By Catherine Ostheimer – CloudNine
Conversations on and off the session stage at Legal Week 2023 signaled that industry innovation is now on a fast track. Whether it’s due to the advent of new tech permeating our daily lives (OpenAI launched plugins for ChatGPT for commonly used apps like Slack, Open Table, Expedia on March 23), the influx of a new generation of tech-savvy lawyers, or the COVID-created hybrid work life that isn’t going anywhere, real change is happening in legal and evidence of an evolution taking place was in full force at the Hilton Midtown in NYC last week.
Here are our observations on legal innovation from Legal Week 2023.
Change is no longer a choice
In their recap of the state of the industry, ALM’s Heather Nevitt and Patrick Fuller indicated that digital transformation is no longer a choice for law firms and legal teams. Business and outside pressures are demanding better, more predicable outcomes and law firm revenue models that move away from the billable hour, which point to new ways of getting work done.
Zach Warren of Thomson Reuters in a talk on legal technology being a firm’s superpower, indicated that tech use is not just a cost play, but can provide a much-needed way to differentiate in a competitive market. Katie Orr, the global head of practice innovation at Orrick, commented in a legal services delivery talk that something has changed when it comes to lawyers adopting new technology. “There’s been a widespread realization within law firms, especially now that they are more resource constrained, that repeat work needs to be minimized and made more efficient with tech, to free up space to focus on higher value work.”
This greater embracing of tech also shone through in our discussions with companies, many with whom we met for the first time. Engaged conference attendees not only attended sessions in droves–more so than in past years–but also asked excellent questions in our meetings and appeared eager to learn how tech can save them time and money.
Generative AI makes AI mainstream—there’s no going back
There’s been talk of applying AI to legal work for years, but at this Legalweek, the discussions seemed different. In an emerging technology session on AI chat, Jim Wagner, Lean Law Labs, and formerly of Seal Software, talked about the speed at which ChatGPT is gaining traction. A visceral demonstration of this fast-tracked tech adoption was when he asked how many in the room had used ChatGPT in some capacity recently. More than 75% of the roomful of attendees raised their hand. While extolling ChatGPTs virtues like ease of use and ability to structure data rapidly, he also offered up a few cautions and referenced a March 24th WSJ article on ChatGPT which discusses why some companies like JP Morgan are abandoning it.
Wagner’s advice: don’t expect an immature technology like ChatGPT to always provide the right answer. Also, be sure to manage how your team or outside provider is handling your data in ChatGPT, with the preference being to maintain data in silos so that no one else can gain access to it, rather than it being used to build a large language model (LLM.)
Modern data can no longer be ignored in the discovery process
In an emerging technology educational track talk, the challenge of dealing with emerging data types like Slack and Teams data and text messages was raised by Deeanna Fleener, Integreon. “Any communications your company or firm’s employees have created since COVID will contain short message data—you can no longer argue it away in litigation prep,” she said.
Dealing with the growing types and volume of information coming from newer ways of communicating in investigations or discovery work can be daunting. Rick Clark, CloudNine recommends thinking of modern data types found especially in mobile phones in eDiscovery “as data, not docs” when reviewing these data. They are just points of metadata that have to be analyzed in a near-native fashion.” Clark also shared that since people today often switch from texting, to using Slack, to making a phone call, it’s critical to find a technology solution for eDiscovery that helps you to see the whole conversation in a cohesive way. (Note: CloudNine is the first to market a solution for handling short message data in eDiscovery efficiently, CloudNine Analyst.)
Change management requires a systematic approach
Several educational sessions throughout the week included discussions on change management. ILTA’s president, Joy Heath Rush, in a talk on “Change Management is Legal Technology,” offered this advice on how to be successful with new tech rollouts. “Lawyers don’t hate technology, they hate complexity. Make sure the product is easy to use, and that you make it as easy as possible to start using it.”
The language used in technology and policy rollouts should also be chosen carefully. Stephen Bainbridge of Egress raised the heightened risk all organizations have today due to the way people communicate changing, with Slack, Teams, email and texts dominating work communication channels. “Hacking is up, and security training is needed. Security creates friction, something lawyers do not like. When it comes to rolling out new security processes, use language like “Strongly suggest”, rather than mandate a change.”
In the “Using tech as a superpower” discussion, Vedika Mehera, from Orrick, mentioned the importance of selling the idea of a new solution early on. “Start by asking questions. Listen to what people find challenging in their day-to-day work and keep them involved throughout the process.” Mehera also suggested using the early adopters of a new solution as those to champion use throughout the firm. “Have them demonstrate in a department call how they used the technology and what they are getting out of it. The message is more credible coming from a peer rather than the project team lead.”
Thinking back on the many discussions we heard last week, it’s clear that the legal community is moving past what Gartner’s hype cycle model refers to as the trough of disillusionment and has entered the slope of enlightenment when it comes to embracing technology. It’s a thrilling time to be in legal tech, and we look forward to continuing to be part of the conversation and being a partner to law firms and legal in-house teams wanting to address the changing legal landscape head on.