David Curle is the director of enterprise content in the technology & innovation platform at Thomson Reuters Legal Executive...
Daniel W. Linna Jr. has a joint appointment at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law and McCormick School of Engineering...
Some think the word ‘innovation’ has become a meaningless buzzword, but Dan Linna and David Curle believe its meaning simply needs to be more clearly defined. In this episode, they discuss the scope of current innovation practices in different areas of the legal industry. Together, they survey trends in the legal space and give their take on the most effective and profitable ways firms can pursue innovation. Later, they discuss the landscape of data-driven practice, artificial intelligence, and predictive analytics—outlining trends and talking about the tremendous opportunities for growth in these areas of the industry.
David Curle is the director of enterprise content in the technology & innovation platform at Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute.
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Law Technology Now
Innovation – Legal Industry Trends and Opportunities
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Daniel Linna: Hello. This is Dan Linna. Welcome to Law Technology Now on the Legal Talk Network. My guest today is David Curle, Director of Enterprise Content at Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute.
David provides research and thought leadership around the competitive environment and the changing legal services industry.
David, welcome to the show.
David Curle: Thanks Dan, nice to be here.
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So David, thanks again for joining us today. Can you just start by telling us a little bit about your role at Thomson Reuters?
David Curle: Sure. The Legal Executive Institute first of all is a group within Thomson Reuters that tries to help our customers understand the changing environment that they’re working in. My particular focus is on technology and innovation but we have other folks on our team that do a lot of research around law firm performance for example, issues like diversity and inclusion and talent development in the industry and that sort of thing, but as I said, I focus specifically on technology and innovation, so we’re kind of in the same space.
Daniel Linna: Okay, yeah great. Well, let’s just jump right in and I think defining innovation is interesting. Some people have been saying that innovations become a meaningless buzzword and that we should stop using that word. I mean I disagree. I really think we — it’s critical that we better define what do we mean when we say innovation in the legal industry and what are your thoughts on this?
David Curle: Yeah, I don’t think it’s very helpful to ban words, it’s better to just use them better maybe, but I think you’re right, we could have a better definition. One thing that head of R&D; Khalid Al-Kofahi says is that he doesn’t like the word innovation because a lot of people associate it with sort of aimless experimentation or people sort of sitting around waiting for inspiration for new ideas; when in fact, he believes that innovation really requires a lot of discipline and accountability and would prefer to sort of see it that way.
So in terms of defining it maybe Khalid would say innovation is the discipline of finding new ways to do things with the emphasis on discipline as well as the innovation part.
And the other part of it is that I think it’s important that to remember that innovation isn’t just about technology. In the legal services industry, there’s room for innovative business models, innovative new product design, new sort of staffing models, resourcing models, all kinds of parts and moving parts in the industry can be innovated around, it’s not just about kind of technology and IT.
Daniel Linna: Well, and I know you’ve spent a lot of time looking across the whole industry and it used to be that it was — we’re really just folks in the law firms and then the law firms in the legal departments and now, they started to talk about alternative legal services providers and the big — I mean how do you kind of conceptualize, like how do — should can we be thinking about what this space looks like? How would you describe it?
David Curle: Well, you’re right in that there seems to be sort of new players, new entities in the industry now, and also sort of new types of roles. And I think we’re going to continue to see more fragmentation along those lines frankly. I mean there’s, the alternative legal service providers have been around for a long time now. They are established part of the industry, they’re not going away. They’re specializing and focusing on certain things and certain services. There’s likely to be sort of even more sort of niche oriented players that do even the narrower range of things but just do it all the time and do it well.
And then on the client side, the corporate side, you see a lot of change there and the rise of the legal operations thinking and they’re playing a much bigger role I think than they used to in the innovation side of the industry.
Daniel Linna: Well, when you talk about innovation in — let’s start at the two kind of traditional places we’d most frequently look, legal departments and law firms, what kind of things are you seeing there? What kind of differences are you seeing in legal departments versus law firms?
David Curle: I think one difference is that a challenge that law firms have is kind of distinguishing themselves, differentiating themselves from other law firms and quite frankly until recently, most law firms offered the same set of services, had the same set of practice areas. There were a lot of sort of generalist firms.
I think they are feeling the pressure to show innovation in different ways and to come up with innovation programs, appointing chief innovation officers. There’s a lot of activity, it’s not clear that all that activity is leading to sort of value for clients all the time, but I think there is more and more and I see more evidence of it all the time.
On the client side or the corporate side, it’s a lower profile type of innovation, but it’s just as important. Legal operations professionals are really remaking some of the ways that legal problems are approached in-house and that’s the sort of a quieter form of innovation that’s going on for some time now.
Daniel Linna: Well David, you mentioned that there’s pressure on law firms and it’s interesting because there sometimes kind of seemed to be mixed messages about what’s happening at law firms, folks like Richard Susskind talk about the difficulty of telling a roomful of millionaires that their business model is wrong and even the AM Law data from a high level seems to suggest that firms — part of the takeaway was the idea that firms had their best year ever, although I spoke with Nick and Gina from ALM a couple weeks ago and there’s more to the story than that.
