Five In-House Legal Tech Trends to Seize in 2018

Thursday, January 11, 2018 - 14:08

Earlier tech transformation may appear simple compared to what’s around the corner for helping corporate legal innovate.

Just 10 years ago, while working in e-discovery at an Am Law firm, my team spent multiple days and nights on a second request challenge. We worried about whether we would have enough CD copiers, labelers and time to burn and stamp our 75-disc production. Our solution? A makeshift assembly line, where one team member manned the burners, another ran quality control, a third labeled the discs, a fourth put the discs in cases, and a fifth organized the shipment boxes. We must have billed 300 collective hours for this single request. Yet that task would take maybe 10 minutes of billable time today.

This memory is a reminder of how swiftly change comes to the legal technology world. Whether you’re a law firm, a corporate legal department or an alternative service provider, the pace and complexity of change that technology brings continues to accelerate. Make 2018 the year to embrace disruption and position yourself ahead of the curve. For in-house legal teams, technology has already transformed the way lawyers mitigate risk, evaluate outside counsel, and monitor and assess spend. These changes may appear simple compared to what’s around the corner for helping corporate legal innovate.

Here are the five in-house counsel technology trends to seize as we move into 2018.

1. Data Security Solutions

While not a new focus, data security is priority one for most. More than six in ten in-house counsel identify the growing threat to cyber­security as the number one litigation risk exposure for their organizations. Information security audits are now a daily occurrence for legal service and technology providers. The once-­perceived law firm exemption is now a distant memory, with firms being screened no differently than any other provider that stores corporate data. Last year also brought the largest remediated breach today with Equifax, involving data from up to 143 million consumers.

As we move into 2018, information security is being viewed through a whole new lens as the European Union’s looming General Data Protection Regulation leaves corporations around the world scrambling to raise their compliance bar. This entails balancing the need to be prepared to deal with individual inquiries regarding the size and scope of personal information retained with the challenge of complying with an individual’s request that their personal information be expunged from a corporation’s data sets altogether. Assessing the cost of GDPR compliance against potentially astronomical fines of up to 4 percent of global annual revenue has cemented data security as the trend that is not going away anytime soon.

To help in-house counsel cope with the data security challenge of 2018, look for new technology offerings that will enhance mobile data management. Cloud providers also will offer better risk management strategies for moving data off corporate networks and into a secure cloud environment. Enhanced software platforms will focus on finding more efficient ways to improve corporate information governance.

2. Matter Management Platforms

Like data security, matter management is not a new topic. Yet in-house counsel are welcoming this trend as the need for help remains evident. According to Altman Weil’s 2017 Chief Legal Officer Survey, 79 percent of all corporate legal departments provide guidelines for matter staffing and matter management, but only 60 percent routinely enforce those guidelines. A surge in tech innovation, coupled with critical enterprise application integration, has transformed dormant matter management platforms into robust solutions that automate tasks like opening a new matter, providing a centralized repository for all matter data, and proactively managing costs by rightsizing workload and staffing needs.

Some of the new technology for matter management is driven by in-house corporate legal departments, but alternative service providers looking to help corporate legal teams have ramped up their focus to innovate in this space.

I recently caught up with the team at Elevate Services, a firm that is leading the charge in this area. Notes Pratik Patel, the company’s VP, innovation and products: “Matter management/e-billing currently serves as the central nervous system for most law departments, but often lacks necessary features and/or workflow to capture and manage work from start to finish. This causes an incomplete picture of what the true demand is on the legal department.

“Further, the limitation of these products creates a huge opportunity for complementary entrants into the market that are designed to help law departments complete their enterprise legal management strategy. On the front end, these may include Neota Logic’s AI expert systems and workflow to help intake/triage legal work. In the middle, they may include Elevate’s Cael Select or Cael Project to help select or project-manage legal work, and on the tail end, Cael Vision for roll-up analytics and dashboards.”

With so many fresh approaches available through technology companies, legal services and law firms, 2018 will see a rise in corporate legal teams better managing their work and outside counsel through matter management solutions.

3. Artificial Intelligence
Just as e-discovery changed the legal industry 20 years ago, artificial intelligence is disrupting how lawyers get work done today. At a panel at the 2017 Association of Corporate Counsel annual meeting, more than 80 percent of attendees said they were looking to deploy AI-­powered solutions within their company or department.

“There are two deep and abiding truths in the legal industry,” writes Joe Patrice in “Above the Law.” “No one knows what AI even means, and, yes, you need it.” While the definition of AI remains in flux, there are a growing number of legal technologies focused on automating cognitive tasks typically thought to require human intelligence. From pattern recognition and prediction to complex decision making, AI performs these tasks in an industry requiring an ­understanding vast amounts of unstructured data.

