The Bottom Line - Official Publication of The State Bar of California Law Practice Management and Technology Section
Bringing Technology to the Law
I have often described my background as eclectic. That is a nice way of saying arbitrary. My undergraduate degree is in Computer Music, a mix of acoustics, physics, computer science and music. Despite being unbelievably fun, it didn't particularly qualify me to do anything one might characterize as a job. My next stop was at a British institution of higher learning from which I received a Masters of Philosophy in Criminology. Despite my best hopes, my M.Phil. had very little to do with Sherlock Holmes - it was much more about sociology and penology. Like most masters degrees, it also did little to make me marketable. And in combination my Computer Music and Criminology degrees only qualified me to write electronic scores for documentaries about the prison system. And so I did what all of you did with your philosophy, anthropology, and slavic history degrees, I went to law school.
Law school was great. I honed my capacity to reason. I was taught how to argue and articulate and justify. And most importantly, I learned to extract order from disorder. What I did not learn, however, was what I wanted to be when I grew up. Over the next six years I clerked for one judge, worked at three law firms, and was admitted to practice law before three jurisdictions. I dabbled in litigation, corporate law, licensing, and M&A. I battled on behalf of Fortune 500 companies and three person businesses. I sued people and got sued. I incorporated businesses, sold businesses, took businesses public, and shut down businesses.
During my six short years as an attorney, I found myself increasingly wondering how we might make the practice of law better. Why were we retracing our steps? Why were we making so many photocopies? How in the world could I find that needle in the document haystack? Why was I stuck in the office at 1:00 in the morning when I had a family back home? Why did I never know if my citation in a brief was outdated, overruled, overstated? The list of questions seemed unending. But before I could catalog the many opportunities for improvement in the legal industry, I was asked to join August Capital and found myself confronted with ways to improve every industry, not just the law.
August Capital is an early stage venture capital fund. My partners and I were the earliest investors in Skype, Seagate Sun, Symantec, Shopping.com, Sybase, Splunk, and some non-S companies too, like Microsoft and Intuit. We invest in information technology companies that are (hopefully) transformative of an industry. So, not surprisingly, I have spent my last dozen years as a venture capitalist searching for opportunities to invest in businesses that transform the legal industry. While I have recently invested in my first law-related business (RocketLawyer, which is transforming how legal services are delivered to individuals and small businesses), my search has largely been an exercise in frustration. But I have not given up hope. The opportunities are vast.
The legal practice that has seen the greatest progress to date is likely litigation. Discovery as I knew it in the early 90's is a thing of the past. No more bankers boxes full of unsearchable documents. E-discovery has changed everything. It is unbelievably powerful to have every document available on your laptop to compare, annotate, and reference. But future opportunities in litigation abound. With greater and greater amounts of data and increasingly powerful computers, many of the insights we currently leave to humans and happenstance will be derived systematically through sophisticated software. Similarly, legal research will be transformed by software. With increasing processing power and semantic algorithms, it should be possible for a computer to determine the best available citation for any given legal proposition, and equally possible for a computer to determine the best counter-citation. And those citations should be up to date to the minute without human intervention. Indeed, it is only a matter of time until a computer program proposes the best arguments themselves.
The law of contracts will also benefit from innovation. Whether it is corporate law, licensing, patents, employment law, and the like, these fields are all comprised of contractual obligations systematized and memorialized. The creation of these contracts can assuredly benefit from automation, as well as aided design and construction. If software can aid in the design of a micro-processor, why not a contract? Lawyers and firms will find new ways to collaborate on best practices. And the legal underpinnings of these respective practices can no doubt be self-implementing - a change in law should, at a minimum, trigger review of the documents effected by that law, if not update the document automatically. Lawyers should be spending their time advising clients on business decisions, not acting as scriveners.
Technology should also streamline the practice of law itself. Hours should bill themselves: our phones should track with whom we're speaking; our email should track with whom we're corresponding; our calendars should track with whom we're meeting. Collaboration with clients should be optimized for both parties - lawyers should be as responsive as possible while retaining the greatest possible autonomy. And collaboration among attorneys should allow for more effective communication and cooperation, whether within a single firm or among experts from multiple practices. What's more, the unbelievable support burden of a traditional law practice - from correspondence to filing to calendaring - should be dramatically streamlined through technical innovation.
