As technology spurs innovation in most business sectors, the legal industry is increasingly adapting to a changing climate—both internally within firms and externally as client needs change. According to the 2018 Aderant Business of Law and Legal Technology Survey nearly one-third of responding firms had a dedicated employee responsible for “innovation.” According to the survey, this trend was most prominent in the largest law firms in the country, with those firms being twice as likely as smaller firms to report an employee in charge of innovation.
The increasing presence of legal-specific technological innovation is underscored by the rise in companies dedicated to development of these innovative solutions. Stanford Law School has documented this rise in their CodeX Techindex, which maintains a list of companies “changing the way legal is done” under the broad categories of marketplace, document automation, practice management, legal research, legal education, online dispute resolution, e-discovery, analytics, and compliance.
One such company—Doxly, co-founded by former Ice Miller partner Haley Altman in 2016—is an example of the emerging solutions available to legal practitioners. Doxly’s solution for transactional attorneys is something of a one-stop-shop for organizing documents, allowing the user to set up workflows for the individual tasks of the deal. As noted in this Forbes article on the company, in the billable-hours-focused world of law firms, it’s foreseeable that there would be hesitance to adopt time-saving technology like Doxly.
Yet, it may be that an incoming tech-dependent generation of attorneys expect to have a suite of tools at their disposal to help their efficiency and ultimately to better serve their clients. While not specific to the legal profession, a SurveyMonkey and Microsoft report found that 93% of millennial employees cited a business having up-to-date technology as an important factor in selecting an employer. The growing presence of innovation officers at the largest firms in the U.S. suggests firms may be catching on. That said, putting attorney expectations aside, reacting to client demands may create a more significant push for firms to adopt new workplace technologies. As clients continue to demand lower billable hours and rates, firms are likely to search for ways to improve efficiency on their end.
Outside the world of large law firms, legal technology is more clearly beneficial, as it generally increases the accessibility of legal services. The legal system receives (often deserved) criticism for the difficulty it presents to those without the means to afford adequate representation. Even for relatively low-cost matters, the introduction of new technologies allows for greater access to the legal system. One such solution is JustFix.nyc which seeks to ease the landlord-tenant dispute process for New York City residents by allowing for the quick upload of photos and even the automatic generation of a complaint letter. While investment in these more philanthropic solutions may lag more profit-focused developments, the impact is a step in the right direction.
It will be interesting to see if technologies like Doxly are adopted by law firms with the speed that it seems consumers are using innovations that allow for easier access to the legal system. Although the two worlds of biglaw firms and landlord-tenant disputes can appear miles apart, start-up technologies are re-shaping the legal landscape at both ends of the spectrum.*
*Austin Del Priore is an associate editor on the Michigan Technology Law Review.