The State of Legal Technology: Challenges, Trends, and Innovations

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Legal technology has become an integral part of law firms and legal departments, paving the way for innovation and efficiencies. However, there is still even more potential to unlock.

In a recent webinar produced in partnership with Law.com, DISCO gathered six legal professionals to discuss the current and future state of legal technology: what challenges firms and in-house counsel are facing, innovations to look out for this year, and hopes for the future. Here, we summarize their thoughts. 

Challenges legal teams are facing 

On the law firm side, Katie DeBord, Chief Innovation Officer at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP, said that firms are feeling an increasing need to differentiate themselves. One way to do this is by having a stellar team — lawyers, process engineers, or people on the innovation team — but talent is difficult to find in the current environment. David Kessler, partner and co-head of E-Discovery & Information Management at Norton Rose Fulbright, added that keeping up with the rapid pace of change in clients, the law, and technology on top of the blurred lines between home and work has been stressful for lawyers and non-lawyers alike.

Ben Wolfert, Director, Legal, Litigation E-Discovery Lead at WeWork, echoed this sense of burnout in the field due to uncertainty and the need to constantly react to rapidly changing legal landscapes, particularly over the last few years. However, he feels optimistic that 2022 will afford legal departments the opportunity to be a return to planning, as does Zach Warren, editor-in-chief of Legaltech News. Warren predicts that legal departments and law firms will move out of reactionary mode induced by the pandemic into reestablishing more normal tech purchasing cycles and implementation schedules.

Wolfert is seeing an increasing reliance on outside counsel so that legal teams can keep up with the pace of legal developments, but expects that in 2022 in-house legal departments will return to focusing on reducing costs, including by leveraging new technologies. Sumit Date, Associate General Counsel at TrustRadius, added that finding the best technology to help people collaborate in a remote environment continues to be a challenge. 

Turning challenges into opportunities

The panelists agreed a huge opportunity for law firms is using technology to make sense of data. Rather than relying on anecdotal evidence, firms can provide better-quantified reasoning based on more real-world data, and thus more actionable intelligence to clients. “I'm not saying the lawyers are going to go away or we're going to be replaced by artificial intelligence or computers,” said Kessler during the panel, “But we're able to have a broader base of understanding on a number of different vectors and show where the risk really changes — the inflection point for the client.” (He even argued this more evidence-based reasoning could help counter some of the uncertainty seen since the COVID-19 pandemic began). 

Andrew Shimek, Chief Revenue Officer of DISCO, agreed, emphasizing that using this kind of data could also drive insights earlier in the matter, to avoid sinking money into matters without merit. For DeBord, she found this data-centric line of thinking to be useful in litigation matters dealing with similar complaints. 

Trends to pay attention to

One clear trend was a shift toward software that can solve more problems. Rather than separate document review software, litigation hold software, and review software, there’s a movement towards a singular platform. Wolfert added, “As an in-house team with limited resources, being able to use a single tool for multiple purposes is crucial.” Shimek said that he is also seeing a desire for an end-to-end platform — even one that can be used before collection. He added that law firms and alternative legal service providers are moving away from being tech-agnostic and deploying whatever the clients want, and instead insisting on tech that delivers materially better outcomes. 

Kessler is seeing technology become a part of the suite of services Norton Rose Fulbright provides to clients, and the way lawyers deliver legal advice is changing. “Part of being a lawyer now is integrating your legal advice about what the risks are with the technology and using technology to obtain the facts necessary to provide an actionable choice for the client,” he said. “An ivory tower answer is useless. Now, you need to say, okay, there's probably no perfect solution here, but here is what you're actually picking between, and here's why we are making this recommendation over this other one, based on these meaningful facts.”

Date is seeing non-lawyers take on more responsibilities, enabled by technology, to create less expensive work streams. For example, legal operations can do work like intakes or the first draft of contracts, before passing it off to lawyers. “I think that's just going to speed up the amount of work that we're going to be able to handle,” he said. “Instead of everything, having to cross my desk, the ability to use tech and other resources allows me to do more in a shorter amount of time.”

DeBord said she’s also seeing innovation come from many places in the firm, not just the innovation department. Warren, agreed, saying the legal industry is increasingly thinking outside the box and becoming tech-savvy as both law firms and their corporate legal clients are exploring what's next. He cited a 2021 LTN tech survey stating that 31% of firms had an increase of 10% or more in their tech budgets.

Finally, the panel ended with a question: what would you do if you had unlimited resources?

Wolfert: “I would double down on using technology to bring down our outside counsel spend, in terms of efficiency by algorithmic pricing or reliance on data.”

Kessler: “The idea of document productions as the go-to way we handle information litigation is antiquated and silly — distributing very sensitive information willy-nilly across experts and depositions, and law firms. It's not a good way to do data security. It's not a good way to handle privacy. It's not a good way to manage data. It's like the antithesis of what we do internally, right? So that should end, and there should be a better way to manage information in litigation so that everyone has access to it and can do their own work product and not be seen by others. But we don't need dozens and dozens and dozens of instances of the data.”

DeBord: “I have this dream, and whoever wants to build it can steal it. I dream of a Spotify-like system for work product, based on their areas of practice, the lawyers with whom they worked, you know, the same types of things that Spotify uses to recommend music. It would recommend briefs or research memos. Maybe even like a chat comes up and says, ‘Hey, Katie, did you know that, you know, Andrew Shimek is also litigating a case involving X statute. Maybe you guys should talk.’ Really pushing the boundaries of how we can use technology to connect each other.”

Watch the full webinar here:


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Erin Russell

Erin Russell is the senior communications manager at DISCO. She has extensive experience covering tech and AI as a journalist and editor, and her bylines include Texas Monthly, Eater, and Austin Business Journal.

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