2018 feels to me to be the year that interest in Legal Technology has hit the mainstream.
Looking back to my early posts in 2017 there would be only a handful of legal tech stories each week that I pulled together in the Sunday Review and it would be a relatively simple task. In fact in the early days there was so little news that I quickly switched to publishing every other week rather than weekly reviews.
Today it’s a much larger undertaking to review what’s happening in our sector and try to select the most interesting pieces for the Sunday Review – which for me just goes to show how much more of a buzz there is around legal technology now, than there was even a year ago – and I’m sure 2019 is only going to be busier!
Speaking to law firms and tech providers this year, I got the real sense that the legal sector has moved from a generally skeptical to a more open minded position when it comes to considering the adoption of legal technology.
Looking back at my predictions for 2018 and scoring them…
1. Distributed Ledger Technology and Smart Contracts
“Expect to see further collaborations between law firms and lawtech companies that utilise distributed ledger technology (such as blockchain) in their products. … Last year Clause launched the Accord Project, which brings law firms and technology providers together to establish open source tools and standards for developing smart contracts.”
September saw Rocket Lawyer announcing a partnership with the smart contract developer OpenLaw and blockchain developer ConsenSys to work together on the development of legally binding smart contracts. Hot on their heels, LegalZoom announced a partnership with Clause to provide smart legal contracts to consumers and small businesses.
Clause is built on the Accord Project, which has numerous tech partners and associates as members as well as over 40 law firms including Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Allen & Overy (A&O), and Slaughter & May. The Accord Project is an open source protocol for the formation and execution of smart legal contracts and is “blockchain-agnostic”.
Score: + 1 point
2. Cherry picking lawtech providers
“Law Firms will start to move more towards cherry picking ‘best in class’ solutions to solve particular problems or improve service provision within their firms. We will start to see a shift away from having just one lawtech provider.“
I haven’t seen any major signs that this is a trend yet, though this year has seen a wider adoption of the use of Containers – though not necessarily in the legal sector. A container is a standard unit of software that packages up code and all its dependencies so an application runs quickly and reliably no matter which computing environment is being used.
Containers received a reasonable amount of coverage at ILTACON in the summer and were touted as “the next big wave in virtualization and are being used in more business partner’s products and within firms”.
If containers become more widely adopted by firms, then it should make it easier for in house tech team to plug in and easily deploy new legal tech applications, therefore removing one of the traditional pain points in adopting new software – will our existing ecosystem support it?
Score: + 1/2 point
3. More Avocado Toast
“Greater collaboration between lawtech providers themselves are likely, with the most interesting partnerships being the ones that create something new and unique in the marketplace (a bit like Avocado Toast).”
No, not such much.
“Similarly there will be a trend for law firms to move towards lawtech providers whose products can be easily plugged into other platforms so that data can be moved between them seamlessly.”
Momentum has been building in this area, and we’ve definitely seen more of a move towards open ecosystems. Clio, the cloud-based legal practice management platform, launched the Launch//Code developer contest, in order to find “the most creative, powerful, and useful integrations for Clio”. Clio clearly see the value in focussing in what they are good at, and leaving it to other specialists to plug into their ecosystem to give lawyers access to all the tools they need in one place.
Score: + 1/2 point
“We saw some great chatbots arrive in 2017 including DoNotPay, BillyBot and Robot Lawyer LISA. There is still a great deal of potential for innovation in this area – especially as the platforms that underpin these chatbots continue to grow more sophisticated too. More niche chatbots solving specific legal needs will appear this year.”
Nope. Joshua Browder has certainly continued pushing this area of law, but I don’t think we can say much has really changed this year in terms widespread adoption of chatbots for legal services.
England & Wales specifically…
5. The start of the homebuying revolution
“Conveyancers will need to take advantage of legal technology that allow them to interact with their clients more easily online and saves them time on the administrative elements of the conveyancing process, in order to keep pace with the changing demands of modern consumers.”
I think we have seen the start of a revolution. In April we saw the first digital mortgage deed signed by a borrower and registered at HM Land Registry. There has also been a large amount of activity in the client verification and fund transfer space, with startups such as Thirdfort securing funding in 2018.
