Predictions We Got Wrong + Those We Got Right – Part 1

‘The great thing about making predictions is that no-one ever goes back and checks if you were right,’ a management consultant once told this site. Well, now here’s a chance to fix that. Artificial Lawyer asked a range of people from across the sector the following question: Please tell us about one prediction / expectation you had that never materialised, and one that did – and why you think it turned out that way. Here is what they said. Part 2, featuring many more market experts, will be published tomorrow.

Sacha Kirk, Co-Founder & CMO, Lawcadia

I (naively?) expected that the legal sector, and others, would not try to return to the previous ‘normal’ working arrangements and expectations of working in the traditional office five days a week. I have been surprised by the passionate discussions that I have observed about getting staff back to the office. I suspect that those who engage with their staff and strike a reasonable balance will be able to find and retain staff and outperform those who refuse to be flexible. Let’s wait and see. 

Seven years ago, people in the legal industry thought that we (Lawcadia) were crazy to try to introduce a structured digital process to the way that in-house legal teams engaged with their law firms on matters, scope of work, budgets, and spend. Fortunately, we were on to something, and that is one prediction that materialised. More and more in-house legal teams are now looking for ways to increase transparency, accountability, collaboration, and automate reporting and workflows. 

Alex Herrity, Director – Global Legal Solutions, Adidas

For a while I thought speech driven virtual assistants would become prevalent in the Legal Tech space. Somewhere in between dictation and J.A.R.V.I.S. from Iron Man, but in my own experience, I’ve not seen much of anything in that space (even as a gimmicky feature) and in truth things like Alexa and Siri seem to have taken a backseat. However, I do think tools that can collate, prompt or otherwise surface appropriate information easily and on demand are a massive part of our current landscape and will continue to improve into the near future.

Low to no code platforms were on my prediction/expectation list and I’m really pleased they’ve landed with decent impact in the last few years. My view is that lawyers have plenty of good ideas but the barrier to creating an MVP and/or exploring in a safe sandbox type environment really stifled innovation. Now impactful and powerful solutions can be created and iterated all within the control of the Legal team for a fraction of the price and time spent with developers.

Anthony Widdop, Global Director, Legal Operations, Shearman & Sterling

Back in 2010 I wrote an article on network orchestration for law firms. This looked at how advances in technology through Web 2.0 and the development of the Cloud could provide opportunities to construct external networks of partner organisations to increase value, create new capabilities and reduce risk for clients. It was probably too soon at that time, but this is now starting to become more common in the market.

I always had a view that service providers such as law firms had a lot of untapped internal capabilities that could add value directly to clients. It is great to now see many more firms coordinating these capabilities under legal operations. This provides career opportunities and new pathways for internal talent and is a great way to add further value to client relationships.

Carla Swansburg, CEO, ClearyX

I continued to be surprised at the lack of use cases for AI and in particular, increasingly sophisticated language models. I believe the differentiation in the new models is their ability to “write” and while I am with the majority, I believe, in saying that AI tools are not going to be taking over legal communication or drafting any time soon, I do see some use cases around the margins (summarizing/differentiating contract provisions for example) where we haven’t seen any adoption. This includes fairly mature ML tools for things like contract review/data extraction, where the underlying models continue to be relatively stable, older language models.  I get that AI is a large lump of raw material requiring significant work to become something useful, but the potential seems lurking under the surface!

I have predicted for a few years the consolidation of tools under a few more powerful platforms and we are indeed seeing that not just with Thomson Reuters but with Litera and others. 

Ben Allgrove, Head of Innovation, Baker McKenzie

I predicted a few years ago that the burgeoning legal tech ecosystem could not survive in its current form. The legal market was too fragmented. The problem statements not sufficiently precise. And the business cases often tenuous. That has come to pass, evidenced by the continuing consolidation (to put it politely) we are seeing in the legal tech space.

But I also predicted that there would be a much more advanced / progressed discussion about the standard setting required to underpin a truly digital legal supply chain. We’ve lacked a critical mass of clients and firms, willing to work together, to progress this crucial piece of infrastructure and enabler.

