Conferences / Symposia, Technology

Live at LegalTech: No More Boxing Robots

So, I’ve been in New York for a few days now. I’ve eaten pizza the way you are supposed to, I’ve spent a lot of time underground, and I’ve stayed out drinking until 4 a.m. Just the usual stuff people do here.

But I didn’t fly 3,000 miles just for Fat Sal’s. I’m spending this week at LegalTech, a seriously huge conference centered around, you guessed it, legal technology.

On Monday afternoon, everyone was caffeinated, and the halls of the New York Hilton were crowded. I attended my first panel yesterday morning: “Global Trends in Law and Technology.” The panelists covered some familiar topics, and the discussion revealed an important shift in the way attorneys relate to technology.

The times they are a-changin’….

Broadly speaking, yesterday morning’s panel, which included Nicole Black; John Barber, law operations senior manager at Amgen; David Sorenson, a partner at Hinshaw Culberton; Lexician founder Steven Levy; and moderator Steve Mann of LexisNexis, took a look at cloud computing, the ways generational differences affect institutional technology choices, and communication issues between IT and legal departments.

At the heart of the session, though, was the fact that attorneys know they can no longer stick their heads in the sand and pretend technology does not matter. The conflict is no longer, “Does the legal profession need technology?”

Now, the question is, “How can lawyers take advantage of available technological tools — but without neglecting their professional duties and responsibilities?”

It’s a subtle difference, but it is important.

The panelists were not a bunch of technology fan boys. Several expressed serious, familiar concerns about cloud computing, mostly regarding privacy and security. That said, they acknowledged how widespread the technology has become in other industries, and the fact that sometimes it’s unavoidable, such as when you email a client who uses Yahoo or Gmail. (It’s worth noting that 90 percent of the legal industry uses smartphones, and 40 percent uses tablets, according to Mann.)

There was a lively debate regarding the ways younger employees are reshaping the practice of law.

Sorensen simply said, “They are not.” The general consensus seemed to be the millennial style of extreme multitasking is not conducive to law firm work. Levy equated it to partial attention, and he said too much multitasking “shortchanges clients.” (If that’s the case, it’s a good thing Above the Law editors are not practicing lawyers. While I wrote this, I was also juggling knives and riding a motorcycle.) For the time being anyway, panelists said employees will have to adapt more than overall organizations.

But everyone realized the need to move forward technologically. Sorenson said some of the best opportunities for legal tech companies right now are with independent, entrepreneurial attorneys, who have more leeway to experiment.

One audience member mentioned that for in-house departments, change needs to come from on high. If the legal department wants to drive technology, the GC has to be on board. Unfortunately, GCs are sometimes too old to be taught new tricks, the panelists said.

Realistically, there need to be members of the legal department who can speak both IT and legal languages. Building trust and credibility across the bridge is the only way to get things done.

Levy said credibility between sides is crucial. “You have to give trust to earn trust.” Lawyers can’t approach IT like stereotypes, “like a bunch of boxing robots.”

After the panel ended, I spoke with Mann. He explained that technological implementation within legal departments is becoming a matter of change management. Leaders are actively seeking out early adopters within their departments and trying to find ways to help them become the bridges to IT.

In the end, Sorenson said the industry needs more success stories before advanced technology really takes off. Nobody wants to be the McDermott Will & Emery, with an e-discovery disaster, he said.

As much as attorneys take flak for being Luddites, it’s a big step forward for the question to become, “How do we institute technology?,” instead of, “Should we?”

That is a good start. As Dory the fish said, “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming.”

LegalTech New York [ALM]

Christopher Danzig will be wandering around the conference all day today (Tuesday). Send him an email with the subject “ATL at LegalTech,” if you’d like to say hello. He’s also tweeting the event @chrisdanzig.

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