Photo of Ryan McClead

Ryan is an executive at a small, but well-known legal technology company. Prior to his jump to the vendor side, he served for 3 years as Legal Technology Innovation Architect at Norton Rose Fulbright, running Technology Innovation projects around the world. His sense of humor and remarkable tolerance for verbal and psychological abuse has gotten him through more than 15 years in Legal Technology. In 2015, McClead was named a FastCase 50 recipient, and in 2018, he was elected a Fellow in the College of Law Practice Management. In past lives, he was a Knowledge Manager, a Systems Analyst, an “IT Guy”, a Fashion Merchandiser and Theater Composer.

The five-word phrase in the title of this post is likely the second most common five-word phrase I utter on a regular basis.  The most common being, “What a crock of sh**!”

Coincidentally, I uttered my most common five word phrase on Sunday, January 29th when I first heard about the Trump travel ban on 7 predominantly Muslim countries.  This is not a political forum and I’m not going to go into politics here, but that travel ban led to a fantastic example of  Rapid Prototyping and Iterative Design (RPID).

RPID is a concept found in Design Thinking, essentially you build a limited example of what you’re imagining and share it with stakeholders, and then take their feedback and expand or adjust your prototype.  Then you do it again.  And again.  And again.  Do this enough times and you end up with something that usually looks or acts nothing like any stakeholders originally imagined, but that meets all stakeholders needs in a much better way.

I’ve been talking about RPID for many years, going back to my days at Norton Rose Fulbright.  Going back to before I ever even heard the phrase.  This was essentially my approach to writing music, back when I did things like that. But in law firms, “Rapid Prototyping and Iterative Design” is usually seen as crazy talk.

Firms are loathe to deliver anything that isn’t ‘perfect’ or ‘complete’ and sometimes there are very good reasons for that.  ‘Imperfect’ or ‘incomplete’ legal work may lead to ‘malpractice’.  But that’s no reason to ignore the benefits of the Rapid Prototyping approach.  RPID is how you ultimately get to something approaching ‘perfect’ and ‘complete’ with software development.

Back to the Trump travel ban.  I saw reports of volunteer lawyers camping out at airports all around the country and said to myself, “Self, we have technology that can help this situation.”  Unfortunately, Legal Week started the next day in New York and I was swamped for the next few days.  On Wednesday evening, my company, Neota Logic hosted a cocktail party and I ran into my friend Joshua Lenon from Clio.  Joshua mentioned that Clio was working with a group of volunteer lawyers in Seattle headed by Greg McLawsen, and that they needed an intake and distribution system.

  • On Friday evening last Greg started a Slack channel devoted to this project.  
  • On Saturday afternoon we had our first prototype. 
  • On Sunday afternoon we had our third prototype and a website.  
  • On Monday the website and Neota Logic application went live servicing one airport.  
  • Today, Tuesday, we sent out a press release, got covered by the Seattle Times, and now have 7 airports being serviced with more coming in hourly.

The tool is evolving quickly with new functionality being added every day.  The video below was published an hour ago, but I just changed the way the lookup feature works for supervisors during my lunch hour.

This is Rapid Prototyping and Iterative Design in practice.  The applications I built are simply gathering and distributing data.  There is no legal advice being given. But with a concerted effort and a passionate team, we went from idea to product that is actually making a difference in a few short days.

With committed people, the right technology, and most importantly, the right approach (RPID) you can accomplish incredible things very quickly.

The next step for AirportLawyer.org is to build a triage tool to help volunteer lawyers who are not familiar with immigration law to triage the needs of incoming immigrants.

We gotta have something to do tomorrow.

Watch the video below and check out AirportLawyer.org for more information or to get involved.

Ron Friedman recently posted the following video to twitter.

Ron and I have talked about this a lot, going back to my AI posts last December when
I suggested that we stop using the term Artificial Intelligence in
legal because it causes more confusion, consternation, and general
trouble than it’s worth.

First, to answer Ron’s
question, why all the AI hype in the legal market?  The AI hype isn’t
happening in the legal market.  It’s happening throughout the world. 
It’s now in our homes with Nest Thermostats and Hue light bulbs.  It’s in
our pockets with Siri, and in our offices with Alexa. It’s the basis of
one of the most engrossing shows on HBO right now, Westworld.  And we
still have brilliant people like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking warning
that AI will likely kill us if we don’t take precautions. What we’re
seeing in the legal market is just bleeding-through from the massive
hype happening in the rest of the world.  And I think it’s all about to
come crashing down.  We will shortly enter into the great Trough of
Disillusionment for AI.