But I mean when you say there’s pressure on firms like how would you describe more like where that’s coming from and what really kind of that means?
David Curle: Well, I think there is pressure, the financial pressure or demands pressure on firms sort of in the middle. I think the AM Law data reflects that — and our data, our peer monitor data kind of shows the same thing too, is that there’s a top level of firms that seem to be immune to everything and they’re going gangbusters, and then there’s sort of the middle layers of the AM Law 200 that are not growing as well.
And if you think of the whole industry over the past 10, 11 years since the downturn, it really has been flat. And I think not going down is not a great, is not the best measure. I mean if you’re flat, you’re sometimes standing still.
So I think there is some financial pressure but there’s also I think more just — a lot of it is just a competitive pressure firms wanting to define themselves and stake out a differentiation in technology and innovation.
Daniel Linna: And I think this is another interesting thing that we hear when we look at innovation and I’m seeing more and more indications that even this top level, the market maybe they are immune in some ways, but based on some of the things I’m seeing, I’m certainly seeing innovation in some of what we’d call the top firms. I mean how would you describe like what maybe some of those top firms are doing?
David Curle: Yeah, I have to say that. I mean it’s not like nothing is happening, it’s not that it’s all show. I mean there are firms where you see a pretty good healthy adoption of some of the new technologies offered by vendors, you see some of the internal innovation programs leading to rethinking of how processes are handled.
I think one thing that you have to remember is a lot of times this stuff is incremental. It’s not necessarily about some big bang, that’s going to change a business overnight, but it’s more about fixing processes, introducing some technology here and there and approaching business problems in different ways.
So it’s not always high-profile stuff, it may be fairly niche oriented but it does have an effect on clients.
Daniel Linna: Yeah, yeah. Well that that’s a great point and that’s something that’s come through with quite a few of my guests, just talking that about innovating for the long haul and you’re saying your colleagues are talking about the discipline of innovation and a lot of those things may not be so apparent on the outside and it’s more of investments that are going to pay dividends longer term and things like that.
Well, what about if we really kind of look at this from the perspective of in-house counsel and you get a lot of opportunities to talk with folks inside of legal departments and when they say that they want their lawyers and law firms to innovate, well what do you think it is that they want?
David Curle: More stuff faster and cheaper, they’re like any customer in that sense, maybe what they want that they haven’t gotten in the past is mostly around a flexibility or willingness to do things differently, particularly around things like pricing and structuring, budgeting various matters and projects.
And I think, I think the dynamics are changing in the industry where the client used to order the work, the lawyers would — that the firm would go off and do it, and bring it back. And now I think there’s much more expectations around collaboration, like how do we roll up our sleeves and work on this together, the firm lawyers and the in-house lawyers, how do we find a process that works better whether that’s within the law firm or within the client.
So I think that’s a source of a little bit of pressure and demand is let’s collaborate more on this stuff.
Daniel Linna: Can you give any examples kind of that and even just kind of the beginning stages of what that collaboration might look like or?
David Curle: We had a Legal Executive Institute Event yesterday here in Chicago called Augment, and it was kind of focused around Artificial Intelligence for the most part. And one of the big issues had to do with before you get to using AI or before you can turn an algorithm loose on a bunch of data, you have to have the data in good shape, you have to know that it’s accurate, you have to know you’ll have continuous access to it, or rights to the data of different kinds.
And that’s one area where I think there I do see a lot of collaboration, there were number of examples in that conference of law firms using their legal expertise to sort of advise on the processes around data governance that the client can use. But then there’s also the sort of technical aspect of data governance, how do you — how do you maintain access to the data, how do you maintain all the APIs that let it work together and stuff like that. So I think those I guess would be some examples that I was hearing yesterday.
Daniel Linna: Okay, you know what’s interesting that the comment about customers right and what customers are expecting in other verticals, and I see a lot more discussion about that we need to stop referring to clients as clients, and thinking about them as customers and kind of thinking with this broader perspective. I think this kind of touches on something where in the legal industry, my experience as a practicing lawyer and then even what I see frequently when I speak and talk to others is that, the reluctance of lawyers to get feedback from clients and to actually listen to what they’re asking for, and I mean how much of that is kind of what is maybe critical to the whole idea of — I mean are enough lawyers really asking this question of their clients?
David Curle: Yeah, I think that’s a big part of the challenge. I don’t want to just repeat stereotypes about lawyers, and how they’re anti-technology or whatnot. But I do think there’s a distance between, particularly between firm lawyers and not so much the in-house lawyers, but the business, people running the businesses at the clients, and their needs, and their expectations, maybe there’s a bit of a disconnect. I think that’s certainly one of the areas where the industry could do better.
Daniel Linna: Okay. Well, you know so related to that I have kind of this idea that lawyers were tend to not ask the clients how we’re doing, I mean especially if the client paid the bill, it’s like well why would we go back and ask any questions, it’s like just move on and don’t even get them thinking about whether we did a good job, or how we might improve, and of course that creates problems if you’re not getting that feedback and thinking about how to improve asking the questions.
