and tools used by their company or client so they can continue to provide effective representation.
Information governance is essential to a healthy data strategy
In relation to the above, another key topic that has emerged over the past year is that good information governance is now essential to a healthy business and that it is just as important for lawyers representing organizations to understand how data is within managed by this organization.
The explosion of data volumes and sources as well as the unlimited data storage capacity of the cloud make a strong and dynamic information governance strategy essential. The in-house attorney should ensure that he knows how to manage and protect his company’s data, including understanding what data is being created, where that data is located, and how that data is kept and collected when needed. This is not only important from the perspective of ediscovery and compliance, but also from the point of view of data security and data protection. As more and more jurisdictions around the world enact competing data protection laws, it is imperative for companies to understand what personal data they may be storing and processing, and how it is captured and effectively deleted in the event of a request from a data subject.
As mentioned above, the responsibility for understanding a company’s strategy for storing and retaining data does not just lie with internal legal counsel. Third-party attorneys also need to ensure they understand their clients’ organizational data in order to make effective burden, scope, and strategy decisions during litigation.
A diverse organization is a stronger organization
Another important issue is recognition of the growing importance that diversity plays in the legal industry. This year has strengthened the importance of representation and diversity in all industries and provided more educational opportunities on how diversity within a workforce leads to a stronger, more innovative company. Organizational leaders are increasingly voicing the key role diversity plays in finding the services of law firms and legal technology providers. In particular, many companies have implemented in-house diversity initiatives such as women leadership programs and employee-led diversity groups, and are actively looking for law firms and service providers who can offer similar opportunities to their own employees. Most importantly, organizations and law firms should continue to seek ways to incorporate diverse representation into the structure of their business.
While this year has been plagued by unprecedented challenges and obstacles, the lessons we have learned about technology and innovation over the year will help organizations and law firms survive and thrive in the future.
1 Indeed, attorneys already have an ethical obligation (mandated by professional code) to understand and use existing technology to properly represent their clients.