I don’t say that because I
think AI will fail to live up to its promise.  On the contrary, I think
AI will way outstrip our current expectations.  However, we humans are
fickle.  Our expectations shift quickly. Louis C.K. explains it best in
his routine about Airplane WiFi
In the AI space, this same fickle attitude leads to an interesting
phenomenon, over time we adjust what we believe qualifies as AI.  The
more common a technology becomes the less we believe it to be Artificial
Intelligence. 

Google isn’t considered AI, but it
‘knows’ what you’re typing as you type, and then it filters a large
portion of the web to give you the most relevant pages.  It would have
easily been seen as AI twenty years ago.  Siri and Alexa personal
assistants respond to voice commands and can return information
instantly or actually perform tasks online, but they are considered
borderline AI at best these days. Completely self-driving automobiles
are still seen as Science Fiction and therefore are solidly in the AI
column, but I predict they will NOT widely be considered AI by the time
they are commercially available.  AI is a moving target. By the time a
technology is commercialized it’s no longer considered Artificial
Intelligence.  Consequently, we fickle humans are consistently
underwhelmed by the promise of AI even as AI fundamentally changes the
world around us.

The same is happening in legal right
now.  AI is all over the place from e-discovery to contract review, due
diligence, and data extraction, to my own company’s expert system platform.  (Oh, BTW.  I’ve got another new job since
last I wrote.) But the more we see of it, the less we believe it to
truly represent Artificial Intelligence.  AI is always just beyond the
horizon.  Just on the other side of the next technological
breakthrough.  It’s always something just slightly better than what we
can do right now.

So I say, “Don’t buy into the
AI hype!”  Not because AI is not real, but because hyperbolic
expectations for AI lead to a belief in ‘magical technology’. And
expectations of ‘magic yet to come’ will prevent you from taking
advantage of the remarkable and capable technology that is absolutely available
today. 

It’s not ‘Artificial’ Intelligence, it’s Your Intelligence: Augmented, Enhanced, and Multiplied.

This post originally appeared on the HighQ Blog.  

