Legaltech, lawtech, legal technology and Legat IT. But have you thought about techtech? What’s techtech I hear you say? Well, it’s all the other tech lawyers and their clients use. The tech that isn’t badged “legaltech”. Why mention this? If you focus exclusively on legaltech to solve your business problems, you may be missing out on a wealth of more mature, better supported and more functional or flexible solutions used outside of law, and often used heavily by legal clients. Find out why this can make a massive difference, and the costs of overlooking the not so obvious opportunity of #techtech.
Lawtomated’s Legaltech Cave
Imagine a cave where legaltech buyers have been imprisoned from childhood, but not from birth. These prisoners are chained so that their legs and necks are fixed, forcing them to gaze at the wall in front of them and not to look around at the cave, each other, or themselves.
Behind the prisoners is a wall. Peeping over the top of the wall is a projector operated by the legaltech and general legal media. The projector flashes legaltech marketing, use cases, ROI and buzzwords such as blockchain, AI, no code and plenty of ordinary words prefixed with the word “legal”.
The prisoners cannot see any of what is happening behind them. They are only able to see the ghostly projections cast upon the cave wall in front of them.
Eventually, after reading this article, a few humans escape the cave…
This is no easy task, and only a curious soul, is able to leave the cave, up the steep incline to the cave mouth.
Upon exiting the cave they realise the false reality they lived through, the artificial curtailment of their reality by the projector’s lens of technology…
…at the cave mouth they step into the bright sunlight and realise a new reality…
The world beyond legaltech.
As far as the eye can see, there is technology that is mature, well-integrated, feature-rich, and… already familiar to and well used by clients. There is also change management, process mapping, design thinking, target operating models, KPIs.
Strangely, there is also a lot of “older” legaltech – the workhorses for many successful businesses – yet incongruously absent from the projections.
So what does it mean?
The cave represents superficial legaltech reality. That there is only legaltech and problems solved with it.
It also represents ignorance. Ignorance of non-legaltech, including non-legaltech owned already yet underutilized. And also ignorance of older, more established legaltech and the fact a lot of legaltech has been around for decades yet no longer sexy, and in some cases no longer considered legaltech but just tech.
Those in the cave (legaltech buyers and legal professionals generally) accept what they see at face value when it comes to legaltech: that there is only legaltech and only legaltech can soothe their sorrows.
The chains that prevent the prisoners from leaving the cave represent that they are trapped in ignorance. The chains stop them knowing their true physical reality. The shadowy images cast on the walls of the cave via the projector represent the superficial truth, which is the illusion that the prisoners see in the cave.
The freed prisoner represents those who understand that their world projected onto the cave wall is only a shadow of the truth, projected through a legaltech lens, and the sun that is glaring the eyes of the escaped prisoners represents the higher truth of ideas beyond legaltech.
By escaping the cave, they avoid at least four mistakes when qualifying and selecting technology for an identified legal process, product or service problem.
Four reasons to look beyond legaltech
If you don’t look beyond legaltech, you’re making at least four mistakes:
01. Artificial constraints
To some extent, legal innovation suffers from Maslow’s Hammer: the over-reliance on legaltech simply because it is more immediately familiar through marketing and hype.
If all you know is legaltech, everything looks like a problem for legaltech… and not something you could solve with some techtech you already have or could more effectively procure and implement.
If you’ve identified a business case for workflow automation, why limit yourself to legaltech specific apps, e.g. Neota Logic, Bryter, Autto etc? All perfectly good, well-designed and well-supported applications.
But why not also consider non-legal specific equivalents – many of which are larger and more established, and in a few cases, have several law firm and law firm client customers. Examples include Mendix, Betty Blocks, UiPath and so on.
A minor point, but you are also undervaluing the non-legaltech tools that grease the wheels of everyday business, e.g. Zoom, Slack, Microsoft Teams, Outlook and Microsoft Office, which although not legaltech, are where the average legal professional and clients get 90% of their work done.
Why is that important?
It’s important because you may be missing some obvious marginal gains around these systems., especially those you already own.
