Legalweek 2018: What to expect

It’s that time of year again! Legalweek 2018 kicks off in New York on January 29. For the legal technology industry, this is the show to attend and companies ranging from the most established thought leaders to the most obscure start-ups will all be onsite. The event is always a great forum to gauge the trends currently dominating the legal industry, and those likely to do so in the near future.

I anticipate much of the focus this year will once again be on artificial – or augmented – intelligence, but more specifically on one particular manifestation of AI technology: legal analytics.

While the legal profession has a reputation for being slow to embrace technology, it appears to be a different story when it comes to analytics. Legal analytics has had a presence in the legal marketplace for only a few years, but the immediate advantages it delivers to lawyers who are assessing matters and developing case strategy are indisputable. Also, the utility of analytics in informing business development and business strategy decisions as well as the insights it provides about the track records of lawyers and firms only add to its value.

There has been a notable shift in how companies are talking about AI this year – moving away from the hyperbole and focusing instead on its practical application in today’s legal world. The emphasis on legal analytics and the measurable results it delivers is one reflection of that shift. But AI and analytics will not be the only hot topics at Legalweek. It is notable that this year’s Legalweek has a dedicated conference this year focused on the business of law, and how law firms and legal services delivery will change.

Providing a backdrop to that discussion the 2018 Report on the State of the Legal Market: Transformation of Legal Services Market is Accelerating — Are Law Firms Ready?, just released by Georgetown University and Thomson Reuters. According to the report, “flat demand for law firm services, declining profit margins, weakening collections, falling productivity, and loss of market share to alternative legal service providers and others, are gradually undermining the foundations of firm profitability.”

We all know that law departments are under increased pressure to be accountable to the businesses they serve, and for several years now there has been a relentless focus on reducing spend, driving efficiency and maximizing client value. While the focus until very recently has been on vehicles like metrics and operational efficiencies and fiscal accountability, 2018 is shaping up as a year of sweeping structural change. The traditional model of legal services delivery appears to be poised for radical transformation as innovators and GCs with a business mindset rethink how law departments are structured, reexamine the entire legal workflow, and completely reimagine their relationships with outside counsel and providers of services and technology.

What other topics are likely to attract intensive scrutiny? I would look for increased interest in the ubiquity of the “Internet of Things” (IoT) and its intersection with AI and other advanced technologies. In a data-driven business environment where employees are constantly interacting with smart devices, IoT raises a host of legal, ethical and even moral issues for companies and their legal teams that we have only begun to consider.

Another issue legal technologists will be trying hard to wrap their heads around is blockchain technology, which has huge implications not just for financial services firms, but for many other industries and business functions, including supply chain, health care data, contracts, IP and more. The lawyer’s traditional role as an intermediary in legal processes related to these activities may be in question, but at the same time a whole new branch of law is likely to emerge as adoption of blockchain in mainstream business accelerates.

There are a number of new companies attending Legalweek, an indicator that the legal technology industry is continuing to experience incredible growth. There has been a strong trend toward major venture capital funding in the industry, with Relativity, LawGeex and Zapproved all receiving significant investments in the past year. This is a sure sign that the investment community believes in the long-term potential of the legal technology market. We are also seeing several legal technology “accelerator” programs emerge, which are designed to propel the next generation of legal technology leaders to success.

It is an exciting time for the industry. Next week, I’ll report back on the event, and share my thoughts on the highlights and dominant trends.