In May payment processor Shieldpay completed the UK’s first fully digital mortgage settlement, and then in November this year streamlined a two-property chain transaction by replacing the use of the buyer’s and seller’s conveyancer’s client monies accounts (CMA’s) to complete what it claims was the worlds “first fully digital property chain transaction”.
HM Land Registry is also hard at work digitising the information held in its title registry – making the data for each title more accessible and machine-readable through structured markup language and API’s. HMLR are also working to identify parties, places, legal interests and the relationships between them for titles added to the digital register.
Score: + 1 point
6. Law firms will start publishing prices through their websites
“Regulators of legal services in England and Wales will this year enact regulations that require law firms to publish prices through their websites – starting with conveyancing.”
Firms started publishing prices in December – though not all of them.
I’m not counting this on my scorecard as its less of a prediction, more of a fact! 🙂
Final score – 3 out of 5!
For 2019 I’m going with just four predictions…..
1. Affordable Legal AI Tools
The hype will continue around AI in legal, but 2019 will be the year that the technology breaks out into the mainstream and starts being adopted by smaller firms. Products supplied on affordable “pay as you go” models (such as Judicata) rather than through expensive enterprise licensing and that come ready to use “out of the box” (rather than needing to be trained using a firm’s own data) will mean more firms will start to use AI powered tools.
2. Emergence of a Common Data Model
The Common Data Model (CDM) simplifies data management and app development by unifying data into a known forms so you can use it in many applications.
Common data models already exist for both Healthcare and Financial Services, and big four accounting firm KPMG is working with Microsoft to create a common data model for Professional Services, focusing initially (as one might expect) on legal services that are finance related (e.g. M&A and Anti-Bribery).
Adoption of a common data model by large corporates will make it easier for client data to be plugged into whichever apps a firm wishes to utilise.
3. Data Portability and App Interoperability
This is basically a rehash of of my 2018 prediction “Cherry picking lawtech providers”. As I mentioned above, I think Clio have already recognised the strength of building an app ecosystem around their core product (in the same way Xero did for accounting). I expect we will see more core case/practise management providers making it easier for third party plugins to work with them, and greater demand/frustration from law firms when data cannot be passed between products as easily as you might expect.
4. Smart Contracts will just be called Contracts
2018 has seen a real leap forward with the development of smart contracts (see above). 2019 will see less “woo it’s a smart a contract” and more “we’ve developed this new way to create contracts and these are the benefits – try it”. Similarly I expect we will see less hype and more substance in solutions that use blockchain/DLT as an underlying technology chosen for its unique properties – rather than just because it sounds cool!
So that’s it from me for 2018 – thank you for reading and see you in 2019. For further reflections on 2018 and what 2019 will bring, check out the articles below.
Happy New Year!
Looking back over 2018…
- 13/12/18 – LegalTech News: A Look Back: LTN’s Top 12 Articles From 2018
- 13/12/18 – Above The Law: The Top Legal Tech News Stories Of The Year (registration required)
- 19/12/18 – Law Geex: 20 LegalTech Tweets that amazed everyone in 2018
- 20/12/18 – Above The Law: Solo And Small Firms: 2018 In Review And What’s Next
- 21/12/18 – Artificial Lawyer: Artificial Lawyer Year in Review – 2018 – What a Year!
- 21/12/18 – ABA Journal: 2018’s most important legal tech stories
- 28/12/18 – Legal Complex: 2018 Rewind – Facts, Fantasy and The Future of LegalTech
Looking forward to 2019…
- 19/12/18 – Artificial Lawyer: 2019 Legal Tech Predictions from the Market
- 19/12/18 – Aderant: 25 Outstanding Legal Tech and Business of Law Predictions for 2019
- 20/12/18 – Law.com: Legal Tech’s Predictions for 2019 in Innovative Technologies
- 24/12/18 – Legal IT Insider: Taking stock: 12 IT leaders tell us about their achievements, challenges and priorities for the year ahead
- 24/12/18 – Legal IT Insider: The legal tech market: 2018 and beyond
- 24/12/18 – Legal Week: Cutting through the hype: predictions for innovation in law in 2019
- 29/11/18 – The Legal Intelligencer: What to Expect in E-Discovery 2019