For instance, are you making use of the collaboration features in Zoom, Teams or Slack to their fullest?
Chances are you aren’t.
If you throw away your “legaltech” lenses, you’ll start to see many more opportunities for service design improvements across your entire tech stack, including opportunities to leverage what you already have, but also solutions beyond legaltech that offer features designed for similar use cases in other industries, including potentially your clients’ industries.
02. Missing out.
Tied to the above, you may be overlooking tech you already have. If you don’t think of your existing tech as legaltech, chances are you don’t consider it whenever you have a business case for a legal ops or innovation project.
Failure to do so could be costing you.
Simple. Don’t buy twice!
If you already have licences for things, doesn’t it make sense to check whether they could solve your problem vs rushing out to buy the latest legaltech point solution?
Not only will you avoid yet more licence fees, you will also save on total costs of ownership, i.e. the hidden costs of the time it takes to select, build business cases for, procure, security check, and drive adoption of new tech.
A good example of making use of what you have is Office 365. Granted law firms – especially BigLaw – are mostly not yet users of O365 because it is cloud-based, but many law firm clients do already use it. There are also a growing number of firms moving to O365.
Unlike the traditional on premises enterprise version of Microsoft Office, cloud based Office 365 includes a wealth of natively integrated apps that potentially do away with countless legaltech specific point solutions, including document management, document automation, RPA, AI data extraction, search and knowledge management.
O365 also includes a ton of dummy data packs, templates for app use cases, and 200+ SaaS integrations ready to go out of the box:
Don’t believe us? Well, with Office 365 you could (and can) use…
- Microsoft Power Automate (formerly Microsoft Flow) to automate a decision tree of knowledge, a self-service NDA creation, approval, execution and filing workflow.
- Microsoft Azure AI to automate basic data extraction and contract reporting of order forms, invoices and contracts.
- Microsoft SharePoint’s Syntex feature set to build a comprehensive knowledge management system.
Still don’t believe us?
See the below demo of how to do these exact things in O365 (via the Centre for Legal Innovation).
03. Reinventing the wheel
The combined cost of (1) and (2) is buying yet more point solutions, often launched in the past 5 – 6 years.
Now newness doesn’t mean bad. Nor does it mean better.
The one factor you may encounter is that new solutions may not be as mature, well-supported, battle-tested or easily integrated.
They may not scale to te demands of your organisation. A 2- 5 person start-up cannot easily support a 200+ or 2000+ organisation, let alone several. That shouldn’t decisively put you off, but bear it in mind.
The other risk is that some newer solutions are often reinventions of:
(a) existing yet under adopted legaltech; or
(b) less mature reinventions of technology used outside of law.
Reinventions of existing yet under adopted legltech
Document automation is an example of the former. Around for decades, adoption remains low. Partly this is resistance among lawyers to view their work as standardizable, at least in part, and thereby capable of commoditization via standardization and then systematization. And partly because legacy tools have had higher barriers to entry-level use, e.g. the need to learn a product-specific mark-up language, necessitating the need for vendor and / or buyer side document automation experts.
Reinventions of technology used outside of law
In reality, there is no such thing as legaltech, only technology.
Granted, legaltech is a convenient moniker for tech aimed at legal problems. However, through a reductionist lens, a lot of legal use cases can be (but often aren’t, deliberately or otherwise) viewed as rather generic business problems, e.g. creating, reading, updating, deleting and generally moving data about via people and process.
The domain context – law – is different perhaps, but at the level of jobs to be done, there’s a lot of overlap with similar jobs to be done in other industries.
So it’s no wonder a lot of legaltech reinvents or re-uses general technology and design patterns.
No code and low code app building and robotic process automation software is one example.
Although there are great legal-specific options (Neota Logic, Bryter, Autto etc), there is a wealth of longstanding non-legal platforms, such as Mendix, Betty Blocks, UiPath and so on. Some of these “non-legaltech” options have started to build out prominent legal clients. For instance, Mendix’s clients include BCLP (and recent job postings also suggest Freshfields) whereas Betty Blocks is used by Clifford Chance.
Deal management is another example.