On the other hand, I think back to the quote that was attributed to Henry Ford this idea like, oh if I’d asked the customers what they want, they would have said faster horses, which I think really kind of means that you as a service provider, the idea of having empathy for the client it’s like understanding their problems and maybe delivering a solution they hadn’t even conceived of. I mean do you think there are opportunities in legal for us to really be thinking that way or?
David Curle: Absolutely. I mean, I think the law firms have been delivering the same kind of horses for all these years. And if you think of yourself as being in the horse business, that’s it’s hard to change, and so I think maybe to anticipate one of your other questions here, that’s partly what I think is behind the rise of alternative legal services providers is this desire to say, okay, look here’s a different way to deliver this service. The law firm could do it but we can do it differently and may be cheaper and faster.
So there is a sense that’s evidence of that disconnect in filling that sort of underlying needs of the clients, maybe not the immediate ask which is hey, put out this fire or solve this problem, and finding a way to sort of get underneath the issue, get to the business problem that the client is grappling with and try to find a solution for that, that’s maybe not just the traditional approach.
Daniel Linna: Well, and you have mentioned alternative legal service providers and are really huge story that we all heard about recently was that EY acquiring Thomson Reuters Managed Services previously known as Pangea3.
What are you seeing as the role of — I mean you don’t necessarily have to predict the future, but even just like you’re on the ground here, what are you seeing like the way alternative legal services providers are impacting the marketplace now today?
David Curle: I think you’ll see, continue to see a lot of experimentation. So you’re right, it is really hard to predict. But I think as I said, these alternatives have been around for quite a while now, many of them are quite successful in large and growing. We did our research on the ALSP Market and found them growing at 10.8% on a cumulative annual rate, and that’s pretty good compared with the rest of the legal industry.
As far as the sort of size and shape of it in the future, I think there’s — as I kind of said before, I think there’s going to be continued to see new models in that space, maybe some specialization and continued sort of fragmentation of the space. But then also one of the things we found in some of our research is that, more and more not just corporate clients but law firms are turning to alternative legal providers really for access to technology.
Because they realize they can partner with somebody who knows the technology, who has the staff that knows the technology inside and out. And they can access kind of on a just-in-time or on-demand basis through an ALSP. So I think that’s increasingly going to be part of the mix here is that ALSPs can become a conduit for delivery of some of the technologies that’s maybe not the stuff that’s used every day but that can be useful on a matter by matter basis.
Daniel Linna: Yeah, that’s an interesting observation and I mean so much of this, there’s a lot of experimentation going on, and it’s way too early to predict with any sort of certainty, I think how these things are all going to play out.
I think one of the things that’s interesting to me is that we’ve seen a handful of law firms who have actually developed technology that they’ve been able to do some pretty interesting things with to provide services directly to clients, Akerman Data Law Center at Actuate Law now, Wilson Sonsini just launched its SixFifty product, an expert system facing clients for California Consumer Protection Act, compliance. And the law firms are really reluctant to call themselves the technology company which I kind of wish more than would just really embrace that, and go forward on that. But I don’t know what are you kind of seeing as far as like more law firms may be getting in that space and?
David Curle: I think there’s a lot of runway there for firms to if they really want to go big on that, there’s lots of fields of law where the client is kind of just looking for a simple answer and can use a client facing tool to work through the issues. There’s great tools on the market now for building expert systems.
So yeah, I mean I think that’s an example of a case where law firms really have a competitive advantage there. I mean they have their brand. If they’re big and in employment law like Littler they can extend that brand by building the tools that serve that market and they are. And so I think there’s other areas of law that maybe could be served by that kind of tool.
Daniel Linna: Yeah, any thoughts on other areas where you are — or even just seeing things emerge you think, examples?
David Curle: So I think one of the areas — I mean you mentioned a couple examples already where a lot of tools that are used by startups or small companies, I think that’s a — that’s a really fertile ground. I think that’s not just kind of high tech startups but even just sort of mom-and-pop businesses of different types have a really hard time affording legal counsel. And there’s a lot of sort of basic things like Articles of Incorporation and various other sort of filings and documents that can be part of that kind of delivery service.
Daniel Linna: Yeah, and then some of the tools I just mentioned are really not focused even on — some of them will serve mom-and-pop type, but we see really large corporations very interested in some of those solutions and more space there for solutions as well?
David Curle: Yeah I think so. I mean look anywhere there’s a process, you can turn it into something maybe that can take it out of the hands of, the one to one contact with an attorney and put it into a system. And the beauty of it is if you are the law firm providing that kind of service, you have the services backed by the firm’s reputation, the lawyers are still there if there’s a need to sort of — if there’s an exception or you need to go outside the tool. So I agree, I think there’s still a lot of a lot of runway there.
