March 4, 2020

Short Spiel on Legal Techlaw’s retrograde rep is more about tech than law

So help me God, that orange-colored website baited me into posting a comment, responding to another user in the broader context of Atrium’s recently announced shutdown of its remaining software-solutions arm.

I’ve never done this before, but I’m going to try reproducing my comment verbatim here. In part because I’d like to read thoughts from others by e-mail. In part because I’ve been thin on legal-tech posts of late, despite doing a lot of work on related projects in free time.

I believed that law was a sluggish, tech-averse industry when I signed up to join it. But I don’t see it living up to its tech-resistant reputation. It’s very easy to blame the customer that way, when you have something to sell. As a lawyer, a coder, and legal toolmaker, I’ve been there. But my lived and observed experience of practice is that lawyers adopt what makes them competitive.

As a result, they’ve often been early, broad adopters of general-purpose office and productivity technology. Sometimes to their eventual detriment overall, by standardizing on an early generation at the expense of later incremental improvements. But at the same time, I think US lawyers as a class are remarkably resistant to whiz-bang pitches of especially law-specific solutions. It’s easy to sell a lawyer some technology that their counterparts are using to run circles around them. It’s hard to sell a lawyer some technology with a change-the-world, techno-solutionist pep talk.

Anecdotally, I can’t say how many times I’ve attended or watched pitches by tech-focused people, business managers, or technophile lawyers with very little practice experience hocking half-baked solutions held up as replacing or supplanting lawyers in some way. My reliable takeaway from those pitches is that the founders don’t know what lawyers do. When I ask about tablet ownership, cloud service adoption, security standards, terms of use for professional ethics requirements, or Lexis terminals in the 60s and 70s, it’s usually a big, blank stare.

No, I do not recommend signing up for Hacker News. And no, it’s not obligatory reading in the tech sector, though many such goons enjoy it.

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