Last week, at the HighQ Forum in London, our new robot overlords displayed their mighty powers and declared that all human lawyers should line up and await their turn at the guillotine. 
Oh wait… I’m wrong, that didn’t happen.
However, we did get a brief glimpse into the future of legal service delivery, with what could arguably be called the first true robot lawyer. 
Yes, it’s a title that has been thrown around quite a bit recently. Both ROSS and KIM have been labeled robot lawyers, but ROSS is a very powerful research tool and KIM is a ‘virtual assistant’, akin to Siri for law. 
Not to in any way diminish either of these technologies, if moderately pressed, I will admit to being a huge fan-boy when it comes to both of them, but I think the term robot lawyer when applied to these technologies has invited skepticism and derision from people who claim that computers simply cannot do what humans can do. 
We set out to do some actual lawyering with computers.
HighQ Collaborate is a platform that allows for easy sharing and communication within firms, or between clients and firms. We may not be not the obvious choice for setting out to create a robot lawyer.
But therein lies the strength of our approach, because our robot lawyer is not a product.  It’s not a creation of a single company. It’s simply a proof of concept to show what is possible when you combine resources and tools that you have at your disposal to create something that is greater than the sum of it’s parts. 
This is a technique I talk about a lot, that I call bricolage.
Bricolage gives you the best of both the Buy and Build options. You are still building a custom solution to solve you particular problem. That could potentially give your firm a competitive advantage.
However, you are also using purpose built tools that are fully supported by other companies to ensure that you have the most robust solution possible. To me, bricolage is the answer to the Buy vs. Build question for law firms.
In February, HighQ announced its integration with RAVN, an AI data extraction tool that allows you to pull specific data out of unstructured documents and to move it into a structured format. 
On June 9th, at our Client Forum, we also announced integration with Neota Logic, a different kind of AI that allows you to build powerful expert systems to replicate virtually any logical process that can be codified.
For the forum I was joined on stage at the British Film Institute on the south bank of the Thames, by Sjoerd Smeets from RAVN and Greg Wildisen from Neota Logic. And as a demonstration of the combined power of our three platforms, we presented a scenario:
Imagine you’re a law firm, and you are approached by a client that is considering acquiring a large number of commercial leases. They want you to help determine the value of these leases over their entire term, as well as identify any risks associated with each lease.
Now, most firms would have two options:
  1. Get a bunch of young lawyers, or contract lawyers, in a room and have them manually plow through the many thousands of leases, calculating the value and highlighting and risky clauses or potential concerns.
  2. Work with the client to identify a subset of leases to review manually, and make a number of assumptions about the rest of the leases in order to provide some likely risks they may face.
But with HighQ, RAVN, and Neota, there is a third option.
Clients will commonly upload a large set of documents into our HighQ Collaborate site. An administrator will then go through the documents, ensuring that they are appropriately filed and then notify (or set auto-notifications to notify) the appropriate lawyers that the documents are out there waiting for some attention. 
In our demo last Thursday, the files were bulk uploaded and then RAVN went to work reviewing the documents.
First it identified the types of documents that were in the zip file. There were 10 commercial shopping mall leases and 5 ISDAs. As the audience watched, Sjoerd from RAVN, hit refresh and nothing happened.
He waited a second, hit refresh again, and nothing happened. He looked back at his laptop that was running the software, which I could see running, and I thought, “NOOOOO!  The curse of the live demo!” I was silently screaming what an idiot I must be for trying to do this live. 
But then Sjoerd hit refresh one more time, and you could see that the numbers were changing. RAVN was moving the files to the Shopping Mall Leases, and ISDA folders that we created. 
Then he clicked over to iSheets, our online spreadsheet/database module, and showed how RAVN was populating the sheet with information from the uploaded documents. First one row of data showed up, refresh, four more rows, refresh, all ten. And with that Sjoerd handed the computer over to Greg from Neota. 
Greg took the stage and showed the app that Neota had embedded into Collaborate. With the touch of one button marked, “Run Lease Assessment” the app performed four tasks for each lease. 
It calculated the portfolio rental value from any given start date, it assessed risks associated with the calculated rental value (such as tenants right for early termination and/or assignment, special obligations on the landlord, conditions around the security deposit, etc). 
Clicking through the app brings you to a valuation summary that shows the total value of the aggregated leases, as well as an aggregate Red Amber Green risk assessment of all leases. In addition, each lease is given its own valuation and risk report and the iSheet is updated with the valuation and risk report. It does all of this in seconds. 
I took the stage again and did my best Steve Jobs impersonation. “That is amazing!” Except, it wasn’t hyperbole, that is actually really amazing. Several people came up to me after and said, “I’m afraid your presentation was too slick, I don’t think that everyone in the audience understood what you three just did there.” 
But enough understood it. And enough can extrapolate to their own use cases and opportunities.  Enough can imagine how they could then use Collaborate to share the results of the AI engines, filtering views of the iSheets and permissioning them for different audiences, the client, the practice group, the contract lawyers, and any others you could think of. 
Each group seeing only the information that is relevant and important to their portion of the work at hand. Enough understood what we did on Thursday that they are beginning to talk, and they are beginning to ask whether we could make this work for their particular use case.   
This robot lawyer does not replace human lawyers. It makes them faster, more efficient, more consistent, and happier. 
Because this robot lawyer tells them where to focus their energies, on high risk leases, or contracts.  The kinds of things that lawyers really want to do, instead of mindlessly slogging through 50 mind-numbing, perfectly normal contracts a day, hoping to find the one anomaly in a hundred contracts. 
This robot lawyer doesn’t replace human lawyers. It makes them better lawyers.


I know I write my fair share of crap that is of minimal value to anyone, but that’s why we invite Casey Flaherty to post his epic legal tone poems on 3 Geeks.  His insight and valuable contributions balance my own questionable efforts.  After today, the ABAs Law Technology Today is in desperate need of a Casey Flaherty-type ringer.

As much as I hate to call anyone out for writing nonsense – pot/kettle – this turd of a puff piece got my hackles way up.

Four Ways Law Firms Are Using Technology For Exposure and Efficiency 

Helpfully subtitled: A shortlist of ways to leverage technology in your favor.

I know, I know. You’re saying, “Ryan, why would you bother to click on that link? We know that you know all about click bait titles. What pearls of wisdom were you expecting on the other side?”

