For its fourth edition, LegalGeek, the biggest legaltech conference in the UK, gathered 100 speakers and 2,000 attendees in East London at the Truman Brewery. From a single day event, the conference has graduated to a three-day techfest with a day on legaltech ideas, a day on legal design and a day on “law for good”. We attended this hotly anticipated event to report back on the trends that emerged.

Following a speed-dating format, speakers came on stage and were gone in eight minutes, leaving barely enough time to get to the point and lay out thought-provoking ideas. Outside the main stage and two ancillary stages, attendees networked, drank their fair share of barrista coffee (or microbrew beer, depending on the time of day) and every brand vied for attention. While some tweeted “We have swag”, others threw swag into the crowd from a piñata destroyed on stage with an axe. Clearly not your regular legal conference, as evidenced below by the main themes interwoven into presentations and discussions all day.

Driving change is the keyword

The future is better humans, not better tech for tech’s stake. This idea that tech should be designed for lawyers with lawyers came through most of the day because in order for legaltech to contribute, change has to happen and this is not easy. Without change, we’d still proofreading contracts with hand-sharpened pencils and copying piles of documents to get legal work done. As argued by Ben Chiriboga of NEXL, change triggers strong emotions and with the legal industry being naturally risk-adverse, adopting new tools or new processes is a tough nut to crack.

That is where good storytelling can help legal teams adopt legaltech in their everyday practice. Why storytelling? Neuroscience tells us that our brain is wired to love a good story, when we’re listening, it releases dopamine and oxytocin — both feel-good organic chemicals that reward our brains when they stick with a story and that promote empathic behaviours, making us identify with the hero in a story.

Until now, the legaltech industry has relied on sales pitches and products where tech or innovation took centerstage (the hero) – making it difficult for buyers (lawyers) to identify with the hero and drive change. As heard over and over during the conference, “focus on the client.” If legaltech companies can switch the focus of their products to lawyers and if it reflects in product design and user experience, then change will happen.

So much data. So little time

It’s fair to bet that 95% of talks mentioned the word data at least once. Whereas Juro’s Richard Mabey reprised the theme he had introduced at the Legal Innovators conference, “Data is the new oil”, SYKE’s Anna Lolua and Crabtree & Evelyn’s Katie Power discussed data on the ground inside legal teams and how heads of legal teams need to use data to demonstrate the value they bring to the company. Along the same lines, Hogan Lovells’ Stephen Allen made a strong case for data when he stated that the only reason corporates have legal teams is to make sure they keep their money, make more money or don’t lose money. Hence the necessity of relying on good data so that businesses can take informed decisions based on facts.

It’s nothing new in a profession using words as a work tool – extracting data is difficult, if you even know what data you need and how to analyse it. Rather than building elaborate data collection schemes, some suggested to go back to basics.

To extract value out of existing tools, Panasonic’s Bea Miyamoto recommended that legal teams audit the internal resources they have access to – sometimes without realising it. Her team’s budget included an annual IT assessment (by the IT department) but it hadn’t been used with the purpose of improving data collection. Ergo action. More data, particularly user feedback, could be collected by partnering with internal marketing and social media teams thus improving employee engagement across regions. Sometimes, the best way to collect user feedback is so simple that we forget about it (particularly during a tech event). Linklaters’ Shilpa Bhandarka was not the only person to advocate actual human conversations to get information in ways a lot more advanced than surveys. As reinforced by Luminance’s Emily Forges and Bech Bruun’s Torsten Torpe, talking to people is underrated as a way to extract data and that human element leads us to the overwhelmingly human aspect of software – user experience a.k.a UX.

UX, UX, UX

Whether we realise it or not, technology is secondary in legaltech. If humans cannot make sense of the software, then the software has no value. When Anna Lolua and Katie Power came on stage to discuss how to recycle data for legal operations, Katie played the role of a tired GC who doesn’t have any time and is overstretched. This is the reality of many GCs and lawyers and they will not make time to try new products if the design is not user-friendly.

In the judicial sphere, the Ministry of Justice’s Amanda Smith discussed how to personalise tech design to fit tech users beyond accessibility and screen reader features. How do you design legal tech for users with anxiety or for users on the autism spectrum? How do you design for someone who has a highly-charged emotional response? It’s all about finding a language that fosters understanding.

Taking ergonomics into account is also a way to achieve better design. Most lawyers spend 90% of their time on Word and Outlook. If not MS Office, they will be using a cloud file storage and management system such as Google Drive. They are used to the look and capabilities of the tools they use. How likely are they to adopt a new tool that requires them to learn new jargon, new buttons and new processes? Integration will be the key to all successful legaltech tomorrow, whether as an extension or plug-in on existing systems already in place. When we talked with Genie AI, it was clear that their online contract drafting solution powered by machine-learning was a first step. Their next step was integration, removing the cumbersome document uploading/downloading barrier. Tabled, a Trello-type legal work management platform, though still in its early stages, was designed with a Google Docs integration.

Last but not least, user feedback is good but understanding the why behind requests is even better. Avvoka’s David Howorth runs a start-up hosted inside the offices of Allen & Overy so that lawyers have direct access to the legaltech team in the building. Understandably, lawyers are keen to share feedback and request new features to Avvoka’s team but rather than agreeing with new buttons or different menus, the legal engineers at Avvoka ask why these features are requested and try to understand the need in order to find the best solution.

Software isn’t about buttons or products, it’s about people and enabling lawyers to do more with better experiences. Hence the importance of a good user-experience.

Diversity

Diversity and Inclusion, the buzzword of the legal industry, made a grand entrance onto the legaltech stage with Paul Hastings’s Nicola Shaver. In a session focused on agile working and culture change, Nicola Shaver started with the obvious. Most legal teams are not agile enough and lack diversity. In fact, most lawyers have stereotypical personalities because they are recruited from similar backgrounds, which is not helping with the adoption of new technologies because they share the same resistance to change.

In order to change your company culture, you need to change your team first. When recruiting, general counsels should look for people with skills outside the law such as:

  • Change management
  • Lean
  • Agile
  • Service design
  • Product management

By hiring people who master these skills and understand what they mean, legal teams can change the way they operate. Talking about people, it might be counterintuitive but Nicola Shaver recommended that legal directors and GCs mix up their teams by hiring cross-industry experts, lawyers and non-lawyers, service designers and more.

Conclusion

In a nutshell, if there was a single takeaway from #LegalGeek 2019, it’s that strategic partnerships and communication are essential to reach better tech outcomes in the legal industry. Only sharing and breaking down barriers will allow for better flow of information and a better way to work for lawyers.

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