This post was written by Ryan McClead, legal technology innovation architect, Norton Rose Fulbright contributor, 3 Geeks and a Law Blogger

 

Ryan McClead

A few weeks ago I was in the midst of one of my typical breathless explanations of the latest technology that was going to revolutionize nearly everything about the firm. It was going to change how we practice; how we build and design new tools; how we deliver new types of legal services with never before imagined speed, efficiency, quality and… My colleague on the phone interrupted, “Wow! You’re really passionate about legal technology!” I was taken aback. My automatic response was to deny it. “No I’m not…It’s… I’m just…” But she was right. I am. I don’t know why exactly. It’s a weird thing to be passionate about, I know, but I get excited about these things.

Walking into the Emerging Legal Technology Forum, hosted by Thomson Reuters and Stanford University last Thursday, my first thought was, “Wow, this room is too small.” Not only am I passionate about legal technology, I am sometimes baffled that my enthusiasm is not universally shared among my peers. There was a good turnout. The room, though smaller than expected, was full and unlike other day-long conferences I’ve been to, very few of the attendees came and went throughout the sessions. They mostly packed into the room to hear the terrific panelists and to ask some thoughtful questions.

Ralph Baxter, chairman, Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute, and Professor Phil Malone of Stanford Law School set the tone for the day by referencing the Huffington Post article by Oliver Goodenough, called Legal Technology 3.0.  In the article, Professor Goodenough breaks legal technology into three distinct eras. 1.0 was the introduction of technology to aid humans within the current system. These are organizational tools, like document management and email, or even search and computer assisted research. These tools don’t fundamentally change the work that is done. Legal Tech 2.0 begins to do some of the work of the attorneys, whether through expert systems, document automation, or even machine learning algorithms. Legal Tech 3.0 will be when machines actually practice law, replacing the attorney entirely. We are just at the beginning of 2.0 today.

The other morning sessions were all about Legal Tech 2.0 and how new technologies are already changing law firms and corporate law departments. The last panel of the day was about Big Data, and its promise to turn the practice of law into as much a science as an art. All of these sessions were interesting, well done, and got terrific questions from the attendees. I could easily devote a thousand words to each of them individually, however, the most thrilling and potentially revolutionary presentation came right after lunch.

Margaret Hagan, from Stanford Institute of Design, and Philippe Mauldin from Fidelity Investments gave, what was for me, the highlight presentation of the day, called The Impact of Design. Margaret’s explanation of design and the design process was succinct and clear (well designed, if you will) and Philippe’s impassioned storytelling of the transformation that Fidelity has gone through over the last few years was inspirational. Fidelity knew they had a problem, and did what most of us do; they started to look for a new system to fix the problem. But rather than taking an poll to identify the best solutions, or sending out an RFP to a dozen vendors hoping one will come back with a magical fix, Fidelity engaged the Stanford Institute of Design. Fidelity staff learned the design process, they worked side by side with Stanford Design students, they spent time in customer’s homes talking to them about the problem and watching how they use Fidelity’s current systems. In the long run, Fidelity discovered that the problem they initially set out to solve was not the actual problem that customers had.  Had they gone about their ‘problem solving’ in the traditional way, they would be no better off today than they were when they began.

I’m going to begin my push to hire a trained designer in IT and if anyone gives me a hard time, I’m going to fly Margaret and Philippe out to talk with them in person. I have no doubt I will get my designer.

Between sessions, late in the day, the Thomson Reuters employee sitting next to me asked sincerely, “So, has this been useful? Have you learned anything new?” For a long moment I stared at her with a quizzical look on my face. I’m sure she thought, “Boy, this guy’s an idiot. He’s sat here all day and can’t name a single thing he’s learned.” But I was having trouble registering the meaning of the question. It was as if having sat through full sets of Led Zeppelin, Queen, The Who, and The Rolling Stones, my concert companion turned and asked, “While we’re waiting for The Beatles to take the stage, tell me, have you learned anything new today?” The truth is, other than specific stories and use cases; I don’t know that I heard anything that was completely new to me. All of the presentations were thoroughly enjoyable; I had some very good conversations, and I made some new connections.

I’m not sure I attended the Emerging Legal Technology Forum with an expectation that I would learn new things. I just wanted to spend time with my people: people that are passionate about legal technology and don’t think that’s weird.