I don’t know! Call it a moment of weakness at the end of a long day.  For the second and a half it took the page to load, I thought maybe one of the ‘four ways’ would be novel or new.  Something thrilling that I had never imagined. Something to spark my imagination and lead to my next great legal technology insight.

I’ll save you the brain cells.  The ‘four ways’ that law firms are using tech for exposure and efficiency, are:

  1. Becoming a Resource on Social Networks
  2. Blogging About Important Topics 
  3. Launching Law Firm Apps
  4. Digitizing Documents and Using Online Libraries

When I finished reading, I was sad.  5 minutes later, I was angry.  As any blogger can tell you, the stage that comes after anger is Blog Post.

This rant is not about the author, his credentials, his ideas, or his writing.  Mad props and hats off to anyone who can make a living writing anything at all. And I know this was a paid post because I dropped the text into word and confirmed that if you include the title, the post comes to exactly 750 words. That’s not coincidental.  No, the author is a new hero of mine. My scorn is reserved for the ABA and the editors of Law Technology Today.

If this is what the ABA thinks constitutes a modern use of tech for ‘exposure and efficiency’, they should probably rename the site Law Technology 2003.

Here’s my Four REAL Ways firms are using tech for exposure and efficiency:

  1. They are no longer spamming their clients on social networks and instead are building useful and useable tools that clients actually want/need and will pay for
  2. They automate absolutely everything they can so that some of their lawyers can focus on the cool stuff they imagined they’d be doing when they graduated from law school, and others can build the cool stuff that automates the boring stuff.
  3. They stop being so damn proprietary about every little tech idea they have. They’re proud and loud and shout their genius from the rooftops. 
  4. They digitize their documents and use online libraries
Well, I guess that last one would have been the same.  
I stand corrected.

I recently gave a ‘client case study’ presentation at the HighQ Client Forum in NYC (recapped here). On the day, I opened my talk thusly:

I am of the opinion that I could tell you absolutely everything I have done at the firm for the last three years in excruciating detail, with charts, graphs, and full step by step explanations and you could take that back to your firm and it would be of almost no value to you. Except in so far as it may provide you with a bit of inspiration to try something similar, or a map to avoid some of the pitfalls that I have encountered.

That was the set up of my opening joke to explain why I was speaking in extremely generic terms about my ‘case study’ and also to justify why all of my screenshot examples looked like this.

In short, my firm did not share my generous opinion on sharing.

That is certainly their prerogative and they are by no means alone.  I find that most law firms feel similarly about their various technology projects. Most people who work in law firms are to some degree fearful of speaking publicly in detail about any projects they are working on. Not because they think they are somehow giving away the farm, but because they don’t want to raise the ire of the managing partner or the marketing director.

One low level techno-peon, whose firm belongs to a knowledge sharing consortium of non-competing regional firms, told me that she was told to forward any information she receives from the group to the managing partner, but that she was never to share anything with the other firms.   I’m willing to bet that most staff in the consortium have received similar instructions from their firm’s management.  In the upper echelons of law firm management, it seems to generally be believed that the use of specific technologies, in a particular way, to solve a problem or build a product, constitutes a ‘competitive advantage’ of some kind.

It does not.

We are all using the same tools to build the same kinds of products and services for the same potential clients.

If I tell you that I am using tools A, B, and C to develop a solution that does X, Y, and Z. Even if I show you detailed screenshots of my final product, or give you a demo of its various features, you cannot recreate what I’ve done.  Even if I gave you the completed product itself, along will full rights to use it as you saw fit, you couldn’t get anyone at your firm to sign off on it.  Trust me, it’s hard enough to get two lawyers at the SAME firm to agree on simple introductory wording for a product let alone actual legal interpretations; lawyers from different firms agreeing on anything is nearly unthinkable.

The competitive advantage, the ‘secret sauce’ if you will, has absolutely nothing to do with the technology or how I/we/you put it together.  The advantage is in the knowledge and intelligence that your firm’s lawyers bring to the product/service/solution and that will be different at every firm. Even if the outward appearance and general construction of the eventual product is identical. (Which it can’t possibly be.)

In addition, it is highly unlikely that your technologists or consultants have discovered a unique combination of tools and resources that no one at any other firm has ever thought of.  The one exception would be if your in-house development team built something entirely from scratch, but then I would argue that any immediate advantage you may gain is more than offset by the long term headache of software maintenance and support, and you’re actually digging an innovation hole.

