If You Started Fresh With Legal Tech, What Would You Do Differently?

Artificial Lawyer’s editor is in Tokyo for a few days for the country’s first ever legal tech hackathon, and one thought came to mind while on the plane over: given that Japan has yet to see the explosion of legal tech startups, investment, conferences, and intense debates about innovation in legal services – nor the same level of uptake of the newer wave of applications – what lessons can this market learn from places such as the US and UK?

In short, if one were to start relatively from scratch, what should a market do to avoid the mistakes and missed opportunities that have happened in the West?

Japan is not a total legal tech tabla rasa, it even has at least one legal AI doc review company – LegalForce – but, it’s fair to say it is still a developing legal tech market with a fraction of the noise you get elsewhere.

So, here’s a few thoughts that managed to struggle through the jet lag, and which likely apply to many other markets. You no doubt have plenty of ideas too.

Start With The Clients

The legal tech market has always been back to front, with law firms leading the way – in part because they have far more resources on tap than many inhouse legal teams to use when it comes to testing and adopting new approaches.

This leading from the sell-side has meant tech has been utilised primarily to make private practice lawyers’ lives a little easier, and to protect their margins when under cost pressure. And there is nothing wrong in that….

It’s just that it would seem to make so much more sense for all the legal tech entrepreneurs out there – and who may be about to emerge in Japan – to focus at least as equally on the clients….and to go and ask them what they want. What would really make their day?

Clients, naturally, are the root of the legal services system. Yet they remain sometimes an afterthought. So, let’s focus on getting to the root of the demand and address their needs, then work outwards.

Get Incubators Running/Lawyer Input Into Startups As Soon As Possible

The number one moan from all lawyers about startups is…..yes, you know it……’They don’t really know how we work, even though some of the founders are former lawyers.’

And also: ‘They don’t really understand how comprehensive our security checks need to be. And they don’t think about APIs from day one……’ and so on.

Much of this could be avoided if incubators get up and running, and enable startups to learn very quickly what lawyers want. That means getting Japanese firms (or inhouse counsel) into a position to do this. And that demands leadership. But….it’s doable.

And, if incubators are not your cup of tea, then at least make sure that lawyers and clients come together and publicly state what their main needs are when it comes to matters related to data and improving efficiencies.

Build Standards Early On

This connects to the point above. In the UK there is a lot of talk about collaboration, standards and sharing knowledge. The idea is simple: it helps the market and it helps the clients. But……as it’s all come a bit late, bad habits have not been removed.

Too many firms still think not sharing info on how they do process tasks gives them some special competitive advantage – when in most cases it really doesn’t.

Japan – and many other markets – could skip that issue and go straight to sharing where possible…..(hopefully…)

Really Go Big On Education

Another back to front thing that has happened in the US and UK is legal tech education.

Today, there are loads of courses, and special sessions at conferences to help beginners learn what on earth is going on. There are more places to train than one can shake a stick at.

But, go back a few years and in the US and UK, because tech was the preserve of ‘IT experts’, the lawyers didn’t really join in or have much in place to help them. Now, of course, they want to learn, after having received 100s of approaches from tech company marketing teams.

If only they’d known more about what they were being sold a few years ago, what a difference it would have made.

So, there’s another one.

And Finally, Get The Big Players Involved

One thing the UK has done which it can be commended for, is getting Government bodies, such as the Ministry of Justice, to stand behind change early on. We have also seen one of the largest banks in the UK, Barclays, create its Eagle Labs – with one specially for legal tech. The SRA and the Law Society have also got on board. So has the City of London. We also have the LawTech Delivery Panel. The list goes on.

It all helps to bring people together, reassure those who are doubtful, and generally send the message that the powers at large really do believe in this stuff and think you should too.

There are no doubt many more lessons that can be learned from the UK’s and US’s experiences. But, the above is perhaps a start.