Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Hobbie Returns From Australia--Belated Trip Report

Trip Background

The week of March 11-15 2013 I traveled to Sidney, Australia to speak at the Ark Conference titled "Advancing Knowledge Management in the Legal Profession" as a guest of that organization. 
Needless to say I also took the opportunity to investigate Sidney and its amazing surroundings.

To do full justice to the trip would require greater length than I have here.  I'll instead cover some professional, touristic, and personal highlights.  Some of this information was previously shared on an internal web site, though no endorsement by my firm has been supplied.

 Professional Highlights: Billing, Booming, and Bonding

My two presentations were well received. I spoke on a panel about encouraging communication inside law firms through social collaboration (I note that the larger firms in Australia seem considerably far ahead of US firms in this area). I also spoke on my own about the many ways in which knowledge management can support pricing and budgeting, and the types of information and information management that pricing and budgeting efforts require. The Australian knowledge managers at the conference were particularly invested in this area of work. I also enjoyed separate meetings with several colleagues from firms such as Ashurst and King & Wood Mallesons, sophisticated firms that due to recent mergers are larger than my firm (Goodwin Procter.) 

I was very glad of the opportunity to meet people in the Australian legal KM community face-to-face.  I've met a few people at ILTA conferences, and have been generally impressed with the state of legal KM technology and adoption, as presented by those people in various sessions.

Based on that exposure, I have a few observations about the state of the Australian legal market and Australian legal KM.

The Australian economy is quite strong; it has been exporting vast quantities of commodities, primarily minerals, to the growing economies of the Pacific Rim and South Asia. (Recent commodities price drops are a potential challenge, however). The exports have greatly increased the strength of the Australian dollar, and also led to significant growth in the western part of Australia where these commodities are extracted. The impact on the Australian legal market has been twofold; not surprisingly, firms that may have only had offices in Sydney and Melbourne have opened offices in Perth and other western Australian cities; and, a wave of mergers between Australian and international firms has also occurred.

Legal knowledge management as a field is doing well Down Under. Australia adheres to the "Practice Support Lawyer" model, in which experienced attorneys embedded in practice groups devote themselves to knowledge management, as well as client development through activities like client alerts and pitches.  Legal KM practitioners have obtained varying but quite high levels of support within their organizations--for instance, one presentation at the conference addressed one practitioner's success in obtaining billable-hour-equivalent status for km work.  I have already mentioned the advanced state of KM at some of the larger firms.  With the relative strength of the legal industry and the PSL model, there are comparatively large numbers of knowledge managers, from surprisingly small firms; one conference participant had flown in from Western Australia from her firm of less than 80 attorneys.

One area of weakness is a comparative lack of formal and informal structures for Australian legal KM attorneys to meet and get to know each other. There are conferences (obviously), but they are rare and did not seem to provide the social opportunities so important for building trust and sharing.

Touristic Highlights--Sails & Mountains

Sidney is the site of one of the most if not the most famous building in the world--the Sidney Opera House. I first encountered it the day I flew into Sidney after a grueling 14-hour flight from San Francisco (and 24 hours of travel). I viewed it from afar, walked up close that day and other days, took the official tour, and to top it all off, attended a wonderful performance of Puccinni's most popular opera "La Boheme" (featured in “Moonstruck”) my last full day there. 

The Opera House may be popular and famous, but it is not overhyped. Its setting on a point of land jutting out into Sidney Harbour and in front of the SidneyHarbour Bridge--itself a major landmark on the scale of the Golden Gate Bridge--is spectacular.  The white / tan "sails" take on light and colour from the surroundings while serenely projecting modernism and sophistication; they can resemble barnacles, feeding whales, or schooner sails, and look different from every angle and at every time of day.  As a musician, it is  a point of pride that this magnificent building is also a major cultural institution, with *five* performing arts halls, most notably the huge Concert Hall and the surprisingly smaller Opera Hall, and a robust schedule of classical music, modern dance, and children's theater performances.   Definitely one for your "bucket list."

 Another highlight was a day trip to the Blue Mountains.  I took a very reasonably-priced tour in a van (with 14 other tourists) to this ecologically unique area, featuring a plateau, rainfalls, a semi-tropical rainforest, and, oddly enough, quaint English-style garden villages.  Australia has utterly unique wildlife, and a 50,000 year-old aboriginal culture, both of which I got to see up close (see this and this).  As an ecologist's son, I would have liked to spend more time in the rain forest, but we had some older folk with us and that was not to be.  Next time.

