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Legal Tech Past and Future – A View from 2003

ABSTRACT: For its tenth anniversary issue, Law Technology News asked about a dozen commentators to answer two questions: (1) How will technology most significantly impact law practice over the next decade and (2) What is legal technology’s greatest shortcoming so far? Here are Prism Legal Consulting’s answers. [Originally titled “A Brief 10-Year Retrospective]

Introduction and Questions (by Robert J. Ambgrogi)

What does the next decade hold for legal technology? And how has technology failed the legal profession so far?

As Law Technology News marks its 10th year publishing, it seemed an apt occasion to look ahead to the next 10 years, as well as to turn a critical eye to where we are today.

We polled a panel of practicing lawyers, in-house counsel, court officials, law librarians, and knowledge managers. We asked them each two questions:

How will technology most significantly impact law practice over the next decade?

What is legal technology’s greatest shortcoming so far?

Ron Friedmann’s Responses

How will technology most significantly impact law practice over the next decade?

Large companies face tremendous risks for not complying with the law; at the same time, they are trying to reduce legal costs.

These pressures will lead them to begin using “embedded law systems.” Whether for preparing documents, managing contracts, administering benefits, tracking visa applications, or complying with regulations, the systems that run corporations will increasingly embed legal rules and reasoning.

This will reduce the demand for some routine types of law practice and create more competition for high-end work that cannot be automated. A key question is who will provide the content and expertise to drive the automated systems: law departments, law firms, publishers or new entrants in the legal market? The lawyers who work on these systems will need to develop new sets of skills, ones that facilitate translating legal expertise into systematic frameworks.

What is legal technology’s greatest shortcoming so far?

Ten years ago, technology was a limitation: hardware was expensive and software was underpowered. A look at corporate America is instructive. Many economists argue that the recent productivity surge is a direct result of corporations learning, over the course of a decade, how to deploy technology systems to full effect. During the many years it took to achieve gains, massive changes in how work is performed were required.

As for the legal market, technology has room to improve but is no longer the limit. There is no “magic technology bullet” that will make lawyers more productive and effective. Today, the shortcoming is in the ability of lawyers individually and firms/departments collectively to adopt new ways of working that take full advantage of technology.

Putative shortcomings in technology can no longer be an excuse for avoiding difficult process, culture and business changes that will be required to achieve lower cost and higher value legal service.