‘Legal Tech and The Legalish’
By Max Cole, Co-Founder of legal workflow automation pioneer, Autto.
Are we right in thinking that the rapidly growing legal tech sector belongs in law firms and in-house legal departments staffed by lawyers? Or are we missing the point?
We seem to be defining our customers by who they are, rather than by what they do.
This was my conclusion after attending a recent legal tech get together where one of the themes seemed to be how hard it is to get a conservative legal community to adopt new technology. We have all had this conversation.
This experience got me thinking: ‘Aren’t we all in the legal field to some extent?’
Even if we don’t work as lawyers, we all deal with legal documents and processes. Outside of work we complete voter declarations, vehicle paperwork, and planning applications.
Running a startup, regulations and legal requirements are everywhere: employment contracts, pensions, data privacy, insurance, health and safety, and so on.
We think nothing of this, as the law touches most of us frequently as part of business life. We are all lawyers now, you might say.
So, where is the majority of legal work to be found?
The answer is probably not in the offices of the one hundred and forty-two thousand solicitors registered in the UK. It’s not in the big law firms that dominate our view of the legal industry. It’s elsewhere, in the industries and services that have one shared element: that the nature of their business has a constant legal underpinning.
These are the regulated industries like finance, pensions, insurance, or those with heavy contract management demands. These are industries whose work requires constant contact with the law even if the work doesn’t involve legal advice and is not done by lawyers.
It’s work that we at Autto have come to call legalish. It has become key to the way we look at the market for legal technology.
The Importance of The Legalish
This insight has produced obvious benefits. First and most obviously the addressable market is much bigger if it includes businesses doing legalish work – by our reckoning about three to four times larger.
Second, we have found that those who are responsible for managing legalish work are in general much more open to tech adoption, and this is the case whether or not they are lawyers themselves by training. In general they are less conservative as customers and more focused on efficiency as a virtue in itself. They see the benefits more readily. I stress the generalization here – we are coming across more and more innovators within the traditional law firm model.
One of the benefits of automation – our field – is that it helps ensure precision and consistency. This is one reason why it naturally suits legalish work where those doing the work may have little or no legal training.
Nevertheless, the crossover between the needs of legalish and what we perceive as the legal field is remarkable. If there was any doubt about this then it’s worth considering that the biggest companies doing legalish work tend to have the largest in-house legal teams to support their operations.
Almost everyone I talk to about my lawtech business assumes that we are selling to traditional law firms. And this is where we started, in fact.
But the understanding that legal is: (a) everywhere, and (b) not done by lawyers, has given us a new perspective. It shapes our marketing efforts and our product design.
So, I encourage the lawtech community to embrace the concept of the legalish – or whatever you choose to call it: a different way of thinking that includes a far wider range of industries, with new opportunities for both startups and users.
P.S. for anyone wondering who Autto are and what they do, please check out this short video below.
I have been thinking about this article on and off for some time since I first read it and have come full circle from vehemently disagreeing with the central proposition to tentatively accepting it as manifestly true.
A little bit of personal context – I am a City-trained lawyer with several years practice (private, in-house and govt) under my belt but who recently made the switch to a hybrid law/exec role at a tech firm.
The idea that the study and the training and the general experience might not be necessary for legal work with the right (usually automated) tools is intrinsically galling for the lawyer who has been through the traditional wringer to get where they are and I think that, more than anything, else accounted for my initial reaction, which was essentially lead by emotion.
But then the products that we do at our firm (Ohalo – automated data governance/compliance – http://www.ohalo.co) are exactly the type of product that, broadly speaking, puts non-pros in a position from which they could do previously pro work by automating a significant plank of data protection compliance (data mapping/discovery).
My point here is not to simply plug my firm, although I hold my hands up there too, is that when we talk about lawtech/regtech we have to acknowledge that at some quite significant level many lawyers/pros will react to these products in an EMOTIONAL way where they see them encroaching on their territory (which many could be seen to do).