Regardless of the technology type, AI boils down to rules. Simple, or not so simple, AI is rules applied to data to offer conclusions. When applied to legal, the conclusions may take the form of:

  1. Identifying and categorizing patterns (Kira Systems, RAVN)
  2. Determining relevance, as in the case of legal research or document review (Ross Intelligence, Relativity, CS Disco, Everlaw)
  3. Scaling knowledge bases, highlighting risk, validating compliance or automating best practice recommendations, as in the case of expert systems (Neota Logic).

There are several principles to keep in mind while working with AI. Think big but start small. Focus on solving simple problems that are creating pain across broad sets of stakeholders across your organization. Leveraging proof of concept is a great way to demonstrate early and fast wins to create the top-down organizational consensus required for successful deployment of an AI project. Remember that resources are required. Stakeholder expectations must be managed carefully to ensure participants understand this is as much about people and process as it is about the technology. Simply plugging the technology into a wall does not magically make it work.

Machine learning, neural networks or natural language process projects can require significant data sets and investments around system training before the technology can yield an effective return on investment. Expert systems require codification of institutional subject matter expertise and knowledge engineering.

That said, there are several proven use cases for these technologies that can have an immediate impact. In the realm of expert systems, legal teams are leveraging solutions like Neota Logic to automate expertise, internal/client workflows, legal process and the ­creation of documents.

The design, build and use of expert systems by corporate legal teams will no doubt be on the rise this year, among efforts to provide more convenient service delivery and to decrease costs. In-house legal teams are also beginning to build their own on-demand apps to deploy legal and compliance guidance across the organization.

In 2018, the ways that AI will be used to radically transform the legal industry will grow exponentially, as the traditional law firm model is increasingly ­pressured to find a better way to deliver legal services. Corporate legal teams are piloting the technology more every day with an eye toward quality improvement and efficiency gains.

4. Document Automation
The legal industry has been experimenting with document automation for 30 years. In 2018, watch for further innovation in the area of document lifecycle management technologies, due to an investment surge aimed at improving document automation outputs.

Recent technology advances like AI have also garnered a whole new set of solutions to automate document creation, routing and approval. Template software on the market today will continue to become more advanced, allowing for automatic updates to standard wording as law changes. And as document automation software becomes easier to use, there’s less ramp-up time – users can license it today and use it tomorrow, as in Neota ­Logic’s self-service document automation solution.

Document automation – which is also viewed as a pragmatic starting place for applying AI to solve legal work challenges – will likely see an uptick in adoption by corporate teams in the next year. To get started with document automation, or to improve what you’re doing today, identify your company’s largest document-related pain point. Is it the creation, routing and approval of nondisclosure agreements? Or does your company have a large employee base requiring business associate agreements? Focus in on a specific deliverable and identify the challenges. Then explore the technology options available to solve it.

5. Blockchain

Similar to AI last year, blockchain is positioned to join the fold as a top-of-mind technology. While the most publicized application of the technology has been in the world of cryptocurrency – and the incredible rise of Bitcoin and ­Ethereum in 2017 – the legal community has started to explore and embrace methods to leverage blockchain, with early adopters implementing solutions like smart contracts in their daily operations.

When we spoke recently about what’s ahead for legal tech, Danny ­Thankachan, director, practice technology, at Blank Rome and a frequent speaker on blockchain for legal, told me that he sees blockchain disrupting the industry in two primary ways over the next few years.

“The first is in identity validation and protection,” ­Thankachan said, “where you will need nothing more than the ability to perform a write to the public ledger using a private key to authenticate a transaction. With this you could, for example, purchase a car without having to provide your name.” Thankachan sees this public/private key application replacing, among other things, the archaic Social Security number system.

“The second area for disruption is in document security and control,” he adds, “being able to control exactly where a document exists for consumption while maintaining the ability to remove it or lock all versions down.”

While these use cases and their associated legal implications continue to take shape, it will be both fascinating and soon critical to embrace the technology in order to stay ahead of the curve.

2018: The Year for Action

Breakthrough technologies leveraging AI and expert systems are bringing significant efficiency gains and making all of this possible for legal teams. Despite the accelerated pace of change, the technological disruption occurring in legal is a process, not a switch. There’s a growing opportunity for legal service providers to leverage tech-enabled solutions to drive efficiency, reduce risk and demonstrate immediate ROI.

In other words, explore your options, be proactive by identifying today’s version of the 75-CD ­challenge, and look for the best solutions to align with those problems – and get building.


Mike Wong is vice president, business development at Neota Logic, where he works with legal and compliance professionals to identify and develop expert system apps using the company’s award-winning AI-driven platform. He can be reached at wong@neotalogic.com.