Bringing legal tech down to earth
A few weeks ago, we asked if all this talk of legal tech's inevitable disruption of the legal industry is, in fact, a just hype. If the legal innovation community has become an echo-chamber of millennial lawyers and naively optimistic tech-people that preaches the same tedious mantras to each other over an over again. And the conclusion was: meh... Well, kind of, a bit, I guess.
In a moment of introspection, Quddus Pourshafie theorized that there is a vast gap between the legal tech industry and the traditional industry, at that there are active echo-chamber mechanisms on both sites. We cannot leave it at that. So the next question is what can we do to escape the chambers and bridge the gap between lawyer and tech-provider.
No matter how wide and deep this canyon of innovation is, there are certain figures who manage to have a foot in both camps. One of them is Jens Bang Liebst. Not only is he a co-founding partner in the Danish boutique law firm Aumento, he is also co-founder and Board Member in ADVOkurser.dk - one of the most successful legal tech companies in Denmark based on revenue and reach. We have therefore asked him for a helicopter perspective of the industry and his advice on how we can bridge the gap between law firms and tech providers.
A foot in both camps
Jens Bang Liebst began his legal career in a traditional way with years of law studies and stable progression through the ranks in the prestigious Danish law firm Plesner, before taking a bold and untraditional decision back in 2008. He co-founded Aumento as a full-service boutique law firm that now employs 60 people and has a strong focus on digitisation and IT.
“We make a point of offering our legal services in a modern setting. In many years that meant having attractive offices, smoothly running meeting facilities and good legal advice. But in the past 3-4 years, a new factor has become equally important and that is IT-facilities. If you, as a law firm, are not seriously engaged in the new digital technologies, then you are placing yourself at the back of the queue. IT is and will be the most significant competitive factor for law firms. This is, of course, a peoples business but lawyers who don't use modern technologies to wear robot arms and robot legs - they won't be fast, they won't be efficient and they will deliver a less relevant service at a too high price,” he explains to Legal Tech Weekly.
He urges law firms to be curious and to start testing the legal tech solutions on the market. Invest hours every week and do not see it as a defeat if the tests produce bad results.
“Some see it as a challenge, others as a huge opportunity - I see it as an opportunity. Legal tech won't put the legal industry in the grave. Like all other industries, the technological advancements will change the shape of the industry and some will be left behind. That is the brutal economic reality. But the total amount of legal services will grow because we live in societies that grow more and more complex. So the total amount of tasks will rise, we will just solve them quicker, smarter and more efficient;” he says.
Six years ago, Liebst co-founded ADVOkurser.dk which is an online learning platform that offers courses on various legal subjects. They started on the back of a new law that made post-graduate training statutory for lawyers. Every year, Danish lawyers must take courses worth a certain amount of points to stay on top of their practice area. But instead of going to conferences to take these courses, Liebst came up with a more scalable model. ADVOkurser.dk records courses and sell them online so lawyers can watch them on the go. In the first years they sold their courses in units, but today they almost exclusively offer their platform on a monthly subscription.
“Life-long learning is not just kliché. We are trying to convince lawyers that this is not just a painkiller they need to abide by a legal requirement. This is a vitamin for anyone working in a knowledge society. You have to focus on improving yourself as a knowledge worker. We measure how active you are across different devices, so you can track which courses you take, maintain a learning curve and exercise your most important muscle: the brain. We sometimes say that we want to be like a Sports Tracker for lawyers and accountants,” he explains.
Today, they have more than 400 hours of learning material within all legal subjects, employ 14 people and the teachers often return to record additional courses as they get a share of the revenue their course generate and therefore are able to earn significant amounts for years after they recorded their sessions. Courses are produced in ADVOkurser.dk’s own studio and with well-known and well-estimated teachers.
Take it down a nudge
One of the things you immediately notice when you visit ADVOkurser.dk’s website is how pedagogical and down-to-earth they communicate their product. Their approach differs from many other legal tech products since they do not try to sell their product as some disruptive high-tech.
“We could easily talk high-flown about the information technological revolution, but in reality, we just take the good traditional educational situation and move it to the phone, the tablet or the computer. For some, even this is a big step that needs to be digested. So when we began, we decided to imitate the traditional situation from the physical world and record the courses in a classroom, in front of a blackboard. We don't have to complicate things more than necessary because we are targeting a wide group of people in all ages,” Liebst explains.
A lot of legal tech marketing focus on the tech part. Whenever you have a simple automation, you start calling it AI. Do you think that this smart attitude can backfire?
“For sure. Without a doubt, there is a hype around legal tech. It is a shame because it provides confirmation to some that this is not something they need to occupy themselves with, that it lies somewhere in the distant future,” Liebst answers, and then continues.
“There is a task for legal tech companies to develop some concrete and tangible technological products that can be applied directly in the lawyer's current workflow. They must facilitate more precise products, not just some fluffy talk about a technology that does everything between heaven and earth because right now that is just confirming some stakeholders that they don't need to do anything about it. It is the well-known exponential curve and right now the technologies underperform. But not so far ahead, this curve will make steep turn upwards and the linear projection will no longer match the reality.”
So legal tech vendors should take the communication down a nudge and then focus on creating tangible solutions for current problems, simple modules that solves simple headaches. But what should the lawyers then do?
“Just let the economy speak. The easiest way to convince them is to show them that automatic processes can now solve tasks that used to be performed by lawyers or paralegals. Hit them on their pockets. We have already seen that happen but for now the most law firms have succeeded in moving up the value chain,” he says but then mentions that lawyers should invest more hours in investigating the legal tech market even-though there may not be an immediate return of investment. Furthermore, he advises law firms to look into more sustainable business models than the heavily critised billable hour model.
Legal tech is not coming - it is already here
Liebst believes that technologies like AI can bring significant advantages to the legal industry and he also predicts client-faced and subscription-based products will make legal services perceived less as a necessary evil and more as a something that brings value. But legal tech does not have to bring about huge technological steps forward:
“Some years ago, we started working with digital signatures. It wasn't a huge revolution, but it made us look fresher and more modern than the signature could be handled 100 % digitally and on the go. It contributes to our agility, and it's a simple way to professionalize our product in general” Liebst explains.
This kind of innovation has been going on for years. You started working on computers, communicate on email and you could search for legal advice, and find contracts on the internet. Maybe we are overlooking this progress?
“Like all other industries, the legal industry has been changed forever by the IT-revolution. There is nothing new about these paradigm shifts, even though I must say that this is more profound. When looking more closely, we can already see some practice areas that have been profoundly changed. Registering a limited company is done 100 % digitally and almost fully automatic. Standard prenups or testaments are created by computers and with very little human intervention before the final approval. There is absolutely nothing bad to say about that because the client is able to get help exactly when he or she wants it and at a much better price. So i.a. company law and private law has already been changed forever. They are not the same practice areas as they were ten years ago, so we have already experienced this gradual technological revolution. It is just going to accelerate from here,” Liebst explains.
He believes that the technological transformation of the legal industry can benefit from focussing less on hype and more on producing tangible results: “There is a lot of this mind-blowing hot air. It is super interesting, but it is hard to grasp all of it from a strategic point of view. It's a good idea to be very pragmatic and look for the features that lawyers can use here and now,” he concludes.