Personal Highlights--Have Violin, Will Travel

A major feature of my personal life (OK, OK, "hobby") is extensive experience as a classical chamber musician, performing and playing on violin and viola. I tapped into some existing connections to the Sidney amateur chamber music scene, and also used the "Chamber Music Network" to set up two string quartet sessions with local musicians after the conference.

Playing string quartets at a high level is like re-creating a transient work of art, and usually is a bonding experience. These sessions did in fact give me a chance to get to know people such as a math professor (viola), a sewing shop manager (viola and cello), and a Sidney Harbour Park naturalist (cello), as well as enjoy reading through Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Haydn quartets.  I'm not antisocial, but neither am I the type of person that can walk into a bar and get to know people quickly, so it was great to be able to meet Australians I already have a lot in common with and make some music at the same time.  

The trip as a whole was marvelous and thought-provoking. It felt like a once-in-a-lifetime event, but I would do it again in a heartbeat, perhaps next time with family along. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Boston Legal Innovation Meetup and "Tech-Enhanced Legal Services"

Last Thursday July 18th I attended the 2nd Boston Legal Innovation Meetup, hosted at the Suffolk University Law School and sponsored by that school’s Institute on Law Practice Technology and Innovation (“SILTI”). Adam Ziegler, former Goodwin Procter associate and now start-up innovator at Mootus, organized the event, titled “Tech-Enhanced Legal Services,” and featuring a broad range of experienced legal innovators. (Bob Ambrogi covered the first event).

I am pleased to see this series of meetings get organized, and am also very happy to see legal innovation / legal technology programs launched at two Boston-area law schools. In addition to the program at Suffolk, which started in the 2012-2013 academic year, my former Bingham McCutcheon colleague Dan Jackson is directing a program called “NuLawLab” at Northeastern School of Law. These programs join only slightly more established programs at Georgetown Law School (see the ILTA KM Blog on Iron Tech Lawyers) and at Columbia University, inter allia (Richard Granat identified 13 such programs in May 2013.)

My understanding is that Adam and the other organizers are looking for ideas for future meetups. Contact him at LawInno , the hashtag for the event going forward is #lawinno. 

The meeting showcased Andrew Perlman’s Google Glasses; document assembly expert Marc Lauritsen; document assembly vendor Terry Lee of Exari, and LawWithoutWalls Miami University professor Michele DeStefano. 

Google Glass At Work

The meeting started off an appropriately geeky note. SILTI’s leader Andrew Perlman demonstrated Google Glass, the mini-computer masquerading as a chunky pair of eyeglasses. Once the Bluetooth connection to the projector was set up he demonstrated voice commands, taking pictures, taking video, Googling the next Red Sox - Yankees game and Googling images of Niagara Falls. It also has built-in messaging and, appropriately for wearable computing, can provide turn by turn directions to Quincy Market.

He proposed several uses for this technology in legal academia. He'll be using it in his legal teaching by providing another way for students to ask questions.  He proposes that they could also be used in a legal clinic where the pretend client would wear Glass and record the law student taking the "client" interview. 

In legal practice, he suggests that another possible application would be to use it to record a deposition and have a Google Hangout going where other lawyers view the deposition and make suggestions through Glass, potentially saving client spend on lawyer travel.

The Document Assembly Landscape

Marc Lauritsen next spoke and gave a sweeping overview of the document assembly, automation, and management area, its past and future. Marc teaches "Lawyering in Age of Smart Machines" at SILTI and has his own document automation consulting operation, and is a very well-informed practitioner of this art.

Mr. Lauritsen analogized the recent history of document assembly to the "Cambrian Explosion" that led to a wild diversity of primitive marine life 500 million years ago. There was a comparable explosion of document automation companies over the last fifteen years; the market remains small in comparison to the market for legal technology generally, but has matured in terms of the number of players.

Document automation includes creation, analysis, and management of documents. Document creation includes power drafting and auto assembly.  Analysis might include disassembly of clauses within an document, or validation, or meaning extraction. Document management might include storage and tracking of the documents themselves, or of the legal obligations therein.

