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Breaking Down Silos Between Tech, Firms, and Academia to Achieve Innovation

by Larry Bridgesmith and Cat Moon

This article originally appeared on lawdotcom.

The essence of legal economics is professional excellence in legal service delivery embedded in a sustainable business model. In recent years, there has been a significant focus on the latter while assuming the existence of the former. To improve the delivery of legal services, innovation in law must take into account the conflicting silos of law schools, legal practice and legal technology. Collaboration among these essential components of today’s legal practice is critical.

The Second Machine Age may be the most influential book we have read this decade. The authors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee (both computer scientists at M.I.T.) make a compelling case for a radical shift in commerce, culture, and professional services needed to succeed in an exponential age of technology development and the explosion of information. In the authors’ view, the first half of the machine age (from the advent of the steam engine until 2006) was a journey of human progress in a predictable linear line. Characterized by competition and scarcity, the first half of the machine age was a winner-take-all approach to success and achievement.

Arrival in an exponential age does not take place in an instant, but at a rate of change measured by the proverbial “hockey stick.” When the rate of change begins to double in decreasing segments of time, the early stages of change look very much like the linear era. However, after passing “the knee of the curve,” the impact of change becomes unforeseeable.

As further evidence of our entry into an exponential age, the global leaders of the IBM Watson Legal initiative recently forecast a digital exponential age will be reached by 2020 at which time the digital data generated by a global computing capacity will double in volume each day. Unassisted human minds alone are incapable of translating that degree of information into meaningful action.

Consequently, The Second Machine Age suggests that competition will no longer reign supreme. Rather, collaboration will be the characteristic of human achievement in an exponential age.

Indeed, the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management and Deloitte just released “Redesigning Work,” its special report on redesigning work in light of these foundational challenges to the way in which work is done.

According to the report, the key characteristics of how work is done in an exponential age include:

  • Design thinking
  • Agile methodologies
  • Cognitive diversity
  • Computational engagement

These traits require a collaborative workplace in which various disciplines “come to the table” as equals, capable of learning from colleagues with different training and skill sets in order to solve increasingly complex problems.

Historically, a collaborative mindset has been foreign to the practice of law. To be both professionally excellent and to maintain a sustainable business model requires more than legal expertise alone. Lawyers in an exponential age must learn from and work with other disciplines which inform the business of law in service of the client.

Unfortunately, legal business and the profession maintain their own silos within the separate silo of law. Traditionally, law schools have taught legal theory and precedent but have not prepared law students to practice law. Law firms and legal departments are under increasing pressure to deliver legal services “better, faster and cheaper” with no compromise in quality. Preparing young lawyers to practice law well is an investment of time which must produce quick returns on investment. Likewise, legal technology, although burgeoning in recent years, tends to provide “bright shiny new things” that are not always consistent with the way lawyers practice law and the manner in which clients expect legal services to be delivered.

The time for promoting collaborative working relationships in the delivery of legal services has arrived. To maximize the potential for working well with other professional disciplines (i.e. design thinking, agile methodologies, neuroscience and computer technologists), the three core silos in law (law schools, legal practice and legal tech) first must demonstrate a capacity to do so themselves.

The notable innovations taking place in the legal industry today demonstrate this reality and encourage more to come.

Law Schools

A number of law schools have staked their claim to legal innovation by adding multi-disciplinary courses to their curriculums. Several schools are now offering courses in design thinking, legal project management, computational law and other interrelated disciplines. However, American Bar Association law school guidelines disfavor law school instructors who are not themselves lawyers. Although sound in theory, this practice discourages viewing other disciplines as valid. To move fully into the experiential form of legal instruction required to help prepare law students for the practice of law in a more relevant fashion, law schools need to create meaningful roles for those whose expertise is critical to the level of service clients expect from “today’s lawyer.”

Legal Technology

Legal tech has enjoyed a spurt of investment and development activity in recent years. However, lawyers complain that legal tech is not intuitive nor does it work in the way lawyers need it to work. Technology architects and engineers have great ideas and deliver amazing products. However, unless built and configured to work like lawyers and their clients need them to work, they are not very useful. Collaboration with practicing lawyers is necessary to improve the tools of legal tech.

Legal Practice

In-house and outside lawyers are under great pressure to deliver high-quality legal services in a less costly and more efficient manner. Law schools and legal tech can assist in this journey if they join the practicing lawyer to understand and deliver their unique brand of services in collaboration with the users of those services.

To advance this effort, Vanderbilt Law School will host the Summit on Law & Innovation in Nashville on April 30, 2018. Bringing together an interactive global group of legal, academic and technology professionals, we will explore and engage in designing ways to bring down the walls of our silos and improve collaboration among the professionals responsible for innovating in an exponential era.

Larry Bridgesmith, JD, is an adjunct professor and coordinator of the Program on Law & Innovation at Vanderbilt Law School. A practicing lawyer for 40 years, Larry is the CEO and co-founder of Legal Alignment developing DASH, an AI technology for lawyers and their clients to help improve the delivery of legal services.

Caitlin (Cat) Moon, MA JD, teaches legal design at Vanderbilt Law School and counsels law schools, firms, and corporate legal departments on bringing their work into alignment with the 21st century using the tools and mindsets of human centered design. With Larry, she is a co-founder of Legal Alignment.

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