Articles | 06/14/2017

What Does “Legal Tech” Mean and Why Should You Care?

“Legal Tech” has a couple of meanings. It can refer to the legal technology that vendors, such as Clio or ROSS, create to provide lawyers and law firms with support services. It can also signify the concept of using technology to solve legal problems. I prefer the latter definition, which is essentially a mindset that allows lawyers the space to creatively problem solve.

We lawyers, as a group, tend to be linear thinkers, deductive reasoners, analytic and skeptical. These are all good traits and serve us well in learning the law and applying it to facts, in arguing from precedent and zealously representing our clients.

But, to be ruled by precedent means to only see progress in incremental change. As Henry Ford said famously, if he had asked people what they wanted, they would have asked for faster horses. Progress sometimes requires us to see things from a different point of view. And gaining this new perspective is  not for any trivial or academic reason, it’s necessary for lawyers to adapt to a changing world and survive.

“[A] great many college-educated, white-collar workers are going to discover that their jobs, too, are squarely in the sights as software automation and predictive algorithms advance rapidly in capability.”

– Martin Ford, Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future

Would you rather be the buggy driver or the self-driving car engineer?

“Legal Tech” in the sense of the mindset, allows us as lawyers to step away from the way things have always been done and conduct a thought experiment and imagine things as they never were and ask why not. “Legal Tech” is a safe place where we can dream of what’s possible, then learn how we can make that dream a reality.

Here are some concrete ways you can experiment with the Legal Tech mindset:

Follow CodeX. CodeX is the Stanford Center for Legal Informatics and it has been focused in this area of legal technology for over 10 years. Its LegalTech Index stores a curated database of over 700 legal tech companies to explore. And, if you sign up for CodeX’s mailing list, you will get invitations to its weekly meetings with legal tech founders who present their latest innovations.

Go to a Legal Hackers meeting. Legal Hackers is a group dedicated to developing creative technological solutions to legal problems with chapters worldwide. Legal Hacker groups usually consist of lawyers, programmers, students and policy makers, and meeting formats range from coffee socials to workshops to panel discussions. You can find your local chapter by doing a search for “legal hackers” on Meetup. If you don’t find a chapter in your city, you can always apply to create a new chapter.

Attend a legal tech conference. Luckily, this isn’t as much of a challenge as it used to be. CodeX has its FutureLaw Conference, there’s the ABA Tech Show, Lawyerist’s TBD Law, the Clio Cloud Conference, ALM’s LegalWeek, Lawyernomics by AVVO, and EvolveLaw has many meetings throughout the year. Whichever conference you choose, make sure you meet somebody new and learn something you had never heard of before.

Follow #legaltech on Twitter. If you’re not active on Twitter, don’t worry, just follow the “legaltech” hashtag and you’ll learn about the latest innovations, tools and strategies in legal technology. You’ll also start to get a handle on who cares about this stuff and follow them as well so you can see what they post on the subject. Twitter is also a great way to stay in touch with those new friends you make at the conferences.

Get your hands dirty. Take a class and learn how to code. There are hundreds of classes available on edX, Udemy, Coursera, Udacity, Code Academy and many others. Or how about David Colarusso’s Coding for Lawyers is a great place to start? And, remember, what you create doesn’t have to be perfect: the journey is just as important as the destination.

[A portion of this article was previously published in the ABA’s Law Practice Today.]

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