Mr. Lauritsen mentioned that the remaining document automation vendors cover a wide range of use-cases:

·         Content Bundles such as Smokeball (for small law firms)
·         Legal Services—LawHelp (there is huge latent demand for intelligent legal documents serving middle- and lower-income people).
·         Automated Legal Reasoning—Neota Logic
·         Document Analysis / Benchmarking—KM Standards
·         Software Management-style Document Assembly--CommonAccord

Going forward, Mr. Lauritsen suggested that there will be innovations in collaborative online drafting, with intermixture of freeform drafting and Q & A. Computers might suggest reuse of a clause, or might raise an alert when a drafter attempts to define a term already defined. The growth of interactive systems will change the nature of practice. (Ed.—his thoughts here reminded me of Kasparov's notes about computer-assisted chess, where amateurs working with three weak computer programs were able to beat grandmasters playing without computers as well as the most powerful chess-playing computers playing alone).

Are we free to code the law?

Mr. Lauritsen has recently written on the legal implications of online legal software. Should it be suppressible as the unauthorized practice of law?  Mr. Lauritsen has forcefully argued that it should not.

A Vendor’s Perspective On Document Automation

Terry Lee spoke about the development of a successful document automation company, Exari. While I knew that Exari is a serious competitor in the law firm document assembly market, I confess I was surprised at the extent to which its services have been adopted outside of legal organizations such as law firms, and at the major drivers for its adoption.

Exari started out in Australia, then it went to London; then the big banks realized they needed auditable ways to create documents.  They work with 15-20 of the largest firms, but their clients also include large banks which use Exari for onboarding documents and the like. The prime driver is auditability and control rather than efficiency (though it is more efficient).  Most of the time lawyers are involved, but the market has expanded well beyond law firms and legal organizations; They've automated non-disclosure agreements. 

A collaborative portal allows two people to work on a document at the same time.  There's been some talk about collaboration at the industry level. Exari is all .xml behind the scenes. It is all browser-based, with creation, editing, and approving documents all possible through iPads and the like.

Mr. Lee described a typical adoption process for Exari. It might start with in-house lawyers using the forms; then lawyers getting the people in the line of business to use the forms; then the line-of-business people getting the corporation's clients or vendors to fill out the forms. 

Document automation in smaller firms is often integrated with practice management software.  Exari doesn't itself provide practice management software or target smaller firms.

Exari has partnered with Vermont Law School to develop a course on how to use document automation; they've hired the first person to come out of that program. 

Who Should Innovate? Legal Practice vs. Legal Education vs. Legal Vendors

Prof. DeStefano founded the “LawWithoutWalls” program at the Miami University School of Law.  She has a very unusual background with a combination of non-legal advertising experience, legal practice, and academic excellence.

She suggested that legal educators and legal practitioners are blaming each other for the legal industries’ failure to innovate and meet clients’ 21st century needs, with questions like “When are legal educators going to train young people to be 21st century lawyers?” and “When will practicing lawyers start to innovate?” Rather than mutual finger-pointing, she argues for cooperation between the academy and practitioners to develop young lawyers and legal technologies that will meet future needs. She calls for more permeability between law providers and law schools, and also law-related service providers like Exari.

An example of that permeability is her program’s partnership with the international “Magic Circle” firm Eversheds, where that firm provides funding and expertise and obtaining opportunities for its lawyers to work with legal innovators and law students. She believes that an LPO will likely partner with a law school. 

Despite vast and continuing improvements in technology, there will still be economic activities like litigation funding that people with law degrees will be able to do better than others. 

Prof. DeStafano acknowledges that we don’t know what the entire range of future legal careers will be. How can we train lawyers for jobs that haven't been created yet? She suggests that students need to learn higher-order skills such as cultural competency or creating a business plan through attempting them, though they may fail at first.

Networking & Next Event

As can happen at meetings with a lot of bright people from diverse backgrounds, the chance to chat in small groups afterwards was one of the most enjoyable aspects of the event. I talked to a former Microsoft in-house counsel (who was friends with my University of Michigan law school roommate), a solo practitioner who is moving into coaching startups on IP issues (and who blogs), Suffolk Law School deans, an experienced elder law attorney; and others.  My thanks to Suffolk for the generous donation of space and after-event food.

The next Boston Legal Innovation Meetup will be hosted by Northeastern School of Law on Wednesday September 11, 2013, and is titled “Legal Design: What Can Lawyers Lean From Design Thinking?” The event is public; simply obtain a meetup account and join the event (and group).