The Land Before Legaltech: 10 Unbelievable Stories

In 2018, of course, all lawyers are using legal tech.

These are technologies changing the face of lawyering and providing automation alternatives for manual tasks. In legal AI alone, the speed and accuracy of legal technology solutions have improved, at the same time as the landscape of categories and vendors has grown.

But in a land before legal tech, there were wild and untamed manual processes.

1. Post-its and the Analog-ian Era

Shannon Capone Kirk runs the e-discovery practice at Ropes & Gray, a prestigious global law firm. When she entered the profession in the late ’90s, her first job involved working on litigation. She says: “What that meant was literally spending weeks upon weeks in either a warehouse or a conference room flipping through bankers boxes and reading documents, paper documents. And if we found something that was relevant to the litigation we would tag it with Post-it notes, and that was it. That is how archaic it was.”

CEO of AI legal due diligence platform, Luminance, Emily Foges seeks to tackle the problem of huge quantities of legal documentation that have become completely unmanageable. Foges cites an example of junior lawyers analyzing 1000 sales agreements only to discover they are all identical. “That’s not a good use of the client’s money or the lawyers time,” she argues.

2. BCM (Before Contract Management)

Before adopting iManage for contract management, Alex Butterworth, senior Legal Counsel of McDonald’s, says he did not have a consistent filing system. “We had a shared drive but it was a complete free for all. Anyone could file anything they wanted to. Here, only certain people are able to set up, establish, delete or name files and we have one person who has that power. There is a single portal to get your file set up. The other problem with random naming conventions was if you ever wanted to find something it was really hard.”

3. The Land Before Digital Signature 

Digital signature enables contracts to be approved or signed by any signatory with internet access—anytime, anywhere, even on mobile devices. The in-house counsel for Pearson, a major educational publisher, calculated that e-signature saved the company hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, was 70% cheaper than manual processes, and assured a 66% reduction in turnaround time. One operations executive from a major hotel group, justifying their global adoption from paper to eSignature, says it was simply an embarrassment that a five-star hotel would have “such crappy old processes.”

4. Pre-Legal Research revolution 

Michael Sander, founder of Docket Alarm (bought by Fastcase, a “next generation legal research service”), thought the legal research tools used at his New York law firm were too expensive and inefficient. He told Wired.com, “Twice a day, we had a paralegal go to the court’s website, enter a case number, see if there was anything new, and repeat that nine times.” In 2012, he created Docket Alarm, providing legal search and analytics, as well as litigations alerts for the United States court system. Legal AI, in particular, is now commonplace in the sector, with players including Ross Intelligence, Casetext, and Westlaw.  Legal research company Casetext also found in a survey of judges, that attorneys missing relevant precedent has materially impacted the outcome of a motion or proceeding.

5. Inefficient Court Energies ICE (Age)

During this epoch, Victoria Pigott, Partner in Mishcon Private, commercial litigator and MDR LAB Mentor, told Artificial Lawyer: “I am always staggered by how far behind the legal industry is compared to others. If you ever see a trial taking place in court you will know how old-fashioned it is; paper everywhere, files floor to ceiling, armies of clerks to move bundles every morning and evening, judges not being able to find documents in bundles, witnesses not having the right page of their statement. It’s slow-paced and tedious – despite the dispute in question often being worth hundreds of millions of pounds.”

One lead thinker in the LegalTech field, Robert Ambrogi, gives the example of “the Delaware practitioner who was called into court to account for repeated and egregious eDiscovery errors. When the judge asked him to explain himself, he offered this response: ‘I have to confess to this court, I am not computer literate. I have not found presence in the cybernetic revolution. I need a secretary to help me turn on the computer. This was out of my bailiwick.”

Today, prediction and litigation technologies are enhancing the court process, with companies such as Premonition, Allegory, Lex Machina, Intraspexion, Gavelytics, Voltaire, and LegalMation. This is alongside eDiscovery players which are more sophisticated than ever before. UK fraud enforcer, The Serious Fraud Office (SFO), deployed OpenText Axcelerate to expedite its investigations, asserting that the technology was up to 80% cheaper than using outside counsel to review those documents and identify legally privileged material. Ben Denison, Chief Technology Officer at the SFO, said: “Using innovative technology like this is no longer optional—it is essential given the volume of material we are dealing with.”

Before Automated Contract Review

Before legal technology, lawyers would manually review and approve everyday contracts. Noory Bechor, co-founder and CEO of LawGeex, spent six years as an attorney at a large law firm which led him to found the contract review automation software. In his early professional days as a paralegal, Bechor spent much of his time reviewing documents. “Once you’ve seen hundreds of examples of a specific contract type,” he says, “the concepts keep repeating themselves. I said, if this is so repetitive, it can be automated.” Clifford Johnson, General Counsel of fast-growing business-to-government vendor Community Champions, uses contract review automation to quickly review and approve daily contracts. “The turnaround time has dropped from 3 days or more to 2 hours or less”. This technology has been shown to deliver greater accuracy than human lawyers.

7. A Printer, Scanner, Darkly 

In the words of Jacquie Champagne (writing in 2015), “one paralegal recently shared with me that the partner she was working with made her print and then scan 4000 documents  rather than learn how to use the appropriate technology. While this might seem like an extreme example, it’s not uncommon. It does show that the slightest adaptation can be excruciating for some people.”

8.  Before Modern IP Tools

Here’s how Nehal Madhani, CEO of Alt Legal (modern IP docketing software), explains the situation before sophisticated IP software was widely implemented: “As an example in the legal context, if you want information about your trademark filing, you’d have to go over to the U.S. PTO’s website to access it. Instead, vendors like my company can automatically—through an API that’s provided by the U.S. government—retrieve information about your trademark and send you an alert without you ever having to navigate their website.” Or Nicole Shanahan, founder and CEO of ClearAccessIP, told Legal Talk Network: “I was working in-house RPX Corporation (the Rational Patent Exchange) I opened up the Nortel portfolio which was huge 4000 assets, all sitting in the data room and needed to be reviewed. It would have taken years to get through all 4000.”

9. Cell Phones 

Netapp General Counsel Matt Fawcett said: “We were the last industry to provide employees with cell phones. In 1999, I remember getting frustrated with a firm and saying, ‘Our copier repair man carries a cell phone – why not my high- priced lawyers?’ Even today, many “old school” partners still take pride in not being reachable and having their secretaries (yes, their ‘secretaries’) print their emails.” Today communication by lawyers includes everything from social media to Slack.

10. Doing deals pre-revolution

Haley Altman, CEO and founder, Doxly, says her idea for an automated document and transaction management platform was born at 1 a.m. when, as a partner at a law firm, she sat surrounded by hundreds of manila folders. Altman and her team were hunting through thousands of documents for one missing signature page holding up a multimillion-dollar closing. Now deals are done using some of the latest technology which can show demonstrable metrics. Lawyers also use legal eBilling software automatically tracks and codes legal expenses from law firms. The software provides reports by matter, a centralized workflow, and tracking against budget information.

If you want to make sure your current suite of Legal Tech is working for you check out the reviews of more than 130 software solutions in-house counsel need to know.

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