Karl Chapman, CEO, Kim Technologies

Demise of the hourly billing model

When we set-up Riverview Law in 2011, with a fixed priced service delivery model, we thought that the hourly billing model was time limited. How could it not be? It transferred risk to the client, embedded inefficiency (why would lawyers be efficient if they can recover the hours they work?) and took no account of value. It was only logical that the customer (who holds the purse strings and has the power to drive change) would get fed-up and demand pricing innovation. While there has been some change, 11 years later hourly billing is still alive and kicking. As long as customers tolerate it and law firms reward people on the number of hours billed, hourly billing will take a long time to become the minority method or billing.  

Legal Managed Services and the Rise of the ALPs

The move to outsourced legal managed services, the rise of the Alternative Legal Providers, the focus on technology and data and the entry of the Big 4 accounting firms into legal were not difficult trends to identify. These were trends seen in many other functions and whilst new to legal, outsourcing is a well proven model over many decades. It’s why we set up Riverview Law in 2011. Eleven years on and this trend is still largely in the foothills but the actions of the Big 4, the number of law firms who have set-up managed service units and the performance of the independent ALPs tells the story. The rise of ‘legal technology’ as a segment also tells its own story and it is now rare to have to make the case for the power of actionable data and how it can help legal (as it helps every other function/sector).    

Haley Altman, Litera (partly) / partly doing other things.

I thought we would see much greater adoption of technology broadly, but more so in the collaboration/workflow space. With a move to hybrid work, these tools can enable management of complicated matters across geographic regions. With the rise of the use of Teams, you would think it would translate more to collaborating in other environments. There seems to be pockets of strong adoption but the value that can be driven from the tech hasn’t completely translated to broader usage. 

David Carns, Chief Evangelist, Casepoint

I assumed machine learning would be used more to improve the UI/UX of legal technology systems in order to anticipate user needs/actions/behaviours and offer recommended next steps, but that never materialized. At least not yet. My suspicion is that those sorts of improvements will come to fruition once some of the “bigger ticket” improvements are completed in those platforms. 

I did predict that document classifier AI (aka TAR) would finally hit the mainstream. Arguably it has become a “table stakes” feature in most eDiscovery platforms today. I suspect the fact that the technology finally became low-cost and easy to use had everything to do with its adoption versus appreciating the overall cost-benefit analysis.

Electra Japonas, CEO at TLB and co-founder of oneNDA and Claustack

One of the predictions I made was about how advanced AI would be by now, particularly with respect to how contracts are managed. It is in fact nowhere near as advanced as I’d hoped. I believe this is because of the fact that contracts are completely unstructured in the way they’re created. This simply hinders the power of AI and what it can do to transform the world of contracts. It also hammers home how important standardisation is in terms of enabling technology to offer advanced solutions, the capabilities of which are currently wasted to an extent.

A prediction I made that did come true is around how user-centricity will consistently become more and more important in the practice of law. We are seeing that in the tech solutions that are on the market, particularly those that are native to existing tools already used by lawyers and which meet the user where they are, the high demand for process and document design services and the overall language that people are using much more widely when it comes to the application of design thinking principles to law. 

Kelly Harbour, SALI Board Member, and also at Goulston & Storrs

I have spent quite a bit of time working with the SALI Alliance over the last few years, both as a key stakeholder in Goulston & Storrs’ adoption of the Legal Matter Specification Standard and subsequently as a member of the organization’s volunteer operations team. The SALI Alliance is a not-for-profit organization comprised of legal industry professionals from legal operations, law firms, and solution providers with the goal of developing open, practical industry standards for efficient and innovative legal services. I have been waiting for a groundswell of adoption to indicate that the standard was taking hold, and it arrived in 2022. In the last year, there has been a huge uptick in implementation, including among big names like Thomson Reuters, Intapp, Litera, iManage, and NetDocs, an increasing number of law firms, and law departments at Microsoft and Intel. These are incredibly important milestones that indicate, to me, that the standard is being used as intended – across all parties in the ecosystem for mutual benefit. In an industry where the first question is often, “Who else is using it?” there are truly impressive names involved that will cause quite an increasing number of law firms to take notice.

I attribute the uptick in adoption this year in part to the sophisticated, data-driven business professionals at law firms who need accurate and complete data to do their jobs effectively – from pricing to business development to legal project management and more. These professionals are willing to invest the time to ensure they have rich, reliable data to achieve their (and the firms’) goals. With law firm professionals pushing for the standard, the service providers in our industry have listened and responded, making significant strides to incorporate the standard into their solutions. And, of course, some of these companies are forward-thinking and see implementation of the LMSS as a benefit to their current and future customers, whether they are being pushed for it today or not.    

