The Evolution of APIs: From Nice to Have to Necessity in the Legal Industry

By Josh Blandi

APIs are everywhere. They connect you to your latest TV binge on Netflix. They’re at work when you Venmo your friend for dinner last night. Do you ask Alexa or Siri for the weather? APIs are there too. The ever-evolving ecosystem of technology and our daily lives depend on APIs to function smoothly, allowing us to stay connected in a highly-interwoven world, and they have an incredible potential to transform the legal industry and to change it for the better.

What are APIs?

APIs, or application programming interfaces, are software intermediaries.

Using programming codes, APIs allow applications and other technologies to talk to each other, share data, and build out seamless process workflows and consumer-facing profiles. For example, APIs are at work when you use PayPal to pay online. The retail site utilises an API to gather your payment data from PayPal’s interface and integrates that data with the retailer, allowing you to purchase your items without having to input your payment information. Neat, right?

The Importance of APIs

Data is exploding – it is rapidly expanding, ever-changing, and developing in a way that makes certain types of data obsolete before companies even know they have it. Many have called data the new oil. The Data as a Service (DaaS) industry, centred around the collection and utilisation of mass data sets, has harnessed this data explosion, changing the way society does business. It allows for mass, immediate understanding of consumer and competitor behaviour; the development and curation of personalised marketing campaigns; considerable cost and time savings; and faster, more evidence-based decision making.

APIs are critical to tackling the explosion of data and removing data silos, wherever they exist. They allow you to standardise, develop, and find data quickly, easily, and accurately across multiple platforms. This centralises and streamlines data collection, making mundane and time-consuming tasks as easy as entering a few key words and clicking a button. APIs allow you to automate tasks, personalise data, and cut out the noise. By recentering our ability to gather and understand data, APIs are not just adding to the data ecosystem – they’re reinventing it.

The Evolution of APIs

APIs have been around longer than you think. Starting in 2000, Salesforce, Amazon, and eBay utilised APIs to better serve their retail customers, and to feed and analyse data. Facebook and Twitter joined the fray later in 2006. The development of cloud computing restructured the use of APIs, and expanded the capabilities of every application we use today, from Instagram and Snapchat to Google Maps and Power BI.

Now, instead of relying on data packaged and contained solely within one application, applications could utilise APIs to integrate data from other applications, facilitating an explosion of possibilities. APIs became an extension to the business life-cycle, handling back-end processes and necessary data integrations. They also began to power new reporting and data analytics tools that could easily sift through mountains of data to draw insights and business intelligence.

Case Study: APIs in Banking

Everyone uses APIs. However, the banking industry embraced APIs almost immediately and they have permeated almost every inch of the industry.

Banking, like many other industries, utilises APIs in every corner of its business. It starts at the private, or internal, level: APIs for the bank itself, much like any other company. Banks use APIs to gather data regarding the demographics of their consumers, consumer banking actions, and consumer product preferences, among others. Banks then push their use of APIs out another level: the partners.

This use of APIs extends consumer reach to applications such as Venmo, PayPal, and Apple Pay. These partner APIs add an additional layer to already extensive data collection: consumer usage data siloed into categories based off of third-party preferences, what consumers are paying for, who they are paying it to, among other data points. What’s more, partner APIs allow banks to drum up business by connecting consumers directly to everyday applications.

Finally, banks create public APIs, allowing consumers to easily compare banks on things such as mortgages, credit cards, or loans in one place. These public and partner APIs generate data that allows others to build applications to better connect banks and most commonly used third-parties, opening up new revenue channels with multiple industries.

Without APIs, the banking industry as we know it would not exist. In order to create an advanced banking system fully integrated into today’s technological world, banks had to embrace APIs, as the legal industry must do so now in order to continue to remain relevant in the larger business ecosystem.

APIs in the Legal Industry

The legal industry does not adapt easily to change. However, APIs are necessary for the legal industry to evolve and take advantage of the booming legal technology ecosystem and the mountains of legal data being generated every day.

As with other industries, the legal industry has gone through its own explosion of legal data and legal tech tools. The problem that it’s facing is no different than any other industry — the data needed for business operations, gathering intelligence, and business development is siloed, and the tech tools don’t talk to one another.

Through using APIs, the legal industry, and law firms in particular, can mirror successes from the banking industry by creating their own private APIs to link together their internal data sources and streamline painstaking processes. They can also leverage partner APIs to connect external data sources and partners like ALSPs and legal support providers to their own internal technology tools like their matter management systems, CRMs, and data lakes.

More importantly, APIs can also give the legal industry a better client-facing interface. They can give clients the ability to see their cases in real time, with updates in the palm of their hand. Want to see if your attorney filed your case? APIs can connect public court dockets and documents with your firm’s client portal. Wondering if a judge has ruled a certain way before? Use APIs to get on-demand reporting and data analytics. Is your legal bill due? Pay your attorney their legal fees online with Google Pay.

APIs are the automation trend that stuck. To paraphrase Steve Jobs, ‘there’s an API for that’. Want to stay connected with your clients, transform from manual to automated processes, and make use of siloed datasets? APIs are the way forward.

For those sitting on the sidelines in the legal industry waiting for API first adopters to emerge, you’re already late to the party and you’ll soon miss the dance entirely. Luckily, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but you do need to change your tires, so you can drive your innovation forward and modernise your business operations.

(This is an educational guest post for Artificial Lawyer by Josh Blandi, CEO and Co-Founder of US legal tech company UniCourt, which provides Legal Data as a Service (LDaaS) via its APIs.)

2 Comments

  1. Great stuff as usual, more than usual. The API’s topic will be central in our matter and Artificial Lawyer is, as always, one step ahead. Thanks Richard,

  2. Excellent article. Very clear and well written. Such an important subject! The future of the legal industry depends on the uptake of APIs. Articles like this are vital in propelling change!

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