The Loom team was at the New Frontier of Legal Innovation conference at MaRS yesterday. The conference featured some amazing expert panelists, and Aron Solomon, Jason Moyse, and Krista Jones all did a wonderful job of moderating throughout. As someone who has attended plenty of conferences that have run well over their scheduled time, being at a conference that was consistently running on time (and sometimes ahead of time!) felt like nothing short of a miracle.
Individually highlighting all of the fantastic, thoughtful presentations I saw yesterday would make for far too long a blog post, so instead, here are some of the broader themes from the conference that resonated with me:
UX, UI, and Depth
One most consistent themes of the conference was the challenge of designing good UX and UI. This topic came up in panel after panel. It's also something that's a major focus for us at Loom right now. The current version of our website allows you to create some pretty in-depth, highly customizable reports -- but trust me, we'd be the first to admit the learning curve for a new user is rough. We're actively working on it! Creating more intuitive UX and UI design is one of our top concerns at the moment.
One of the big takeaways from the conference is that balancing depth and versatility with usability is a challenge industry-wide. One speaker from a legal tech company said that one of the most frustrating things was a client calling to cancel their service saying, "I just wish it did [X]!" and the company's response would be... "Well, it does!"
Part of the issue is that, as Monica Goyal said yesterday, legal tech is undercapitalized. Good design is expensive and resource-intensive, and legal tech companies often are in the position of having to make tough calls about where to direct their resources. Hopefully this will become less and less of a pervasive problem as the industry continues to grow.
Useful Metrics vs. Vanity Metrics
In the "Big Law is Dead" panel, Matthew Peters of McCarthy Tetrault talked about how lawyers and firms should be leveraging data instead of just 'going by feeling'. However, on the same panel, Joshua Kubicki of Seyfarth Shaw talked about "vanity metrics" that are nice to have for promotional purposes, but aren't necessarily useful in presenting an accurate picture of performance. Not all data is created equal.
At Loom, we're very focused on trying to provide analytics that are not just flashy or attention-grabbing, but actually useful. The key overarching question for all big data and metrics companies has to be: how can my numbers deliver concrete, usable information that can drive high-quality decision-making?
Trolls or Test Group?
Unexpectedly, I found one of the most interesting aspects of the day was following the legal tech-critical Twitter peanut gallery. A small group of lawyers who weren't present for the conference were following the proceedings from afar and spent a couple of hours joining the social media conversation and tempering some of the legal tech optimism.
A lot of discussions about the legal tech client base frequently (and I think often misguidedly and unfairly) bemoan their perceived tech skills gap. You've heard it before: how do you sell a tech product to someone who barely understands how to Google, etc. etc. ad infinitum. Of course, a lack of tech fluency in the legal sphere is a genuine issue, and it's one that is certainly not confined to particular generations. As Casey Flaherty said during yesterday's Legal Tech panel, "The digital native is mostly a myth. Much of [their perceived tech fluency] is consumption or rudimentary content creation like Instagram."
But the other side of the coin is that there are a lot of lawyers that are very fluent in technology and have a solid understanding of social media. And what some of those lawyers were saying yesterday was: we understand legal technology, we just haven't been seeing a lot of value. That's a much more difficult and nuanced problem to tackle. If the legal tech industry is serious about delivering products that add real value to a legal practice, these are voices we should be paying attention to (as opposed to dismissing them out of hand as trolls, as can be tempting).
Tech Beyond Twitter
Plus there's nothing like a good, healthy dose of skepticism to liven things up. As a bit of a security geek, I'll take any opportunity I can to evangelize about the need for lawyers to have minimum technology competence in order to protect their clients. Especially in light of some of the more recent high-profile leaks, I think a serious focus on data security and encrypted communication should be far more ubiquitous than is currently the case. I emphatically agree with Jordan Furlong when he says:
Technology as a testable core competence. Only in law could this be something we have to persuade ourselves to accept. #LexTech16
— Jordan Furlong (@jordan_law21) April 26, 2016
But I also have to admit I did laugh at this response:
Client the other day told me he'd rather die on death row than work with a lawyer who wasn't on Twitter. https://t.co/EVg0az6ilS #LexTech16 — Mark W Bennet Esq (@freespeechdog) April 26, 2016
It's a good illustration of a common attitude to tech, and one of the challenges for legal tech going forward is going to be uncoupling "tech" from "Twitter" and getting past the association with social media-style tech that is perceived to be dilettantish, frivolous, or just plain unuseful.
Keeping it Going!
The day ended with an exhortation to keep the discussions going, and I really hope the conversation continues. The nature of a single-day event like this means that there's so much that deserves further, more in-depth discussion.
Thanks to all the incredible participants, moderators, and organizers. We had a great time and hope to see everyone at the next Legal Tech conference in Vancouver!