Daniel Linna: Yeah and in fact well, and of course every one of these tools that I’ve seen has a process of vetting and figuring out if the user is — if this is the right tool for them and then if not getting them to the lawyers. And the lawyers I’ve talked, the law firms I’ve talked to are deploying these tools are of course recognizing that, I mean some of these tools are tools you’ll give away for nothing and it will attract clients.
Some of them will generate revenue directly, but then another part of the payoff is, is if you can get a portfolio. Work coming in, there’s always going to — almost always I have a hard time but given a case, there wouldn’t be adjacent work in that field than that come with the law firm.
David Curle: Exactly. And of course, there’s providers like LegalZoom and others that sort of do some of this, but I think if you think of the sort of the branding opportunities for a law firm to say, don’t go there, go to our law firms system to do this, because it’s back. As I said, it is sort of backed by our firm, it’s backed by our reputation, you know you have a specialist lawyer able to help you with this if it’s not — something goes wrong or if it’s not quite giving you the answer you need.
Daniel Linna: Yeah I’ve been — I mean I think I mentioned a few examples Chapman and Cutler is another interesting example of creating some software in-house to really improve the value proposition on creating closing binders and things like that for deals, and the kind of thing but there — it seems like there are a lot of opportunities across the marketplace for those things.
Well I want to transition to talking a little bit about data analytics and artificial intelligence, a couple of places where you do a lot of work, but before we do that, before we continue our interview with David Curle, we’re going to take a quick break to hear a message from our sponsor.
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Daniel Linna: And we’re back. Thank you for joining us. We’re with David Curle, Director of Enterprise Content at Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute.
David, I wanted to jump in and you do a lot of work around data-driven practice, artificial intelligence, and some people talk about this, like it’s all one big area. I’m going to more and more conferences where people just refer to at all as AI, and I think going like we’re talking about defining innovation. I mean in this area too, I like to try to break it down and just even as a first cut, talking about metrics and small data, predictive analytics, automating tasks with artificial intelligence.
Now, I don’t know, is that a useful framework? How would you kind of describe what is a really enormous space so that we can better understand kind of what we’re talking about across that area?
David Curle: Yeah, I mean, I’ve absolutely experienced what you’ve experienced in terms of — everybody just sort of throwing it all into one bag and calling it AI. If you go to specialist conference like this one yesterday, there was a little finer distinctions drawn and I think, I think maybe you’re right. I think there is kind of a spectrum of this stuff.
First of all, it’s all based on data. I mean if you think of a data-driven practice whether it’s from the most basic stuff, your organization needs to measure and count stuff. And that can be just what measurements around what people are doing with their time, how much is spent on matters, how you are staffing things and what pay rates are and hourly rates and that sort of thing.
So there’s just lots of stuff to measure in a legal organization that that’s kind of step one and it’s not always been done very systematically in the past.
And then, I think the other sort of the next stage within that first sort of base level of competence you need is to have some sort of a governance strategy for data. We had a fascinating, for me anyway, a panel at last year’s Emerging Legal Technology Forum, which is a conference we have in Toronto every fall, and it was a panel of three or four heads of information governance within law firms and all they talked about was how they wrangle the data that the firm has, because they have so much of it, but it’s not very useful unless somebody’s accountable for it.
So there’s somebody, for its accuracy and to make sure that it’s always accessible and that it’s always updated properly and you know what the update cycles are and all that.
So I think on the basic level that kind of role is becoming really important in the law firm and I’m seeing more titles that indicate that the firm is giving it relatively more importance, a director of information governance or chief information governance officer even I think I’ve seen.
So I think that’s that sort of base level that’s kind of the table stakes today.
Daniel Linna: You mentioned the conference yesterday and I should have followed up about this earlier, but the way you’re describing earlier sound like a really interesting conference. Can you just tell us a little bit more like who was there and what the purpose of it was?
David Curle: Yeah, yesterday was called Augment 2019 and the interesting thing about this conference was that it was an attempt to sort of bring people working in AI from both the legal industry and the tax and accounting industry, because as you know, Thomson Reuters serves the tax and accounting business and we are seeing kind of from a thought leadership point of view that the two industries have a lot of common interests and a lot of common challenges. And so, we thought it would be a good idea to sort of bring folks together from both sides to talk about the specific issues.
But even there, you’re kind of there to talk about artificial intelligence, but the many of the conversations sort of turned to information governance and data integrity as kind of the foundation for all of this, on both the tax and the legal side.
Daniel Linna: Yeah. That’s really encouraging here, that’s great to hear, I think just when we get out of the legal industry and started looking at, I mean some of them — I mean that’s an obvious connection right where we’re seeing work being done that, there’s a lot of relationships, but I think there’s even so much to learn just looking at — I mean at the healthcare industry just all of these different industries that there’s really a lot that I think we could learn from in our own industry.
