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Rethinking Legal Technology
By Scott M. Wornow, SVP, CLO and Corporate Secretary, Atmel Corporation
Simplify the approach to legal technology. Simplify the applications. Simplify the implementation. Simplify the sales process. And simplify the cost structure. Legal technology has become an exercise in “pointillism,” where multiple vendors push multiple solutions with multiple, overlapping features. That approach has sometimes led to a loss of the strategic vision and purposes for which the technologies should be designed, at least from the perspective of resource constrained in-house legal departments.
"For typically resource constrained in-house legal departments, ease of implementation, ease of deployment and ease of use must remain paramount."
Legal technology has recently evolved like Swiss army knife. While the technologies continue to improve, and the features continue to advance, the addition of ever more bells and whistles threatens to subsume the underlying value of the technologies themselves. Much like smartphone apps have developed in waves, with but a small percentage ever really used, and an even smaller percentage ever actually adding to productivity, so too have legal technologies. With tens, if not hundreds, of e-discovery, billing, contract management, project management, document automation, intellectual property, research and other legal related technologies available, the ability of in-house counsel to evaluate and make purchasing decisions involving those technologies has become overwhelmed. It has become nearly impossible to identify a technology that can swiftly and easily be deployed and integrated into a corporate IT infrastructure without the need for IT consultants or the assistance of other non-legal personnel. It has also become even more difficult to assess the productivity enhancements many of those technologies purport to provide, especially in real-time.
So, where does that leave us with legal technology?
- Ease Complexity. Too many bells and whistles have made many legal technologies less helpful than expected. Take contract management. In many cases, simply tracking and finding contracts offers immediate value. And being able to share contracts under some simple set of rules – e.g. “view only” - with other internal departments, whether finance, human resources or other groups, may provide additional value. The ability to “tag” information, while valuable in the long-term, may, however, require resources that are not so readily available in-house. So, a system that demands of its users a form of embedded intelligence as a condition to use doesn’t really offer much if “embedding” that intelligence becomes a complex task of its own. Too many hurdles to daily usage make the technology unhelpful. Some design forethought should be applied before introducing “gates” or other hurdles to any legal technology platform, including whether they can be turned “on” or “off” by non-technical lawyers. Those same issues plague many legal billing systems.
Legal technology can offer a powerful productivity tool. It can enhance transparency, responsiveness, and internal analytical capabilities. But it should not be an end in itself. For typically resource constrained in-house legal departments, ease of implementation, ease of deployment and ease of use must remain paramount. The value in these solutions will only be realized once they become as simple to use, and as intuitive, as basic word processing. Until then, there will remain a continuous “push-and-pull” that counsel undertake as they attempt to assess the full costs (hidden and otherwise) and benefits of any of these so-called “solutions.”