While innovations in things like e-discovery, electronic signatures, document management, etc. have had a big impact on the practice of law, the opportunities for continued improvement are vast. Technology will make lawyers better, faster, more-efficient, more-effective and ultimately more valuable. Over time innovation will strip away the mundane tasks and leave lawyers to apply wisdom, judgment, and creativity to solve problems and provide solutions. I look forward to funding those companies that make the practice of law better for clients, but I will take particular pleasure in funding those companies that make the practice of law better for the lawyers.
About the Author
For nearly two decades, David has worked with technology startups throughout the software sector. In 2000, David joined August Capital to invest broadly in information technology companies, with a focus on enterprise application and infrastructure software, as well as consumer facing software and services.
Prior to joining August Capital, David was an intellectual property and corporate attorney at Venture Law Group and Perkins Coie. In his legal practice, David represented high tech startups in all aspects of their formation, financing, and operations. Before that, David was a litigator in New York City at Cravath, Swaine & Moore.
David has an eclectic educational background. He holds an AB in Computer Music from Stanford University, an M.Phil in Criminology from Cambridge University and a JD from Harvard Law School.
David is currently a lecturer at the Harvard Law School, where he teaches entrepreneurship and venture capital, and previously lectured at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, where he taught intellectual property. He is the author of VentureBlog, the first venture capital blog, and VentureCast, the first venture capital podcast, and is the founder and executive producer of The Lobby conference, an annual gathering of the thought leaders of the digital media
MCLE Self-Study Article: Moneyball for Lawyers: How Data and Analytics are Transforming the Practice of LawBy Owen Byrd
Imagine if you could make a data-driven prediction about how opposing counsel, or a judge, or a party to litigation or a transaction, will behave. Or what results a specific legal strategy or argument will produce. Would you continue to rely exclusively on traditional legal research and reasoning to inform the advice you give clients, the documents you draft, the negotiations you conduct and the arguments you make? Or would you integrate data and analytics into your lawyering by practicing Moneyball for lawyers?... More >
Do I have a case? What is our likely exposure? How much is this matter going to cost? What will happen if we leave this particular provision out of the contract? How can we best staff for this particular legal matter? Is this a relevant document? These questions are core to the practice of law, and each calls for some sort of a forecast – a prediction... More >
Times are tough for lawyers. How can we survive and prosper? Most would agree that effective use of technology is part of the answer. I believe that systems aimed at the core of practice are among the most important measures we can take. And that having them requires us to be more than innocent bystanders. The march of technology in law – as in other quarters of life – is a mixed blessing. More and more machine intelligence is not necessarily progress. But it’s coming at us like a runaway steamroller. Here are some ways to avoid being flattened. ... More >
Legal expertise no longer is sufficient to cultivate a rewarding and meaningful career in the law. All the legal knowledge in the world is of little value if clients cannot access it.