David Curle: Well, one thing that I – one of the observation I had and maybe this is kind of mundane observation that just because I haven’t spent my life focusing so much on the tax side, but there’s a different DNA maybe on the tax and accounting side or the bigger audit firms anyway where law firms tend to take the problem that comes in the door and do the work and then, then it’s done, and I think there’s more of a mentality on the tax and accounting side of, okay, here’s a business problem, we have some expertise. Let’s build a system for the client that will solve the problem on a permanent basis and fix the process or whatever it might be.
I think there’s a little bit of a different mentality around that that I think that was interesting for me anyway to see maybe a new way that law firms going to think about this stuff.
Daniel Linna: Yeah. Well, I think that’s a really, really great point, and I mean it goes through a couple of things right off the top of my head, like well first of all people saying well, so spreadsheets didn’t decimate the accounting industry, okay well, but maybe they’re thinking about the way they serve their clients a little bit differently. I think this also goes to Jeff Carr and Pat Lamb and Nicole Auerbach talked about this a lot about preventive law, trying to prevent problems before they ever happen, George Siedel and Helena Haapio have written a book about Proactive Law, thinking about that I mean –
David Curle: And that’s where by the way to turn this discussion back to data again, that’s where I think law firms could provide a lot of expertise on the compliance side. How can a corporation use its data better to identify fraud that’s going on within its company or other illegal activities or other problems that might arise and personnel issues and whatnot?
So the corporation has a lot of data that they can mine for things like that, and the expertise of a law firm can sort of help along those lines.
Daniel Linna: Yeah, sure, compliance thinking about — I mean litigation right, the best litigation is the one you never have.
David Curle: Right.
Daniel Linna: And how can we — do we really learn from each litigation on how we can maybe prevent one in the future?
David Curle: Well I think one of the things you learn with the litigation analytics products that are on the market like ours for example, but there are others, is all of a sudden, there’s a lot more transparency in the industry, you see that this type of litigation in this district is going to settle first or be have a judgment in this range and over time you see it’s pretty easy to figure out what some matters are worth and you can avoid them at an earlier stage if you have that data about what the outcomes typically are.
Daniel Linna: Yeah. Well, and arguably even that is a narrow view of the world right because that’s kind of even just looking at what do we do once there’s a dispute, right, and I think this kind of ties back a little bit into metrics and small data and I was kind of curious what you think are kind of table stakes or what trends you see emerging, because it occurs to me that we talk about the data we have, we have few measures of quality, we don’t — in the industry we don’t measure outcomes frequently.
I mean a huge difference not only do Netflix and Amazon have the data, but they’ve got feedback loops. They serve with their predictions and they know, they get immediate feedback on that, and so how can we kind of tap into more feedback loops, like the litigation example I give. If we have data about litigation that’s great but how come we don’t know every time the business people maybe have some sort of a dispute on any level or even look at the contract and think man, I don’t have what I need there to get what I need from the other party.
If we’re not feeding that sort of information back into our systems then how can we get better results?
David Curle: Yeah, I think that’s right, and I think the data or the sort of the data gathering or the focus of a lot of data governance efforts to date is kind of just on cleaning up the data and most of it’s not about feedback loops, most of it’s just about inputs, how many people are working on this, how many hours, what other expenses were there that sort of thing.
So I think there’s a long way to go in terms of being able to gather and master and leverage that kind of data that you’re talking about. But I mean there is certainly room for more of that.
Daniel Linna: Yeah, you know I think a related question to that is my hypothesis is that we need more lawyers who understand all of this including the mundane data stuff because if they need to be asking what problems are we trying to solve and then they can really be helpful to figure out what data we could be collecting and building these models and so on. I mean what’s kind of — I mean there’s a lot of discussion about all of this, should lawyers code, what the lawyers need to know about data and I mean what’s kind of your — maybe about your latest thinking I guess around the way lawyers need to be engaged and what they need to understand.
David Curle: Yeah, I mean it’s a, it’s kind of — it feels like the, not the Wild West, but it’s kind of a wide open discussion, because like you said, there’s the whole question of like okay, I agree with you that it would be great if more lawyers would have that sort of basic understanding about data. How do you get them there? Is it the kind of interdisciplinary program that you guys have here Northwestern or others around the country at different law schools? Is it maybe more taking some technologists and teaching them enough about law to be able to help assist with that kind of question and problem?
So I think it’s an open question. I think we’re still in an age of experimentation and then we also have a lot of as you know because you’ve been in academia for a while, it’s like herding cats, to sort of change the way an academic institute works and organizes itself and reward systems and whatnot. So there’s a lot of work to do there. That kind of veered away from your question about what the lawyers need to know, but I mean that’s sort of, that’s the context for that discussion, is that there’s just a lot of people asking that same question and nobody I don’t think has found the right answer to that balance.
Daniel Linna: Yeah, well and I would even just tie it back to this question earlier, you were talking about accountants and others kind of viewing problems from a broader sense and seeing it as an opportunity and of course, if you mean having the lawyers engaged in that and seeing ways in which, well, I just see, I see a lot of the discussions at companies about ethics for example, and often the lawyers are not present at those discussions and how can the lawyers maybe lead in that area and think about regulation in law that we ought to have or that may be coming and just one example.
