Report from LawTech Futures 2013

Yesterday we attended LawTech Futures in London – Europe’s largest legal technology conference arranged by Charles Christian, the world’s most widely-read legal IT commentator and founder, publisher and editor-in-chief of the Legal IT Insider newsletter and website, and Netlaw Media, the leading legal events and media organization. With 800 attendees, three presentation stages delivering multi-stream conference sessions, keynote presentations, panel discussions, interviews, debates and interactive demonstrations as well as an exhibition area of 2500 square meters with over 60 of the world’s best known legal technology suppliers, the event certainly managed to live up to its high standards from last year’s success.

Focus for the event was the future of legal technology, with a purpose for the day to get the delegates to open their eyes to the momentum for change on the legal market and to embrace the challenges. During the day we received plenty new insights and loads of inspiration by futurist Ray Kurzweil, Charles Christian himself and many more of the prominent speakers.

In the opening remarks, Charles Christian talked about the next stage in the consumerisation of legal technology. Over the past few years, the focus on consumerisation has primarily been on devices, but the consumerisation is now reaching the next stage where it is going to be even more disruptive. Most of today’s business systems are so “1990’s”, with such a high level of complexity and non-intuitive interfaces that they require three days of training for the user to get started. Which lawyer is interested in wasting three days on learning internal technology and what is the cost for the firm for the lost revenue?

Charles Christian predicted that the consumerisation now will start affecting the traditional business software development more, even so that traditional software applications faced dead and replacement by app-like applications. Why should business systems need to be so complicated compared with social media platforms like as Facebook?

When looking 2-3 years ahead, Charles Christian also mentioned two clear trends in “iTunesification of law” and “gamification”. In the time before iTunes you had to go to a record store and buy a complete record, even though you only liked one or two of the tracks on the record. With iTunes the music-buying behaviour changed dramatically, allowing the buyer to cherry-pick only the tracks he liked. This cherry-picking, “iTunesification” or “slice-and-dice”-thinking could be applied also in legal practice and knowledge management, allowing the user to slice the information in the most favourable way for each user. The private internet behaviour will also start finding its way in the “gamification”, where a competitive edge could be added to legal training, which lawyer that has been most active or received most attention in social media during the week or where special learning apps already have started to be developed to provide a more practical and interactive way of embracing practical knowledge on how to handle sexual harassment or money laundry situations, or for students to get practical insights on how the work as a law firm associate might be.

The opening remarks where then followed by different break out session on subjects such as hacking threats to law firms, big data analysis, matter collaboration, lawyer mobility and process automation, before the keynote presentation by futurist Ray Kurzweil. As a keynote speaker introduction, Christian Fleck, Managing Director UK of LexisNexis, talked about the global legal market and the unprecedented levels of change with clients demanding real value, new delivery models and new players on the market and why law firms need to maximize investment in infrastructure and technology to ensure that they are competitively positioned.

The “ultimate thinking machine” and futurist, inventor, author, strategist and director of engineering at Google, Ray Kurzweil then provided his fascinating keynote presentation with a talk on technology, how humans process information and how change will impact on our lives. With computing and communication technologies doubling in price-performance, capacity and bandwith every year, professional service firms which are unaware of this accelerated rate of change in emerging technologies will miss the opportunities to leverage and capitalise on the future. Ray Kurzweil then described the human brain as only capable of linear predictions, making it difficult tog rasp this exponential technology acceleration. He also described the functions of the human brain working with pattern recognition rather than mathematic analyses and how the neocortex of the human brain use hierarchies of pattern recognition to communicate with networks of probabilities. We are not born with this hierarchy, instead our neocortex builds it from the thoughts we are thinking. So basically, “you are what you think”.

As for future predictions, Ray Kurzweil predicted that we over the next three to five years will see question-answering systems (like “Watson”) that really work and search enginges that are based on actual understanding of what is being said on each page rather than just the inclusion of keywords. We will see systems that anticipate your needs and answer your questions before you even ask them because they are listening in on your conversations, both spoken and written. We will also see 3D-printing completely revolutionize manufacturing and distribution of products. Looking as far in the future as the 2030s, Ray Kurzweil even predicts that we will merge with the intelligence expanders we are creating, with computorised devices in the size of blood cells circulating in our bloodstream to keep us healthy and extend our longevity. As for the legal industry, Ray Kurzweil congratulated the attendees for choosing a future-proof line of work. Ray Kurzweil predicted that simpler legal work will be automated (a trend which has already started to take off), but that new and more complex legal issues will evolve constantly, requiring more and more sophisticated legal advice. Codification will remain a large part although it will become more intricate. Actually, the invention of law is one of the things that make us human.

The final session of the day consisted of five very inspiring thought leadership presentations. Peter Owen, Founder of Lights-On Consulting, started off with a presentation on why most IT projects fail. Apparently 68% of all IT projects fail, mostly due to overconfidence in technology and to the fact that most often the project leader role is assigned to the “techie” who is just in front of the technology curve, but not experienced enough. The key to success is to focus on the right people, the right processes and to raise enough spend and to put the technology itself last.

Don Hughes, VP and General Counsel EMEA at Hitachi Data Systems, then discussed the evolving role of the general counsel. Don Hughes talked about the necessity for in-house counsel of demonstrating value to business and asked how many in the audience that generally thought lawyers are good at business. Not many hands were raised… Business skills and providing good commercial value is key to climbing the general counsel value stack. There is however a clear shift on the legal market, which indicates that in-house counsels are proving more and more business value internally, as there is a decrease in number of lawyers and spend everywhere in the legal market except for legal departments which are increasing.

Sam Dimond, Global Head of Knowledge Management, at Norton Rose, then provided really good insights on the future of knowledge and innovation with a warning against the assumption that technology alone will not provide the solution to collaborative KM. Critics of KM are right to say that we are in the era of social media and searching, but as long as you value the knowledge in your lawyer’s heads, you need to find a way to manage it by codification and not just rely on searching. Furthermore, corporate social media lack the trust and fun of private social media and risk expose the lack of collaboration culture at firms. If an existing community does not communicate, giving them a wiki or a blog will not help them to do it unless the law firm culture is changed. Social media also faces the “lurking-problem”, with only a small percentage of contributors and commentators and a large percentage of people just “lurking around” and never contributing themselves.

Finally, Neil Cameron, Founder of Neil Cameron Consulting, discussed the legal services market and the law of uncertainty. By referring to the black swan example, Neil Cameron pointed out that the future cannot be predicted only on basis of the past. He also pointed out the unintended consequences of the Legal Services Act,which refers to “consumer” but created a revolution in commercial practice, and the difficulties and risks for being eaten that may arise for firms wishing to merge or receive private equity investments.

In his closing remarks, Charles Christian summarised the inspiring day. Notably law firms are no longer just a centre of legal expertise, they are legal enterprises where commercial proficiency, technology and business processes are now as important as the expertise that makes a great lawyer. In a world where servicing the law is no longer enough, the commercial differentiator is how legal services are delivered to the client and that means the future of legal technology.