First View: Legal Tech NYC 2016

Legal Tech PortI hope everyone at LegalTech had a great time, there certainly was a lot to see! While I like to do an overview of new technology every year, this year I wanted to focus on answering a big question about legal technology. Legal pretty much developed all of the modern document management systems we use today. Then it was legal that came up with the automated ediscovery and continuous learning software. For years, legal led the world in developing technology that could take over the work performed by entry-level associates, moving basic knowledge work from humans to machines. Now, the rest of the world is catching up quickly.

In just a year or two, we can expect fully autonomous cars and taxis to hit the road in large numbers. A Deep Learning system, Watson, was created to beat human contestants on the game show Jeopardy, and has now “graduated” to consult with oncologists at Sloan Kettering; Watson is acknowledged to be better at designing a course of treatment for lung and breast cancer than any human doctor. What was my question for LegalTech? Just this… has the Legal world squandered those years in the lead, and will it now need to do a mass transition to TAR (Technology Assisted Reviews),  CAL (Continuous Active Learning), and Deep Learning Systems.  I don’t have an answer in this blog, but LegalTech ain’t over… till it’s over!

For this first installment, I’m just going to mention a few of the highlights from the Key Note speech. A bit later, I want to get back to the Big Question! So, here’s a few early tidbits to think about!


Rate Of Progress: It was pointed out early in the Key Note speech that sharpened turkey quills were once the key document technology in law firms. Just a reminder that while legal firms always move slowly to adopt new technology, they do eventually adopt.

Unmet Expectations: Jurors expect to see technology in the courtroom that looks like the court technology on TV. Rarely will those expectations be met in a real courtroom. Most courtrooms don’t have WiFI, computer projectors or other consumer level technology. And they don’t have IT techs waiting around to support your problematic PowerPoint presentation. Too often, legal teams don’t think of think of bringing along a paper backup for their electronic presentation… in case they run into an insurmountable technical problem.

Paper, Really?: While we are all talking about e-discovery, automation and Continuous Active Learning, just about all of that technology is targeted at pre-trial. Not the courtroom. Judges on the Key Note panel are still seeing lawyers who show up with paper documents for the jury’s review. Too often they show up with just one copy and expect the court proceedings to stop while a single copy of a document is passed from Juror to Juror.

Missing Evidence: It’s difficult to say what the true level of technology is in court cases since less than 1% of cases actually make it to court. Is the technology used for the 99% better than the technology of the 1% that makes it to court? Possibly! If the discovery process is productive, in a positive or negative way, it may force an out of court settlement.

Onshore, Offshore… Not Shore?: The technology that’s most important to us is not necessarily the technology that we want to discuss. Take the Cloud, for example. When documents are in the cloud, it’s time for your legal staff to play that fun game, “Whose jurisdiction is it anyway?” Data in the cloud physically reside anywhere. Someone’s email) could reside on several servers in different countries. It’s common for company management to discover the real location of their data, only after litigation has started. Microsoft is experimenting with offshore, underwater, data centers. They say it’s because pf the low cost of land and the availability of water for cooling. Really? That’s going to offset the cost of building and servicing these centers? Is Microsoft building a more robust data center, or an offshore legal defense against government oversight? In either case, if undersea data-centers catch on, I hope the FBI has a budget for wetsuits!

Old Rules Are Good Rules: No matter what, the twin rules of proportionality and reasonableness apply! If it takes $1,000,000 of effort to settle a case worth $10,000, you probably don’t need to do it. Go to the judge and talk about the dollars. Judges understand that discovery can be very expensive, and when it is too expensive they will listen to you. Especially if you propose a reasonable alternative. Don’t throw money way, have that discussion with the judge!

Changing Terms: It used to be that the most used term in legal technology was TAR, and now CAL (Continuous Active Learning) is becoming the term, and the technology, of preference. While they are not identical, CAL has many of the same attributes Natural Language Programming and Deep Learning. The combination of these tools and techniques move well beyond the focus of today’s e-tools, which is generally to support associate tasks. These tools, in other professions, are replacing doctors and financial analysts. There was only a whisper of these tools at this year’s LegalTech, but this is an area where we can expect enormous advances in the next year or two.

Did He Really Say That!: The best new phrase of LegalTech… Judge Lorenzo Garcia urged technologists from opposing parties to work together more collaboratively. How closely? The judge said that in the dance of technology, your IT departments should be, “Dancing Geek to Geek”!

And that is my Niccolls worth for today!

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