David Curle: Well I think, if you take a step back from legal and you look at the rest of academia in general you see a lot of really interesting programs, interdisciplinary programs where — even at the undergraduate level we’re exposing students to data or to hard sciences and mixing them with other disciplines. And it’s odd that it’s so hard to sort of get that kind of thinking into legal education, because it’s happening everywhere else and almost every industry is affected by this sort of need for people who can think in a sort of cross-disciplinary way.
Daniel Linna: Yeah, well I mean, and just I have colleagues at other schools and I see other schools doing more and more of this. We are seeing more of it and then you even mentioned as well educating people with STEM backgrounds for example in law. We have a program around that. We’ve got program that Dan Rodriguez started at Leslie Oster leads here at Northwestern in our Master of Science in Law Program and in fact, those students are in our Innovation Lab and are working with the JD and LLM students who are working with computer science students to develop solutions. And so we’re seeing, and we are seeing that side of it happened in some schools as well.
David Curle: Yeah.
Daniel Linna: Well, so let’s – so I brought metrics and small data. I’m really interested too on the predictive analytics part of it. You know as a litigator — gosh it was 10 years ago and I first started teaching as an adjunct and I was talking about calculating expected values and there’s this great article by Craig Glidden who — when he was at ConocoPhillips and he’s now the General Counsel at General Motors with Mark Victor on creating decision trees for litigation and gosh, I was just certain that we’re going to see more lawyers in doing this, especially when you see someone like Craig Glidden writing about it and encouraging people to do it, the uptake on it has been slower than I thought it would be, there are definitely some people doing stuff. I don’t know what are you seeing in the marketplace as far as where is their uptake and what might it look like and maybe might, how might you suggest people even get started?
David Curle: I think we’re really at the beginning. I mean it is still pretty early. I mean products like litigation and analytics, Lexmark, haven’t been around that long and they only do so much.
I mean they help identify — they help boil down what the data says and help lawyers make an estimate or prediction around certain things. I think it’s really early days and I think like everything else it’s about kind of a systems thinking. It’s sort of taking your thinking out of what do I — what are the merits of this specific case right in front of me and taking a step back and sort of putting that, that dispute in context and taking in all the information to be able to make a reasonable prediction or have the machine do a reasonable job at providing you with a prediction.
Daniel Linna: Yeah. Well, I think that an interesting question related to this. So I had Danielle Benecke from Baker McKenzie and I’m sure you’re familiar with her article because it’s on the Legal Executive Institute. I like the way that she broke down what lawyers do and was talking about the AI empowered judgment and thinking about lawyers as providers of information, and providers of labor, as providers of prediction and then providers of judgment. And I think when you think about it, like how much of what lawyers do, do we call it judgment that if you really thought about it you’d say wow, it’s really prediction, mostly isn’t it.
David Curle: Yeah, and I think, but when you get up into the prediction and the judgment parts, you’re talking about the high level work, the high value work that lawyers do which is great. I mean that’s what lawyers want to be, because then some of the routine stuff is falling away or going to other providers.
And I think you’re right. It’s like what I see as the judgment part is more, when you get beyond predicting the matter in front of you and you go to the business problem, the underlying business problems that a client might face and that’s where the judgment comes in. There’s a role as a trusted advisor where the lawyer can see not only the legal issues but the business issues and that’s that — that’s where the real value lies for some of the people at the top of that practice.
Daniel Linna: Great point, yeah, and I think that — I think this kind of goes back to some of the idea about the way that when we use these tools, the way that lawyers might redeploy and think about how to use their time and it seems rare and rare to me that there are exceptions to this, but how many lawyers really know their client and their clients business in a way that they can function, the way that you are talking about.
David Curle: Right. Yeah. I mean it goes back again to education. The way you’re trained, you’re trained in — it’s an internal facing education in the sense that you’re trained to understand the legal principles regardless of what the context is in many cases and so I think a big part of that is again the education piece to sort of think more systems thinking.
Daniel Linna: Yeah. Okay so we’ve talked about small data and we talked about data analytics and so and as we’re trying to make sense of what the data-driven law landscape looks like.
Artificial intelligence, so I tend to try to think about rules driven, we talked about expert system and data-driven AI on the other hand. How do you kind of see that landscape and what do you see emerging there maybe some of the latest kind of trends that our audience might not be aware of?
David Curle: Well, we talked about rule systems already and like I said, I think there’s still a lot of runway there for some new applications and a market for that. We’ve also talked about one area which I think is again going to be one of the biggest for AI which is the prevention and compliance piece, looking for and anticipating problems before they become problems, and because that involves a lot of data and that’s what AI is all about, that’s what AI is good at.
You know a lot of AI isn’t really frontline stuff. It may be not — not all of it is going to be a client facing tool or something that the lawyer can say, look we used AI for this. But there’s a lot of just simple classification of data that can they can leverage artificial intelligence and going back to data governance and sort of cleaning up data, I know you know Dera Nevin; she was at the conference yesterday and talked a lot about this, how useful AI is for taking a set of messy data and making sense of it in an automated way, in a way that you could never do, you could never sort of manually tag thousands of documents, but you can use machines for that. So that’s a kind of a sort of back office or almost the behind-the-scenes application for AI but it’s extremely useful when you need clean data.
