The legal industry is the lonely caboose at the rear of the tech train. I’ve often said that if you put a 19th century surgeon in a 21st century operating room, the poor soul would run out the door screaming “WITCHES! They’re all witches!” However, if you stuck a 19th century attorney in a 21st century courtroom, the intrepid counsel would simply ask for the latest case law and get to work.
Industries ranging from furniture production to public safety to adult “entertainment” have embraced the efficiency, accuracy and productivity of technological innovation. Yet, when it comes to the legal world, we see 10 deep scratch marks in a mahogany conference table where an obstinate lawyer’s fingernails have attempted to hold on to the past.
WHY SO SLOW?
I submit a theory of three primary culprits which are inhibiting legal innovation:
- BRAIN GLITCHES: Also known as cognitive biases, these are little “evolutionary lies” our brains whisper to us to make life easier and maintain order in our world.
- For example, Loss-Aversion Bias (proven through Nobel-Prize winning Prospect Theory) says that our fear of a perceived LOSS is TWICE as strong as our desire for a perceived GAIN. Thus, trying something new must be REALLY LIKELY to be REALLY REWARDING in order to be attempted.
- (There are about 50 other cognitive biases I could list that influence legal decision-making. If you want to learn how to minimize them OR use them against your foes, reach out to me about a seminar I teach.)
- BUGGIES: We all have horse-and-buggy techniques that we keep because they are familiar and get the job done. The automobile was cool when first introduced, but most people asked “What’s wrong with my trusty steed Gertrude? She gets me there... eventually.”
- In-house and outside counsel are trapped in a system that has supported Big-Buggy for generations. Suggesting change can often be viewed as an indictment of past methods (a.k.a. how your boss did it), rather than embracing new innovations.
- This defensiveness increases resistance and makes people think twice about advocating for new techniques.
- BILLABLE HOURS: If you charge by the hour, basic capitalism suggests that fewer hours is a bad thing. This is hard to get around. Certainly, Alternative Fee Arrangements (AFAs) and the ACC Value Challenge have pushed the conversation, but the billable hour has deep roots.
- The only solution to fear, is fear itself. (Sorry, Winston Churchill.) The best chance for LegalTech to overcome the hourly paradox is to flip the script and get CLIENTS to value technological innovation in law and choose practitioners based on their use of it.
- Thus, the fear of losing billable hours is maintained, but redirected.
POTENTIAL ENERGY: I COULD’A BEEN A CONTENDER.
Q: What’s another word for an unexploded bomb? A: A paperweight.
Sure, a bomb COULD blow you to smithereens. However, it sits as potential energy. LegalTech could permanently alter the world of law as we know it, but we only see broad-based adoption in few precious areas (e-discovery, billing management,… did I mention e-discovery?).
When it comes to LegalTech adoption, decision-makers are often caught in a frozen state. Even if they are enthusiastic supporters of change, the bureaucracy around them blows the cold wind of resistance. Who wants to stick their neck out for “efficiency”? (Not a very sexy cause célèbre.)
KINETIC ENERGY: LIKE A ROLLING STONE.
Depressed yet? Well, turn those frowns upside down. In the immortal words of Bluto from Animal House, “Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!”
While an object at rest tends to stay at rest, it’s hard to deny that the LegalTech rock has begun to roll. We see new conferences, organizations, products and technology. We see entire sections of publications devoted to legal innovation.
We see buzz. The great thing about buzz, is that it creates an invisible social pressure called FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out, as the kids say). This brings me to this CALL TO ACTION, dear reader…
Help your fellow LegalTech entrepreneurs by building their buzz too. To keep this ball rolling, we need adoption of innovative ideas across the legal spectrum. The veneer has been cracked, but all sorts of technologies must wiggle in to help widen the gap.
Change is contagious (look at every revolution… ever.). We have the unenviable task of creating a new normal. This will only happen with a constant and collective push. Tweet, share, speak, blast, spread. To quote Bluto again, “Who’s with me? Let’s go!” (Then he runs out the door alone.)