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Industry trends

2016 Legal Tech/ Industry predictions: What do the prognosticators see?

David Curle  Director, Technology and Innovation Platform, Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute

David Curle  Director, Technology and Innovation Platform, Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute

The new year always brings a flurry of predictions about where the legal technology industry is headed, and this past month was no exception. But the predictions of any given observer are often colored by that individual’s position in the industry and their predilections and biases towards specific changes or industry phenomena.

I decided to take a page out of the Nate Silver playbook, and try to do with predictions what Silver does with political polling. I looked at a number of predictions articles in the aggregate, to see if I could root out any consensus or common themes among the prognosticators, in the theory that the wisdom of this particular crowd would have more weight than any one of their voices alone.

The following doesn’t represent any kind of statistical analysis. I simply broke down each prediction article by specific topics in order to identify the hottest ideas. It does provide, I think, a good summary of what is on the minds of legal industry observers as we head into 2016. I list the specific articles I examined below.

The big three: Artificial Intelligence, Cybersecurity & Analytics/Metrics

The most common themes for predictions were the growing impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) on the law, the importance of Cybersecurity, and the application of more analytics in legal work. Not all predictions about these themes were the same. For example, regarding the growth of AI, there are a wide range of opinions about how quickly the industry will adopt AI — but it is clearly on everyone’s mind.

Almost every set of predictions about the industry included something about Artificial Intelligence — or Robot Lawyers, Cognitive Computing or Computational Law, as it is variously referred to. In fact, one of the biggest issues in this space is the lack of a consistent vocabulary. We can’t think of a single term to call it, and we sometimes use the same term to describe vastly different technologies and methodologies. But regardless of the nomenclature, it’s pretty clear that there are a wide range of passions about its coming impact on the industry. A few are enthusiastic boosters (Monica Bay — computational law will grow “exponentially”). Others are much more reserved (Joe Kelly — sees widespread adoption of AI rates a 1 on a 5-point feasibility scale). Then there are those in the middle, who see AI incrementally breaking in and replacing the hype (Both Ron Friedmann and Joanna Goodman see the hype around AI diminishing as it becomes more like other tech innovations).

Cybersecurity seems to be the corner of this predictions universe most subject to doom-and-gloom scenarios. A number of prognosticators (Jordan Furlong, Zach Olsen, and Rob Walls) predict that some form of serious cybersecurity breach at a major firm will spur on new developments. David Houlihan notes that a convergence is on its way, as inevitable as one of the chocolate/peanut butter collision in the old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups commercials: Even as cloud solutions are adopted more widely, sensitivity to cyber threats is on the rise. Houlihan sees no clear resolution of that tension in 2016.

With regard to analytics, it’s clear that Moneyball-style thinking has come to the legal industry to stay. Several observers see increasing use of metrics all over the industry, from predicting litigation outcomes (a la Lex Machina) to measuring and predicting lawyer performance (a la Lawyer Metrics). Everyone seems to agree that there will be more and more metrics available to measure different aspects of legal services, and better tools to turn those metrics into actionable analytics. To draw the inevitable baseball analogy, the awareness of legal metrics today seems to be comparable to the moment when the book and later film Moneyball popularized the notion of analytics and predictions in sports. Prior to the release of the film, analytics was an obscure corner of the sports world, but the movie showed how it could be accessible and mainstream. With the rise of companies like Lex Machina, law too has had its Brad Pitt moment and analytics are suddenly mainstream.

ABS and alternative providers

It’s clear that the legal industry is becoming more aware that the traditional law firm isn’t the only available packaging for legal services. A number of prognosticators argue that non-firm entities will continue to make inroads in the industry, including various forms of legal process outsourcers, the Big Four accounting firms, and technology-based companies such as LegalZoom (Bob Denney, Euan Sinclair, David Bilinsky).

What’s not clear is whether there is agreement on whether UK-style reform of the restrictions on ownership of law firms can or will be a part of the future here in the US. (Mary Redzic says maybe, Ken Grady says no). Most observers, at any rate, think this trend toward more alternative providers will forge ahead with or without regulatory reform.

New skill sets and staffing models

This may be the sleeper issue of 2016. Until now most of the discussion of change in the legal industry has been around specific technologies and methods of service delivery, with little attention to the “people” side of the equation. But this year a number of predictions center around issues of what it means to be a lawyer and who besides lawyers are involved in the delivery of legal services.

A number of predictions highlight the fact that most lawyers today are not equipped to fill increasingly important roles in legal services delivery, and that the industry will have to make room for those who are (Casey Flaherty: legal operations, pricing and technology professionals; Camille Stell: leadership, cultural competency, team-building and various other “soft” skills).

Technology adoption

Another popular theme was the ability of individuals and organizations to embrace technology. For some observers, it’s time for the tech-savvy lawyers to outnumber the Luddites in the industry (Sam Glover, Monica Bay). The pressure to leverage technology will also operate on the firm level, and law firms who do articulate better tech strategies will be rewarded (Jon Schildt, Joshua Lenon).

New legal products

A number of predictions centered around the “productization” of legal services. Technology is enabling firms to find new containers for legal services, including services variously called Law Firm as a Service (Ryan McClead), Information as a Legal Service (Hugh Logue), or Commoditized Legal Services (Mike Susong).

The rest

Other topics that were the subject of multiple predictions:

  • Legal marketing leveraging social media and technology;
  • Virtual law offices’
  • Predictions of large law mergers and failures;
  • A new kind of focus on client experience;
  • The increasing role of clients in setting the tone for the industry; and
  • The role of leadership, or the lack thereof, in the fate of the industry in 2016.

Overall, the industry’s prognosticators don’t always agree on the pace of change, but there is a good level of agreement about where change is occurring.

View the story as it originally appeared on the Legal Executive Institute blog.