Another application is stuff like looking at timekeeping records, to classify how lawyers are spending their time and there’s automated systems out there that can sort of make predictions or not predictions, but make sort of — make classify the use of time based on certain indicators and inferences. So that’s another sort of in a way behind the scenes application for AI.
Daniel Linna: Yeah, and that can’t come soon enough for every lawyer in the industry.
David Curle: Yeah for sure, for sure. So I think you asked me first time kind of the big what’s next, but I think in many ways the what’s next is a bunch of sort of small incremental improvements like that in the way firms manage their data and rather than some sort of big bang application, it’s going to sort of take over a particular class of legal work.
Daniel Linna: Yeah. So you kind of alluded to the difficulty of predicting the future and I guess we’ve really kind of talked about this a little bit but I’m going to ask my question anyway and push it a little bit more on this, but I think part of it is too that yes, it’s hard to predict the future, but I think we must try to predict the future if we intend to prepare for the future but even more so, I’d really like to push more of us in the legal industry especially when we think about providing better access to legal information, access to justice, improving court systems, creating these value propositions by thinking more broadly like we’re just talking about, but how we can create the future.
And so, where do you think maybe are some of the opportunities that with careful planning, we could be creating the future and in that sense what might we see five years or 10 years down the road might you say.
David Curle: Well, this may be a different answer to what you’re anticipating or a different direction, but one thing that’s kind of on top of my mind these days is I just had a call last week, I think it was with Professor David Engstrom and Daniel Ho at Stanford and they presented at a conference out there recently about a project that has to do with AI in the administrative state, in the regulatory state.
So how are decisions being made within the Federal Government that are leveraging big data and AI and I think you and I have been talking now for over half an hour and we were kind of focused on the traditional legal services industry, law firms and their clients and I think there’s a lot of work to be done on the government side on the courts and in public administration, where there’s — there could be extremely valuable and effective uses of AI, when you think of the amounts of data that government has and how it could be really changed the way government works and the judiciary as well in many ways.
Daniel Linna: Yeah, there are tremendous opportunities. I’ve had a chance to talk with David about that a little bit and size panel at Codex, I was just talking with my colleague Emerson Tiller here at Northwestern about the huge opportunities in administrative law. You think about the millions of decisions made there.
David Curle: So talk about fodder for predictions, I mean that’s the predictions you can make about state court matters. There’s a lot of them but like you say if you think of how many adjudications the Social Security Administration makes every day and how many of them could be improved with a little better data management and a little AI and all that.
Daniel Linna: Yeah, yeah. So I like that answer, may not have been responsive. I think it’s the only thing I missed from – well I shouldn’t say the only thing, I do miss plenty of things from practice. I enjoy this new career, but one thing I miss is being able to depose people and say that’s not responsive, I’m sorry, but I guess I can’t quite compel you to respond exactly to my questions here.
So I did want to ask you about David also, you made the trip from Minnesota to Chicago a few weeks ago, you attended the Law and Technology Demos that we did in Northwestern Thomson Reuters sponsored, which we greatly appreciated. And I talked about this Innovation Lab, we had computer science students and Master Science in law and our JD and LLM students working on projects.
We had challenges from submitted by Mayer Brown, Reed Smith, Actuate Law or Bluhm Legal Clinic in a Public Interest project and I’d really like that to be a model for collaboration. We want to get more corporate legal departments and we’ve got legal aid organizations involved too but we had diverse interdisciplinary teams, really working as teams. They built actual working prototypes, did live public demos of those projects.
I may be drinking my own Kool-Aid here a little too much, but well I mean what do you think, is that another way the Academy can get engaged in this space?
David Curle: I think absolutely, I mean I love events like that. I mean I get really jazzed by the energy you see and especially since the clients, the partners out in the real world are there, they’re watching the team that worked with them perform.
And there’s so many lessons in that. It doesn’t matter if the specific app they’re working on or whatever the software or piece of technology they’re working on, it doesn’t matter if that has any legs beyond that evening. It’s just the lessons that we learned along the way were all the things we’ve been talking about right. It’s like how to get lawyer to think about data and process and resource allocation and all these things that they might not normally get if they’re sitting in a room taking contracts class.
So I do think some form of that kind of working on real problems with the real technology is extremely valuable and should be, I think it should be a part of everybody’s curriculum.
Daniel Linna: Yeah, well you get no objections here.
David Curle: Yeah.
Daniel Linna: So yeah we’re really excited about the possibilities of continued and then just the idea of bringing together — I love trying to the more events where we can have legal aid organizations and people from courts and the large law firms of corporations in the same room. It turns out I mean — what from what I see is that so many of the problems are much more the same than they are different. I don’t know what your experience is.
