Last Monday, the Wall Street Journal reported that companies “have struggled for years to reduce their legal costs, with little success” and that “[n]ow technology is coming to the rescue.” I’ve struggled since then with how to think about this article. 

On the Case (paid subscription req’d) explains that businesses “are finding they can use software to automate routine legal matters, such as drafting standard employment contracts, as well as streamline complex chores like patent applications.”

One the one hand, I was disappointed that the Journal neither unearthed new examples of the application legal technology nor cited large companies beyond those usually mentioned in articles about legal technology. On the other hand, I take comfort in blogger Adam Smith, Esq. comments that the fact that the WSJ reports on something, certifies it is a trend.

This article reminds me that real change is likely to come from external forces. Only a few general counsels are pushing the envelope. My hope is that CEOs and CFOs read this article and send it to their GCs with a hand-written note asking “are we doing this yet?” Now that might have an impact on how law departments and firms operate.

I’ll close with an observation about considering change in the legal profession. The article says “some legal experts say it may be risky to automate or outsource legal tasks” because “[i]mportant information might fall through the cracks of automated systems.” Sure this is true, but in comparison to what? The idea that humans – with all their frailties and distractions – always catch all important information seems, how shall I say it, a tenuous position. Lawyers must learn that it’s not enough to object to the potential flaws of a new way; they have to be viewed in comparison to the flaws and risks of the existing approach.