One of the most pressing issues facing the profession in the 21st century is the “justice gap”: millions of people who need legal representation cannot afford or access a lawyer. The overwhelming majority of this country goes without much-needed legal help because they simply cannot afford to pay a lawyer three-figures-per-hour for multiple hours, but they also do not qualify for the limited legal aid programs available. The legal profession faces a delivery problem—we have failed to develop viable models for delivering legal services that are affordable, accessible and, importantly, adopted by clients who utilize them on a regular, sustained basis. ... More >
Recent studies show that more than 75% of adults looking to hire an attorney use online resources in the process. In the past, consumers of legal services made their selection primarily based on word of mouth and recommendations from friends. Today, the activity of searching for and selecting an attorney is increasingly taking place online. Expect two trends: online services supporting these activities will gain in importance over time, and that the nature of legal services provided through the online channel will become more and more sophisticated. These evolutions provide opportunities for the public and the legal profession alike... More >
The world of online dispute resolution (“ODR”) is expanding as the European Union is about to finalize the drafting of a regulation on ODR paired with a directive about alternative dispute resolution (“ADR”) applied to consumer disputes. If adopted as they currently stand, these instruments would make it mandatory for all online traders to display a link to an ODR provider. It would also make it mandatory for the member states to have at least one ODR organization in each country. These texts should be adopted by the European legislative organs within the next few months, and form part of the European Union’s longstanding belief that ADR will boost the internal market’s economy... More >
I have often described my background as eclectic. That is a nice way of saying arbitrary. My undergraduate degree is in Computer Music, a mix of acoustics, physics, computer science and music. Despite being unbelievably fun, it didn't particularly qualify me to do anything one might characterize as a job. My next stop was at a British institution of higher learning from which I received a Masters of Philosophy in Criminology. Despite my best hopes, my M.Phil. had very little to do with Sherlock Holmes - it was much more about sociology and penology. Like most masters degrees, it also did little to make me marketable. And in combination my Computer Music and Criminology degrees only qualified me to write electronic scores for documentaries about the prison system. And so I did what all of you did with your philosophy, anthropology, and slavic history degrees, I went to law school. ... More >
Legal research is often difficult and overwhelming, in large part because there is so much data to sift. Roughly 300,000 new case opinions are released every year in America, and those cases build upon common law that stretches back hundreds of years. Harvard’s Law Library holds over fourteen thousand volumes of reporters in its archives. For all but the most expert, legal research can feel like trying to navigate without a map. The connections between cases are complex, of vital importance, and almost chaotic.
With this large and ever-growing corpus, lawyers rightfully fear the possibility that a key case, argument, or insight will go undiscovered... More >
In fall of 2012, I was fortunate to teach a new course at Stanford Law School that I called Legal Technology and Informatics. Legal informatics could be defined as a computational perspective of law: where legal information resides, and how it is manipulated and transmitted. In putting the course together, I had to select from a wide array of potential material that I thought was important to train a new generation of lawyers and “legal technologists”. In this article, I will discuss some of what I included and why. In addition, as the guest editor of this issue of The Bottom Line (TBL), I selected authors whom I thought were working in areas of interest to practitioners. My goal is to inform lawyers about some of the changes coming as a result of legal technology, as well as to help prepare them not only to utilize new methods, but also to help build them... More >
MESSAGE From the ChaiR:
Battleship vs. Whack-a-MoleBy Perry L. Segal
The city I grew up in is famous for volatile weather patterns. The running joke is, “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.” With legal technology – or any technology, for that matter – I could utter the same advice, except I might modify it to, “Whether you like your technology or not, wait five minutes; it’ll change either way.”
Here’s the $64,000 question: What exactly is “Legal Technology”? ... More >
Smooth Operator: Understanding a Law Firm’s Financial Operating Benchmarks By Ed Poll
The concept of benchmarking – setting up statistical guidelines to identify best management practices – can be a tremendous benefit to law firms. The appropriate financial benchmarks can identify operating deficiencies in the firm and show where you are currently relative to your goals. Financial benchmarking helps law firms improve business effectiveness by tracking profitability, cash flow and collections. Lawyers who understand financial benchmarking can better assess the value they provide to clients, and better reflect it in their bills. ... More >
Book Review By Carolyn M. DillingerTomorrow’s Lawyers: An Introduction to Your FutureBy Richard Susskind
When I first mentioned to Guest Editor Ron Dolin that The Bottom Line has a book review column, his immediate choice was Richard Susskind’s not yet published book, Tomorrow’s Lawyers. After ordering a press copy I excitedly waited for it to arrive. I knew Tomorrow’s Lawyers would be a significant book for the legal profession.... More >
- MCLE Self-Study Article: Moneyball for Lawyers: How Data and Analytics are Transforming the Practice of Law
- The Age of Quantitative Legal Prediction
- MCLE Self-Study Article: A Time to Tool Up
- MCLE Self-Study Article: Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Legal Services - Ideas for All Lawyers
- MCLE Self-Study Article: Tomorrow's Lawyers: Online Delivery of Legal Services
- MCLE Self-Study Article: Leveraging Online Dispute Resolution To Improve Consumer Arbitration
- Bringing Technology to the Law
- Visualization of Law -- A New View on Legal Search