At the same time, legal departments have not been as quick to adopt the Legal Matter Specification Standard as I would have thought. The benefits to in-house teams seem to me, perhaps, the most meaningful and impactful, so I thought they would be the first off the blocks to adopt the standard, thereby driving change among law firms and service providers. In reality, many legal departments are over-extended just keeping up with the work being done internally and by law firms. It is difficult to allocate precious resources to an effort that stands to provide transformational benefits down the road but will not provide immediate relief from day-to-day demands. The adoption of the standard by Microsoft and Intel may be an indication that in the coming years, we will see more uptake among legal departments as well.  

Conan Hines, Legal Tech Advisor, Clifford Chance (New York)

I never thought blockchain would be disruptive in legal, and that has pretty much played out. I also thought legal innovation would gravitate more towards IT in order to scale, but it seems the trend is more towards BD/Marketing. I think this goes to show that firms really want to promote the innovation they can’t deliver.

Karl Harris, CEO, Lex Machina (part of LexisNexis)

In terms of an expectation that did not materialize as much as I would have expected, I would have anticipated that alongside the growth and usage of technology and tools, mid-tier law firms would have experienced more growth in business that allowed them to compete more evenly with the major top-tier law firms. Instead, it appears that the top-tier law firms have consolidated their power and elite statuses even more. For example, revenue and profits per partner in the top corporate law firms have continued to expand at a pace not matched by law firms in the tier below.

Anthony Seale, CEO, Legatics

I thought 2022 would be the year of greater transition to the cloud. It seemed to me that law firms had fully bought into the idea, long after most of their clients had. Whilst COVID did induce the start of a number of cloud transition projects, their scale meant that it’s taking firms many more years to complete them than I originally thought, even with the knowledge that these things take longer than one usually thinks! There are also a few firms, predominantly in the US, who are still holding back.

Going into the year I expected to see a shift from technologies that had received a lot of hype, that were often heavily AI based, towards simpler but highly adoptable and useful workflow technologies. This came true. Law firms realised that the lowest hanging fruit was most often simple but much needed advances in organisation, project management and routine automation. The market rightly moved on from the overexcited discussions around AI replacing lawyers to finding some easy and more practical wins.

Jack Shepherd, iManage

I predicted that the majority of major transactions would be completed through a transaction management tool, rather than Microsoft Word. I thought these tools would ride the wave of changes in work processes driven by the pandemic. There has been a gradual increase in adoption of these tools, but not perhaps to the extent I had envisaged. In order to get over the curve, clients should be aware of the operational, efficiency, and quality benefits of using structured processes to do day-to-day tasks. It seems mad in 2022/23 that our primary way of managing complex projects is using a word processing tool, and that the way we collaborate on documents often comes down to word documents being exchanged by email…

Nick Watson, CEO, Ruby Datum

I think increased collaboration was always a prediction of mine – and I am very pleased to see this happening more now, especially thanks to initiatives such as the Centre for Legal Innovation, ILTA, ELTA, Law School 2.0, and many more I should probably mention. Lawyers are very interested in tech now and working together, across firms and across departments to collaborate.

One that didn’t? I thought more consolidation would happen, but then the pandemic happened, and instead we saw more new tech companies start up as the great resignation happened – Litera seems to have gone quiet also. Bring back exciting M&A deals again, please.

Thanks to everyone for providing their correct and incorrect predictions. Fascinating. There will be Part 2 tomorrow, featuring many more experts from across our sector.

Additionally, something else people may want to have on their radars for next year are two great Legal Innovators conferences taking place in the US and UK:

Legal Innovators California – San Francisco, June 7 and 8, 2023


Legal Innovators UK – London, November 8 and 9, 2023

I will be chairing both of the two-day conferences as usual and also will be publishing updates on Artificial Lawyer throughout the year, featuring conference details, speaker profiles and more. Keep an eye out for those next year! I look forward to seeing you in London and San Francisco in 2023!

Richard Tromans, Founder, Artificial Lawyer and Legal Innovators Conference Chair.