LegalTech 2016: Lawyers Meet IT, Fun Ensues

The last time I was at LegalTech, there was still a healthy business digitizing paper documents. At the event I just attended, legal IT has moved on to AI, big data, and complex analytics. In other words, this niche vertical looks like the rest of the world.

Much of the data science at LT is focused on e-discovery, wherein algorithms find Word docs, speadsheets, and presentations that are relevant to pending litigation. The technical term for this in the legal sector is “predictive coding.” It’s really a use case of AI: train the algorithms on a seed set of documents, and then let it loose on the complete set of electronic content.

The algorithms do everything. Predictive coding replaces having associates enter search terms into document management systems and then manually working out what should be discoverable on a a case by case basis.. Both PC and search terms are light years ahead of the entirely manually process of rooms of young attorneys sifting through boxes of legal paperwork. Can you imagine the fun they had back in the 1990s?

While predictive coding is still in an early stage and not every judge may accept its application, it’s clear that legal tech is entering a new era.  The was somewhat validated after listening a few of the sessions. These Gen-X attorneys are not the tech neanderthals of my generation — they actually appreciate and understand teh computer.

And more importantly they don’t find it beneath their dignity to actually send emails and use Microsoft Word. Even more surprising, these attorney-IT hybrids really enjoyed talking about this subject, which can potentially be very, very dry.

This leads indirectly to my last point. While we talk about the value of data, it’s really the attorneys and the corporate counsels who understands what’s sensitive and valuable in the corporate file system. IT may understand the plumbing, but it’s the top legal officers who know where the corporate DNA is located.

Here’s an interesting factoid: in 2015, Microsoft had over 261 terabytes of data on legal hold — an entire data center’s worth of information that could not be deleted or updated. You can think of the corporate counsel area as being the main point of IT governance when it comes to the things that keep CEOs up at night— data involved in law suits.

You can read more about some of the implications of this idea on my other channel.