David Curle: Yeah, in fact, I was — another event that I was at recently was out at Georgetown, they have — the National Science Foundation sponsored a day-long, three days actually parts of three days conference on the application of data science to access to justice problems and you’d be amazed that sort of that diversity of organizations and initiatives represented there but there are a lot of people in academia on the data science side working on real social problems and legal problems and the social problems with legal aspects and all kinds of things.
So there’s just a ton of work to do and but there again it all goes back to data and that was kind of the focus of this conference is what do we need to do to put the data we have to work in service of access to justice.
Daniel Linna: Well, I think one of the themes of our discussion today has been kind of realizing the way in which the legal industry may be siloed and there are silos inside of the legal industry, there are silos maybe inside of academia. So broadening our lens, I mean I think when we have these conversations we tend to be very US centric and should probably do a whole show, just multiple shows just thinking about what’s going on around the rest of the world and you’ve — I know you travel a lot, you’re in London, you’re in Singapore, China.
But can you just — we’re getting close to the end of our show here today but if you — what do you think are some of the more noteworthy developments around the world as far as — I mean I think part of it is we should be aware that firms and other organizations are pushing forward and legal tech startups on some of these tools and other places around the world which will and has and continue to have an impact on the US.
But I don’t know, just what are some of your observations that we should be thinking about in jurisdictions outside of the US here?
David Curle: Well, you’re right, there’s a lot of activities going on and I think if you want to look at one place that’s worth keeping your eye on, it’s Singapore. There’s a government-led initiative there, it’s sort of executed through this, for the most part through the Singapore Academy of Law. They’ve developed a really comprehensive vision statement.
So there’s a whole document about how they want to transform the legal industry using technology, not just the legal industry but also government, aspects of legal services provision and the unusual thing about it is the comprehensiveness. Like here in the United States or in various places in Europe or even Latin America, here are pockets of initiatives and forward-thinking people and new forms of legal education here and startup communities over there.
But in Singapore they sort of — it’s all brought together and it’s a centralized government supported effort and so I think to the extent that they succeed, there’s a model for other countries around the world and there’s also just to take that whole region as well.
There’s a recent report that came out a State of Legal Innovation in Asia-Pacific and it took a look at I think eight or ten of the largest countries in the region and picked apart like what are they, what’s going on, what are the differences, what are the similarities. And there were a lot of differences, it was very fascinating.
In China, there’s a lot of consumer facing legal apps. You can solve almost any kind of problem on your phone these days there. In other countries like Australia, the innovation is mostly around business model, the sort of alternative legal services providers or new law companies are very big there.
So I think that region in particular is very hot and dynamic right now but I mean I know you just got off the phone this morning with a classroom in Spain.
Daniel Linna: Yeah, yeah.
David Curle: There’s law schools like Bucerius in Germany that are doing a lot of interesting things. So it really is a — has become kind of a worldwide phenomenon and it’s kind of decentralized but also connected at the same time. And no, is that your impression too?
Daniel Linna: Yeah, yeah, yeah, well I think it’s really exciting. I mean we have students coming here to Northwestern from a lot of different places who are very interested in this, I mean, I can think of we had students from Mexico and France and just a lot of other countries, just in our LL.M. Program especially to some in the JD Program, you mentioned the IE Madrid Program and the Bucerius. I mean that it’s exciting to be there teaching just so many people in different jurisdictions.
Yeah, we’re seeing the global interest and the global not just interest that itself it’s way short, like there’s a lot of activity, a lot happening in these other jurisdictions.
David Curle: Right, right yeah so it’s an exciting time and I think people should be paying attention.
Daniel Linna: Yeah well you mentioned a couple of reports I think. How can people get their hands in those or maybe you’ll tweet them out and I should tell them they should be following you on Twitter.
David Curle: Sure I can tweet some links, there’s some of our reports, the State of the Asia-Pacific was one done by the Singapore Academy Law. So yeah, I’ll have to go back and whatever, we referenced here and I can tweet out some links.
Daniel Linna: Okay. Well thank you so much for joining us David before we close I want to make sure our guests — so that you should tell them your Twitter handle just like all good legal innovators they’re on Twitter I’m hoping. And how else might they get in contact with you?
David Curle: Yeah the Twitter handle is @DavidCurle and that’s probably the best way to reach me if you want to just send me a message or just sort of follow what I’m up to.
Daniel Linna: Yeah, yeah and then you’ve got a nice bio in the Legal Executive Institute with a list of your articles.
David Curle: Yeah it’s legalexecutiveinstitute.com is a URL and actually there’s a lot of goodies there, including all of our published reports will be there, information about our upcoming events, and then of course the main body of the site is our blog with lots of articles.
Daniel Linna: Well thank you very much David for joining us today.
David Curle: Great. It’s been great Dan.
Daniel Linna: This has been another edition of Law Technology Now on the Legal Talk Network.
If you like what you heard today, please rate us in Apple Podcasts. Join us next time for another episode of Law Technology Now. I am Daniel Linna, signing off.
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