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The pace of change in legal technology has been dramatic, but as with any hype-heavy topic, misconceptions and myths stubbornly persist. It’s the responsibility of tech companies, providers and publishers in this space to keep everyone’s feet on the ground - with that in mind, here are five of the most common misconceptions we hear about legal technology.
Arguably no term has attracted more column inches, when it comes to the business of law, than ‘AI’. The rush to deploy machine learning algorithms, natural language processing and other technologies to legal isn’t new - it started decades ago - but the difference between what’s promised and what’s possible has created uncertainty when it comes to its impact on headcount.
The reality is different. Mercifully the streets aren’t filled with lawyers who’ve been replaced by artificial intelligence. Instead, AI’s transformative power is being leveraged primarily to tackle low-value process work: reading PDFs and searching through emails. No lawyer underwent the stress and the debt of law school to spend every day searching through emails: where AI is having an impact, it’s freeing up lawyers to ditch this process work and focus on actually adding value and being a strategic partner to the business.
This is another consequence of excess hype: overzealous marketing can lead legal tech companies to make outlandish promises about what AI or blockchain can do. Legal innovation teams in law firms or large companies often have mandates to transform processes top to bottom, which similarly can involve selling a dream to which the actual promise of technology can’t quite measure up.
The reality is that legal technology isn’t magic and it won’t solve all your problems. Without a detailed understanding of the problems you're looking to solve, as well as the people and the processes governing them, there's little point diving into a new tech deployment in legal. Define the problem before you even start to think about whether technology is the answer.
New IT projects often fall flat at the moment they come into contact with a department other than the one that originated them. Modern businesses aren’t siloed (or at least, they shouldn’t be) and if your new process can’t interface with, and flow seamlessly into those of other key business functions, it’s probably not going to work.
The key word here is integration. If your legal team is part of a business built on high volumes of B2B sales, and you’ve procured a new contract management tool that doesn’t integrate with Salesforce (or whatever system your sales teams live in every day), what makes you think they’re going to use it? If you work at a high-growth tech company where everyone lives in Slack, but your legal solutions don’t have an integration that delivers notifications to defined channels, then it’s unlikely people will pay attention.
Ultimately if you can make any new process fit into the systems and workflows that your business colleagues already understand, they’re much more likely to support you. If a solution claims to be ‘built by lawyers for lawyers, it might not be the best option when it comes to the wider business.
Enterprise software projects often fail because the scale of the change management they require is too big or too ambitious. But we don’t have to aim that high for legal tech to make a difference. The rise of legal operations as a discipline means that legal teams are increasingly making strides with systems we’ve had all along: in truth, one of the biggest trends in legal tech is lawyers moving from Microsoft Word to Microsoft Excel.
This is great news, with teams becoming data-driven and empowering their members to make smarter decisions. Building a base layer of data in a spreadsheet is a huge step forward, costs nothing, and sets your team up for success in the future.
I mentioned above that lawyers didn’t go to law school to do process-driven, low-level paperwork. They also didn’t go there to eventually switch to computer science as their major. ‘No-code’, easy-to-integrate platforms are increasingly the norm when it comes to legal tech solutions, and the best vendors should offer seamless onboarding that doesn’t require much in the way of technical expertise. If your vendor doesn’t have a team that can make implementation and ongoing support effortless, then find one who does.
By avoiding these common misconceptions, keeping our feet on the ground and our eyes on the bottom line, we can make sure legal tech actually meets our expectations - rather than raising and ultimately failing to meet them.
Richard Mabey is the co-founder and CEO of Juro.
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