Back in the day – when opening a law firm meant hanging a sign on your door – attorneys relied heavily on their knowledge and experience to give clients the best possible representation. They still rely on knowledge and experience today, but attorneys in the 21st century have an advantage their counterparts in previous generations did not. That advantage is technology.
An entire legal tech sector has emerged in recent years to support the adoption of technology within the law environment. This particular ‘brand’ of technology is seen as separate from most others because it addresses very specific needs for a very demanding industry. What goes into developing legal tech goes way beyond inventing new electronic components or coming up with friendlier UIs.
Ctech contributor Sophie Schulman wrote a compelling piece in November 2019 discussing legal tech and artificial intelligence. This post will not go through the details of that piece, but it will touch on one of the things Schulman mentioned in passing. She cited three characteristics that make legal tech unique:
1. Its Artificial Intelligence Foundation
Legal tech’s first unique characteristic is its foundation in artificial intelligence. Schulman went as far as to state that legal tech is “based almost entirely on artificial intelligence (AI) technologies.” When you step back and analyze the lion’s share of legal tech solutions now on the market, you discover she is absolutely correct.
A great example is the NuLaw case management application. This is a cloud-based application that combines all the law firm’s software needs into a single package. It relies heavily on automation and artificial intelligence for calendaring, ABA-compliant billing, e-discovery, and even communication.
There is no particular hardware central to legal tech. There are not any development platforms or coding languages dedicated exclusively to legal tech solutions. When you boil it all down, legal tech really is artificial intelligence and automation being adapted to the needs of law firms and corporate law departments.
2. Its Movers and Shakers
Next up are the people behind the legal tech revolution. Schulman points out that many of the entrepreneurs responsible for legal tech startups are not tech professionals. They are legal professionals who have intimate understanding of how technology can make practicing law better. They are attorneys, former law clerks, etc. seeking technology solutions to law’s most pressing problems.
If Schulman is correct – and there is no reason to believe she is not – the makeup of legal tech’s movers and shakers explains why the industry has matured in the way it has. Legal professionals seeking technology solutions aren’t the kind of people who develop a new technology and then attempt to create a need for it. They identify a need and then develop a technology solution.
3. Its Worldwide Prominence
The third and final unique characteristic of legal tech is its worldwide prominence. In other words, legal tech is not dominated by Silicon Valley. Schulman points out that legal tech development is global, with a large concentration of activity in Europe. She also pointed out that the largest round of legal tech funding this year to date, was a $250 million deal arranged by Canadian company.
Worldwide, legal tech startups have secured billions of dollars in funding. That’s not much when you compare it to the amount of funding some other tech sectors have received, but that’s not the point. The point is that legal tech startups exist all over the world.
Legal tech is a different kind of technology because it serves a very unique industry. The legal sector needs technology that has been custom built around its unique needs.