Now, to be clear, I am not advocating for a mass uprising of technologists to start spilling their firms’ secrets. Nor am I suggesting that I would ever share details of what my former firm was working on against their wishes. Nor will I ever share details of anything that I work on for any company in the future without explicit permission to do so. However, I truly believe that in most cases a strict devotion to the ‘competitive advantage’ myth actually does a big disservice to the secretive firm itself. They struggle to learn through trial and error what could simply be learned by talking to others who have gone before. Although, if you don’t share, no one else is going to share with you.  Those good old kindergarten values at play.

It strikes me that this bizarre behavior is like construction contractors jealously guarding their secret use of wheelbarrows, nail guns, and wooden framing.  Those things constitute baseline technologies for building a house.  However, the fact that a crew uses those technologies has almost no bearing on the eventual quality of the house.  It’s the work of the specialized craftspeople that ultimately determines the value of the end product.

The same is true for law firms. Firms should have faith in the skill of their craftspeople (lawyers) and encourage their construction foremen (technologists) to talk to others in the industry about construction (legal technology innovation) best practices.

Otherwise, what is the message we, as an industry, are sending to our clients?

“We’d rather spend our time and money reinventing the wheelbarrow than using technology to solve your legal problems.”

I hereby relinquish any claim to copyright on that phrase. If any firm wants to adopt that as their marketing slogan, be my guest.

If you read Legal IT Insider, or if you follow Greg or me on Twitter, you have probably heard the big news regarding HighQ.

They hired me!  (Oh, and they got some investment of some kind. I don’t really follow that stuff, but hey, I guess that’s pretty cool too!)
As of today, I am the Business Transformation and Innovation Architect at HighQ!  This is a customer facing role, which will allow me to work with HighQ customers around the world to imagine, develop, and deliver new legal products and services through the HighQ platform.  I gave a talk at the HighQ Forum in NYC about how I’ve been doing this kind of thing for the last few years. A recap of that talk has become my first HighQ blog post, The 3 Boxes of Innovation.  
After my talk at the Forum and throughout LTNY week, I had people that I have known, followed, and looked up to for years coming up to me asking when they could contact me to discuss their particular use case.  For me, this is the most exciting aspect of my new role.  Rather than speaking in ridiculously oblique terms about the tools I’m using and the products we’re building at my firm, and getting much the same from friends and colleagues (and readers of this blog) at other law firms, I now get to roll up my sleeves and work side by side with some of the smartest and most interesting people in the legal industry to create new and innovative products and services.  How cool is that?
I had one non-negotiable requirement before I would agree to take on the new job. One of my duties will be to write for the HighQ blog, and I’m happy to do it, but I must be allowed to continue writing for 3 Geeks.  Stuart Barr’s response was, “that’s fine with us as long as it’s not against the rules of 3 Geeks.”  I’m not sure I have ever laughed so hard in my life.  Rules? 3 Geeks? It’s like he’s never met any of us!
But, as I thought about it, there are some ‘rules’ here on the blog.  They are not written or rigidly enforced, but they are generally adhered to by all of us. 

1. Don’t call out your own firm

Not really a rule so much as prudent self-censorship.  I have openly mentioned my firm only once, when I wrote about the London Office Choir winning a competition.  I’ve actively avoided writing anything that could be directly attributed to anyone at the firm or would be easily recognized as a response to anything that happened at the firm. (Though I occasionally rode a bit close to that edge, like when I wrote a satirical poem in response to the Texas Bar’s stupid Opinion 642 after it caused the firm’s CIO’s title to be changed to Chief of Information Technology.)  However, those who poke the bear too many times, tend to not remain employed by the circus… if you know what I mean.

2. No advertisements

We occasionally review products, tools, or books, but we generally don’t endorse anything.  Also, we allow vendors to write guest posts all the time, but those posts are generally about industry trends or market analysis and not specifically about how great their products are.

3.  The three beer solution

Again, not really a rule, but more of an axiomatic guideline.  “There is no problem that cannot be solved over the course of three beers. And no problem that will not be made worse by ordering the fourth.”  Like I said, axiomatic.

I think that’s about it.  3 ‘rules’ for 3 Geeks, if you will.  For more than 5 years I have fretted about rule #1 for fear that some marketing stooge would track me down for some innocuous firm ‘secret’ I divulged, now it’s rule #2 that I need to worry about. After all, 3 Geeks is not a platform to extoll the virtues of HighQ products any more than it’s a platform to push our firm’s legal services. We have the utmost respect for our devoted readers, and while I may openly shill for HighQ products on the HighQ blog, I hereby promise to never use 3 Geeks as an advertising platform for my new employer.

