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Is Software Eating Law Departments?

Is software eating law departments, a question inspired by Marc Andreessen famously noting that software is eating everything.

Marc Andreesen software eats all

Is this true for law departments? The lead article in Inside Counsel Magazine (Dec 2015) may answer the question.

The IC10 2015 Award Winners

The 2015 IC10: The law department of the future describes the 10 most innovative law departments of the year. It’s an annual feature. This year, 9 of 10 awards revolve around software. In years past, I recall that only 3 or 4 awards involved software.

Wow, we might think, 9 of 10 surely means yes. Since Andreessen meant dramatic change, we must examine just what tech law departments deploy. Here, from my scheduled Tweets, are the winners, initiative descriptions, and links:

  1. ADM. Using tech to standardize process, intake, + routine work.
  2. AEP. Tech streamlines tracking accrued expenses.
  3. The Hartford. Using tech for intake, tracking tech proposals for risk management eval.
  4. Gordon Food Service. Self-service, content rich portal for all workers.
  5. Target. Workload (re-)allocation with SharePoint.
  6. Ford.  Mobile app for ethical guidance with content, d-trees, email Qs.
  7. Marsh & McLennan.  Collab + S/M for law dept, content portal 4 workers Portal use up 5x.
  8. Silicon Valley Bank. Form dev + review w workflow Outside counsel extranet 4 comm + content.
  9. Gates Foundation. Improved #KM by extending IP portal to manage content / history.


Software Is NOT Eating Law Departments

Reading IC, none of these strikes me as particularly advanced or game changing. Law departments seem to have won for automating processes that, in many other functions, likely would have been automated long ago.

I would be impressed were law departments deploying (or even evaluating)…

  • Watson or other AI, either for departmental efficiency or, more interestingly. to practice preventive law (DoLessLaw). Oh, remind me why the IBM law department has not publicly announced a Watson initiative?
  • Machine learning to understand, standardize, and better manage contracts. Commercial products here include Kira Systems, eBrevia, KM Standards / K-Reveal, Brightleaf, and RAVN. This class of software also supports better compliance and due diligence.
  • Blockchain, to automate contracts. (How many GC even know what it is?)
  • E-billing analytics to determine the most cost-effective firms and then shifting work to them.
  • Expert systems (e.g., Neota Logic) to create systems for internal clients that answer questions and/or perform triage with intelligent intake.
  • Legal project management software for internal matters and requiring outside counsel to use LPM to scope, budget, and monitor matters. Commerical products for law firms include Cael, MatterWorks, Planning Blox, and Umbria.


Perhaps law departments are doing these things but did not submit award nominations. Or they submitted but Inside Counsel did not find them award-worthy. My guess is that some companies are using machine learning for contract analytics, LPM software, and e-billing analytics to choose firms. I suspect Watson / AI, blockchain, and expert system action has yet to start.

The good news here is that 9 of 10 awards are for tech and that law departments can still do so much more with software to improve their performance.

  1. George Beaton

    Ron you are right. Law departments are using software to automate mundane processes, i.e. they are focused on the familiar. Given, at least in Australia, almost all chief general counsel have a deep BigLaw pedigree, this is not surprising. Stepping into the unknown of AI and expert systems for decision support is still a bridge too far for most. But watch this space. All the best George