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Legal tech has come to a dead end. Here is the way out.

By Anders Spile.

One of the most overlooked stories of the covid-pandemic is the meteoric rise of the Sengalese-Italian TikTok sensation Khaby Lame. After losing his job, he began making short videos mocking overly complicated life hacks by silently showing how simple tasks can be solved in very simple ways.

In one of them, a woman wraps a fork tape so she can use it to eat cereals after which Lame shows how you can just use a spoon. In another, someone makes a jug by putting plastic strips around a glass. Lame mocks it by showing how you can drink normally from the glass.

After a few years in the legal innovation business, I would like to see his take on certain legal tech initiatives.

Legal innovation should be about solving real problems for real people. But the reality is that many legal tech solutions are waiting for a problem to solve.

I know, because I’ve been there. I’ve also tried to sell over-complicated solutions to law firms and then justify it with a vague idea of legal innovation as this deterministic force sweeping over every sector. But most of the law firms didn’t buy it because they didn’t really need it.

Over a year ago, I published a piece claiming that legal tech is over-hyped. The point was that legal tech providers are over-selling their products and making them more complicated than they have to be. And that legal professionals are too fixated on fancy AI solutions because it sounds cool and innovative.

However, I have this feeling that has been maturing in me for a long time, the feeling that legal tech is not only over-rated. But that it has, in many ways, reached a dead end. The feeling was confirmed in a newsletter I read recently. It had headlines such as “The Time is Now” and “How Legal Tech Is Modernizing Traditional Practice” - and I was immediately taken back years to when I started my career in legal innovation. We had the exact same headlines, we made the exact same claims. Despite an investment boom and tons of momentum, not much seems to have changed.

It’s not because digital technologies can’t or haven’t improved legal services. They have, tremendously, and they are - but the sector must regain focus to move forward. So here is my take on what is wrong with the legal tech movement and how we are to solve it.

We are too fixated on emerging technologies. Legal tech is too much about fancy AI flashware that doesn’t work properly and doesn’t really solve anything. AI is most likely the future, but most companies or firms aren’t even working in a machine-readable data format so what is it going to help? Let’s take a look at proven technologies. Let’s automate legal work with simple, deterministic automation, let’s digitize basic tasks. Legal tech should be making legal work easier and more efficient here and now in how everyday work-life. Let’s get back to basics.

There is too much innovation-washing. Now law firms have entered the metaverse and the only thing you can do there is find a phone number and a link to their website. What is the point? Who is going to walk around the metaverse to locate a virtual law office when it takes 2 seconds to just Google it? There are too many press releases and too little actual value-adding innovation. Get real!

Legal tech is targeting the wrong audience. Legal tech should be targeting the mass market, not legal professionals. Too many vendors are still making niche applications for a small niche practise area instead of trying to solve the real issue which is making legal work more accessible and easier to solve for normal people working on normal companies. Our research shows that legal professionals are not the ones driving legal innovation. It’s sales teams and operations units. They are the ones pushing the automation agenda, actually innovation legal work.

I’ve taken the consequence of this dead-end myself. After years of trying to sell legal tech to law firms, I’ve now come to realize that firms are not my buyers. They are my allied partners. Instead of trying to convince a profitable law firm to change their product offering, I team up with them in trying to solve cases for their clients - the companies that are struggling with their legal work and want to find efficient solutions for their day-to-day problems.

It’s time to solve the problems we have, not come up with solutions we don’t need.


About the Author

Anders Spile is client executive advisor in Contractbook. He has hands-on experience as to what it takes to develop an innovation strategy and implement legal tech solutions in larger law firms.

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