For example, I will never use my 3 Geeks posts to write about how you can use HighQ Publisher as a platform of platforms that can integrate multiple solutions into a single user interface to build revenue generating subscription legal services for your clients. I will never write about the versatile HighQ Collaborate product that can be used as a simple deal room file sharing service, or as a full internal and external social networking tool, or could even be paired with HighQ Publisher to become your firm’s modern social intranet. I will not even write a post about the slogan I’ve been using to sell HighQ inside the firm for years:

“It’s like SharePoint. You know, if SharePoint didn’t suck.”  

I won’t write about those things here, but you can be sure I will on the HighQ blog.  So subscribe to the blog or follow me on Twitter if you are interested in those things.

Finally, I just want to say thank you to Greg, Toby, and everyone involved with 3 Geeks, including all of our regular readers.  Without this wonderfully supportive community, I would just be a pissed-off low level IT support guy, struggling to get by in a law firm, frustrated, helpless, and desperately afraid as the industry changed around me.  I’m fairly certain HighQ wouldn’t want to hire me then and I doubt anyone else would either.

Thanks for letting me get a few things off my chest for the last 5 years.

More to come…

I wrote a post last week in which I called for a moratorium on the term Artificial Intelligence in relation to the law.  Instead I suggested that you should just replace AI with the term Automation because “they’re exactly the same thing, at least as far as the current legal market is concerned.”

Some people took me to task for over-simplifying the issue. Fair. Some seemed to think that I didn’t understand that AI and Automation were separate things, and they helpfully sent me links to Wikipedia pages and dictionary definitions of AI.  Very kind, but unnecessary.  I assure you, I understand the differences.

My underlying point – and admittedly I sometimes meander on my way to getting there, which can cause confusion, consternation, and even anger among my less patient readers – was that, much of what we call artificial intelligence in the legal industry is simply the automation of historically manual processes.  And if we refer to these things as “Automation” instead of “Artificial Intelligence” we are more likely to have intelligent, thoughtful, and meaningful conversations about the future of legal practice, than we are to run screaming through the halls, crying uncontrollably, and tearing out our hair for fear of the robots coming for our jobs.

I know many of you will find this hard to believe, as I usually revel in setting verbal fires, but my goal in abandoning “Artificial Intelligence” as a term was to improve the overall quality of discourse surrounding the use of Artificial Intelligence in the practice of law.

John Alber, former Strategic Innovation Partner at Bryan Cave and current Futurist-in-Residence for ILTA, called me out for over-simplifying.

Arrgh!  Fine. I’m not going to fight with John, he was the first person I ever met and an ILTA conference and, more relevantly, he’s right.  So I suggested an alternative.

But Kenneth Grady, former CEO of SeyfarthLean and current Legal Future Evangelist rightfully suggested:

So I stewed.  Pushed it to the back of my mind and focused on other far less interesting, but more profitable things like work. Until today during lunch, when I was reading an article on Augmented Reality and it suddenly hit me.  The middle ground between Artificial Intelligence and Automation is Augmented Intelligence.

I suggested this alternative to my twitter colleagues and Kenneth Grady helpfully suggested the addition of Human.

And there it was, the term I was looking for.

Augmented. Human. Intelligence.  #AHI

It’s much less hysteria inducing than the term Artificial Intelligence.  And arguably, it’s a more accurate representation of what is happening now in the computer assisted practice of law.

So, today I am calling for a moratorium on the term Artificial Intelligence in the practice of law (unless you are actually talking about a Turing machine that bills by the hour), because whether we’re discussing Watson, Ross, Kira, or Kim, we’re talking about Augmented Human Intelligence.

Every year after ILTA, I generously offer to publish the written version of my co-presenters talks here on 3 Geeks. This year Noah Waisberg’s written contribution wasn’t delivered to me until late November (nearly 3 months after we presented!!) and I publicly chastised him for his “much belated” contribution.

