What I learned at Legalweek, The Experience 2017 (a.k.a. Legaltech)

This year’s show was a great opportunity to connect with the press and analysts and get their take on the market, as well as meet with key players from both start-ups and established companies. Below are my topline thoughts on the key technologies and topics that dominated the event.

First of all, it was striking to see how many law firms and corporations are using analytics for business intelligence – clearly, many legal practitioners view analytics as a game changer that can drive better, faster and smarter data-driven business decisions.  The fact is analytics now plays an indispensable role in helping legal teams make better strategic decisions and predict probable outcomes based on analysis of the past behaviors of lawyers, judges and parties.

In recent years, the challenge of managing and processing vast quantities of data has been a core focus for the entire legal industry. But now the conversation has shifted: Law firms and corporations not only want to know how to find the information that they are looking for more quickly, but also how can they leverage the massive stores of historical data to improve their legal practice. This data could include: client data, case data, docket data, firm practice and billing information. The show-goers I saw were curious about the role analytics can play in activities like eDiscovery, legal research, law firm management, corporate billing and business process improvement – and many are actively investigating which specific technologies represent the smartest investment.

The way lawyers interact with data is rapidly changing, and those who use it well will have a competitive edge. Law firms and corporate legal departments that lack the right analytics tools will be operating at a distinct disadvantage in moving their practices into the future.

Another key theme in multiple conversations was artificial intelligence. This was no great surprise, given that AI is clearly the industry buzzword de jour. What was a surprising, however, was the vigorous pushback on the hype. In more than one case, legal professionals told me that while they know AI is important, they are doing their due diligence before jumping into any big investments. That means they’ll be carefully researching today’s technologies, but also trying to decipher the roadmap for the years ahead. Law firms and corporations are acutely aware that innovation in AI is proceeding rapidly, and they are cautious about investing in products that are hot today but may seem out of date tomorrow.

Against that backdrop, purveyors of AI products should talk to law firms and corporations not just about the how and why of today, but also about the potential long-term impacts of the technology, how it can be integrated into their business over time, and the ROI they can expect. They should be prepared to discuss what their existing clients have experienced in terms of specific, demonstrable results as opposed to just hyping the product as the next big thing.  

What, then, was the overall dominant theme of the show from my perspective? It can be summed up in this statement: Legal practitioners need to prepare now for the future of technology-powered, data-driven legal practice.

For legal technology vendors, there is much to be excited about as the industry embraces innovative new technologies and increasingly recognizes the value these technologies can bring to the practice of law. However, it is also clear that legal practitioners are determined to see a substantial and sustained return on their technology investments, and they are doing their homework to differentiate the technologies that are likely to stand the test of time before they make the choice to buy.