LegalTech 2019: Approaching an Inflection Point

Are attorneys about to be replaced by robots? Not anytime soon, say Harris Williams’ Business Services Group Managing Director Derek Lewis and Director Anthony Basmajian, who recently attended LegalTech, the largest legal technology event of the year. However, Lewis and Basmajian did note a wealth of innovative technology on display—and plenty of attention from corporate and law firm attorneys.

“From the interest at the show,” says Lewis, “it’s clear that corporations and law firms alike are arming their attorneys with technology and bringing their sector into a much more digital environment.”

Basmajian notes that interest is especially high in technologies that help lawyers address increasingly critical issues of data security, privacy and information governance, especially as regulatory expectations rise: “Compliance with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and ongoing Sarbanes-Oxley reporting are just two of the regulations that seem to be driving a lot of interest in new software platforms.”

The California Consumer Privacy Act will also impact privacy, information governance and security of personal information when it becomes effective in 2020, heightening the need for firms to button up data management. Technology that can help corporations and legal organizations manage that challenge should experience strong demand.   

Basmajian also saw robust interest in all kinds of analytical tools.  “Corporations and law firms are embracing data analytics to help improve efficiency, reduce risk and anticipate litigation outcomes,” he notes, “while legal language analytics are being deployed against court opinions and briefs to assess sentiment, tone and the language attorneys and judges find most persuasive.” 

Solutions that address labor-intensive processes, such as e-discovery, are also attracting great interest, says Lewis. Artificial intelligence (AI), robotic process automation (RPA) and other technologies are now making it possible for corporations to take better control over these processes without hiring outside attorneys. 

“They are also making it easier for law firms to manage repeatable, lower-yield tasks,” says Lewis. “For example, as artificial intelligence culls massive amounts of digital data to much more manageable volumes, and gets smarter about identifying relevant documents for human review, this frees staff to focus on more important, higher yield issues. Outsourced legal services are also on the rise, as an increasing number of service providers are able, through technology, to deliver the necessary security and quality of work at a more cost-effective price.”

Lewis left the event believing that “by all indications, the legal sector is approaching a technology inflection point, with new technologies continuing to revolutionize the industry. That makes legal technology providers and outsourcers attractive investment opportunities for both strategic and private equity investors.” 

Basmajian observes that in some areas, such as e-discovery, there are large, well-established players but, in general, legal technology is a highly fragmented market: “The abundance of small- to medium-sized companies presents many attractive investment opportunities.” 

In short, while robots are not yet set to appear in the courtroom, activity at the LegalTech event confirms that the legal sector is embracing technology.  It also shows that there is an increasing number of companies providing credible technology and outsourcing solutions that help redesign how work gets done, how data gets stored and protected, and how regulatory compliance is achieved.

As Basmajian notes, this focus on technology is less about replacing humans than liberating their minds and time for more valuable tasks. “No one thinks people are going away from the legal profession,” he says. “These technologies just allow them to spend less time on menial work and more time representing their clients’ or firms’ legal interests. That’s going to create real competitive advantage.”

Published February 2019