It turns out that Noah had a very good excuse for his tardiness.  He has been quietly working for the last several months on writing his magnum opus on machine learning. Noah is uniquely qualified to write this book.  He is the CEO and founder of Kira Systems, a machine learning contract review platform.  But more importantly,  Noah is the father of two small children. 
******SPOILER WARNING!  SKIP TO THE SPOILER FREE TAG IF YOU WANT TO BE SURPRISED!******
Subtitled Machine Learning for Kids, Robbie the Robot Learns to Read is the inspiring tale of an illiterate robot who overcomes great odds to comprehend the texts in front of him.  Like any other ‘person’, Robbie ultimately succeeds with the help of his school teacher (a far-sighted tortoise named Ms. Snead) and the support of his new friend, Alex the owl. 
Although, to be honest, if Alex was giving his advice to anyone other than a robot, he might be the villain of this story.  His advice boils down to:

 “Just keep reading for examples, the words will make sense once you have enough samples.” 

Not helpful Alex!  Although, in this case, it is exactly what Robbie needed to hear and eventually Robbie learns…

“after studying heaps, that you can know a word from the company it keeps.”

******SPOILER FREE FROM HERE ON!******

Robbie the Robot Learns to Read is probably the best children’s book ever written on the topic of machine learning. It rises far above it’s slender 250+ word count to accomplish what many longer, and less rhyme-filled, computer science treatises cannot. It is thoroughly engaging, informative, fun, and Noah assure’s me, it is absolutely, one hundred percent, a scientifically accurate representation of how machine learning works.  When asked for verification of this claim, a leading and reputable computer scientist replied:

“Um, sure. Why not?”

And there you go. If you’ve got a particularly nerdy toddler, or a Luddite Law Firm Partner, on your holiday gift list, Robbie the Robot Learns to Read may be just the thing they need.

Available at RobbieReads.com & Amazon*  

Personally, I can’t wait for the sequel: Robbie the Robot Gets a Really Boring Job in a Law Firm.

Although, that probably won’t be nearly as inspiring as the first book.

*3 Geeks does not receive any proceeds from sales of Robbie the Robot Learns to Read.

I am calling for an official moratorium on the term Artificial Intelligence in relation to the law!  Everyone please just stop using it. It’s a needlessly charged word that only confuses and clouds the underlying issues whenever it comes up.

From now on any time you feel the need to use the term Artificial Intelligence, replace it with Automation.  No seriously, they’re exactly the same thing, at least as far as the current legal market is concerned. Whereas, AI carries connotations of ‘robot lawyers’ replacing people, Automation seems friendly, simple, even mundane.  That’s good.  Automation is the future of legal practice.

My friend Ron Friedmann posted a Twitter poll last week that got my hackles up.

Come on people!  Really?  Collaboration software!?  Biggest impact on legal market in next 3 years? Do people even read the question before they start ticking boxes?

Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of collaboration software.  I firmly believe that modern collaboration tools are a fundamental requirement for any modern law firm, akin to a document management system, a productivity suite, and maybe a handful of lawyers.  But the ‘most impact on legal market’?  Tech that has been widely available for 10 years, that everyone is already using, even if IT or firm management frowns on it.  I don’t think so.

The correct answer, and the one that was chosen by a majority of respondents, is Automation.  I know, Automation wasn’t officially a choice, but look at the options again.  AI/Machine Learning and Contract Analytics collectively received 58% of the votes. Contract Analytics is a form of AI/Machine Learning and they should have both been listed as Automation tools.

Woo hoo!  Ron’s readers aren’t dumb, they just got a little confused by the options. Easy to do, when the confounding term AI rears it’s ugly head.

This was all bouncing around in my head yesterday when I saw the following article on Bloomberg BNA.

Another Law Firm Adopts Automation Technology

In the latest sign that more and more legal services are being automated, Akerman has announced it will operate a data center that allows corporate clients to quickly look up data privacy and security regulations without having to consult a human lawyer.

Look at that. The beauty of it. The simplicity. The near total lack of hysteria about robots stealing jobs. And guess what words don’t even appear in the article:  Artificial and Intelligence.

But you know what that article is about?  The biggest impact on the legal market in the next 3 years.

Automation.  Or as I like to call it, the creation of Legal Engines, by Legal Engineers, to automate the practice of law one task at a time.

If only someone had foreseen that such a thing might happen.