As clients begin adopting tools such as Asana, Trello, Basecamp, Microsoft Project and similar for internal project and team management, will there be a shift to insisting legal transactions are run via these platforms across multiple stakeholders? Or do legal-specific equivalents integrate more tightly with Microsoft?
After all, these tools do many of the same things at a high-level:
- Create to-do items
- Assign to-do items to one or more users
- Assign to-do items deadlines
- Upload / download documents and other media to / from to-do items
- Collaborate on to-do items via comments and other interactions
- Perform manual, automated or semi-automated tracking of to-do items
- Run basic analytics of work in progress, work completed and work yet to do
- Integrate with notifications, calendars and so on
And as a reminder of point (1), backbone technology platforms such as Office 365 (and equivalents such as Salesforce and Google Workplace (formerly G Suite) increasingly provide no code and low code natively integrated automation and app building features that easily solve many use cases found in legal.
Reinventing the wheel, whether a legaltech or general tech one, isn’t necessarily bad or unwarranted.
After all, wheels today look nothing like the first wheel in terms of function , composition or use cases.
There are many non-legal examples whereby an existing market for a product or service is dramatically reinvented via: (a) superior product performance (e.g. what Google did to Yahoo! in terms of internet search), (b) superior user experience (e.g. Netflix vs. Blockbuster), (c) evolving use cases (e.g. wheels for horse carts vs. wheels for conveyor belts), or (d) some combination of (a) to (c).
In some senses, the explosion of document automation options is a good example of this caveat, e.g. how entrant document automation products have focussed on no-code automation, self-service, ease of use and generally lowering the cost of experimentation and adoption, expanding the market and sweeping up users put off by legacy document automation tools rife with hard to learn pseudocode and fiddly interfaces.
04. Meeting your customers in the wrong place
Using legaltech specific products with clients should be seamless. Instead, it usually requires the client to understand, approve, and learn how to use the product.
All of which provides ample reasons to decline use of the tech, and throwaway any potential efficiency or value generating opportunities.
Instead of foisting onto a client alien tech that the client doesn’t use, meet them where they are already working. Oftentimes, this will be somewhere the legal organisation is already working.
Again, Office 365 is a good example.
Your clients probably use it. If you can use it, why not try and use it together. Are there tools your client uses to manage projects that they’d like you to use with them when managing their next deal? Common examples include tools such as Box, Dropbox, Asana, Microsoft Teams, and Slack.
Don’t know? Ask your clients!
This is especially true of start-up, scale-up and tech-first law firm clients formed in the past 5 to 10 years. And it’s also increasingly true of consumers working with high street firms, who are often horrified that such firms don’t use, or don’t know how to use, basic technology to grease the wheels of standard legal processes.
To be fair to legaltech, there are plenty of solutions that follow this approach, either integrating tightly within solutions legal professionals and their clients use (e.g. Word plugins or similar that slot neatly into entrenched Microsoft stack driven processes, such as Litera ContractCompanion, Define or Office & Dragons), or closely resembling and improving upon existing familiar paradigms. Legatics and Litera Transact are good examples of the latter. Their design is familiar enough to existing ways of working, yet sufficiently smarter in terms of workflow and added features that the learning curve required for adoption is non-frightening and familiar to most legal users, including clients.
So are you saying ignore all legaltech?
No. Not at all. There are many truly amazing legaltech products powered by fantastic teams doing great things and delivering huge value for their customers (and their customers).
We are simply saying:
There are many excellent and, in some but not all cases, superior non-legaltech solutions that cover end to end process, single or multi-point solutions.
Equally, there are many legaltech solutions that succeed in isolation, or in gestalt combination form a whole greater than the sum of their parts.
And of course, you can and should consider combining legaltech and non-legaltech where it makes sense.
It often does!
And don’t forget…
The usual best practices for technology selection still apply.
If you are looking for tech to improve your legal organisation, or build direct to consumer tech-driven products or services, make sure you have an identified a problem worth solving, with identified personas and ideally some mapping of the processes and priorities involved to deliver something new, or improve upon the status quo.