This is the (much belated) final talk from the ILTA Session – Legal Technology Innovation – Bolstering and Destroying the Legal Profession. This post is from Noah Waisberg, CEO of Kira Systems.  See other related posts from Michael Mills, Stuart Barr, Joshua Lenon, and myself by following the links on our names.   – Ryan

Law practice today is a land of opportunity. This is due to the combination of

  1. underserved legal consumers, and
  2. technologies and processes that make legal work more efficient, which make serving these consumers possible.

Lawyers who embrace efficiency have the opportunity to do more law for their clients. And make more money in the process.

We lawyers sell to a market that is not getting anywhere close to all the legal services it needs.  Underserved legal consumers fall into three categories:

  1. Access to Justice. People without means to pay premium prices for a lawyer needing access to legal services.
  2. Middle class legal needs. Many decently-well-off people don’t spend money on legal services that would help them. How many people use lawyers to resolve their disputes, negotiate their employment contracts or write their wills?
  3. Corporates. Most companies, even the biggest ones, do not obtain anywhere close to all the legal services they need.[1]

This spread between latent demand and supply represents opportunity to sell more. Unfortunately the current techniques for delivering and selling legals services are so expensive and inefficient that these underserved consumers can’t or won’t pay for them.

On 3Geeks, I shouldn’t need to detail ways to practice law more efficiently. There are heaps, some more impactful than others. Processes. Using the right people for specific tasks. Expert systems. Contract analysis software. Machine learning. Collaboration systems. And so much more. With some effort, law firms could do much of their work at higher quality, at significantly lower costs (i.e., 50–75%).

Doing work more efficiently opens up two types of opportunities:

Do More of Current Work. Sure it’s possible to steal work from less-efficient competitors, but another interesting possibility is to upsell clients to more work by offering better value. Here’s an example from the contract review world I know best. In a typical mid-market M&A deal, with a company getting bought for  $200 million, law firm due diligence contract review would cover 75–200 contracts. But most $200 million companies don’t have 200 contracts, they have more like 5,000–10,000. That means counsel reviews under 5% of the target’s contracts. Is this limited review because diligence doesn’t matter? Well, no: due to the inefficiency of current approaches, even that scoped-down contract review is likely to eat up 30–60% of total legal fees on the project (arguably demonstrating importance).  But a missed restrictive covenant or bad indemnity could be crushing for the buyer, whether it’s in the twentieth-most-important contract, or the thousandth.[2] Clients would mitigate more risk if they reviewed more agreements. Why don’t they? Well, as above, status quo contract review can cost thousands of dollars per document. What if lawyers pitched clients on reviewing twice the materials for 20% more money than the last review they did for them? Might that be appealing to clients? Would lawyers be able to sell clients on this? Well, selling risk is something successful rainmakers do. What if clients buy this proposition? Can a law firm profitably deliver on 2x the work for 120% of the money? Yes! It’s easy to do more efficient due diligence contract review. We have seen Kira’s customers review contracts in 20–90% less time using our contract analysis software, and they tell us they are at least as accurate as without the software; we have started seeing transactional reviews in the tens of thousands of contracts, using our tech to filter where to look. Firms also have lots of opportunity to improve their diligence efficiency through streamlining processes and staffing matters differently (e.g., using less expensive people for parts).

Do New Work. There are lots of opportunities to offer new legal “products” that clients will pay for. Create new options leveraging efficiency to offer clients services they need but currently can’t get. Offer your clients a contract management system. Help clients prophylactically determine whether their contracts have FCPA compliance language. Build them a tool that will allow them to evaluate whether their team members are employees or independent contractors. Come up with other useful ideas!

Embrace efficiency to grow the pie and DO MORE LAW! Law today is the land of opportunity, but the opportunity is only there for those who seize it.

  
[1]    This runs like a #dolesslaw checklist. Options include: Have lawyers go through a company’s processes to spot risk. Set up a contract management database listing important dates (term, renewal), price increase calculations, rights, and obligations. Redo contract templates to be simpler to negotiate and use modern drafting language. Ensure legacy contracts meet company standards. In house lawyers at large corporates can tell you about how they are pulling back from using outside law firms but don’t have the personnel to meet their legal needs. This is not the behavior of people who think they are getting good value from their current legal spend. This is a contract law heavy list because of what I am most familiar with. Suffice it to say there are a lot more opportunities than these for corporates to spend money on.

[2]    Clients, perhaps rightly, might be willing to take the risk of missing a change of control clause in the thousandth contract, but how about an exclusivity or MFN clause that binds affiliates?