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Interoperability: Legal Tech's Future

by Larry Bridgesmith, JD | CEO of Legal Alignment

I recently learned a new word. A word I had been searching for a long time. A word and an image that captures a concept that legal technology must adopt for the sake of its future, its customers, their clients, access to justice and the economy.

Words like integration, customization, individualization all carry baggage and serious challenges in technology. They don't capture the concept I have been searching for. Interoperability does.

I encounterd the word at a conference recently held in Nashville convened by BTC Media and its Distributed Ledger media brand. The conference was held in Nashville's Schermerhorn Symphony Center focused on the topic Distributed: Health. Over 600 participants came from around the world to discuss and hack solutions to the immense problem posed by the lack of interoperability in health care.

An image shared at the conference is one I will never forget. One presenter asserted that the equivalent of two 747 passengers jets crash each day killing all on board due to the lack of interoperability in health care.

That's correct, over 1200 people die each day because critical medical technologies don't talk to each other or share data for the sake of the patient and the professionals serving them. In the average medical center, 70 to 100 life saving technologies are in use on a daily basis, but they don't share patient data. The allergies your treating physician has on record are not communicated to the emergency room personnel treating you after a automobile accident leaves you disabled and unable to answer questions about your medical history. Interoperability would assure that never happens.

Why? Of course, technical challenges are faced with data sharing across tech platforms. But that's child's play in technology terms. The real problem is the competitive self-interested nature of technology providers. Most want to be the only silver bullet, the chief health care technology and they don't care or know how to play nice with others.

Of course, that's not universally the case. There are laudible initiatives to break down the silos. Nashville's Center for Medical Interoperability is working hard to make the seamless exchange of medical information a reality. Some notable health care technologies are on board and are to be commended. However, it's a slow slog.

The Distributed:Health conference asked another question. Can blockchain technology expedite the process? Many in attendance believe the answer is a resounding "Yes". There is much about the traits of blockchain technology to suggest these enthusiasts might be correct. Blockchain technology has never been hacked. (Providers of blockchain applications have been hacked, but the underlying technology of blockchain has not.) It provides secure, encrypted, transparent, instantaneous and authenticated access to data in the chain without compromising the propriety technology that places it there.

However, there are cynics with reasonable objections as well. Gartner asserts blockchain technology is now experiencing the exponential uptick in the hype cycle. It is incumbent on all blockchain enthusiasts to minimize both the upside and downside of the hype cycle and reach the sustainability of solutions more rapidly with less chaos, over-promising and under-delivering.

A blockchain health hackathon held just prior to the conference demonstrated the power of the possibilities. See the slide deck presentation of the hackathon winners Veripharm for a vision of what health care interoperability might look like.

Whether through enlightened software providers realizing the need for data exchange through existing technology or the advanced use of blockchain technology, there is no good reason to allow 1200 people to die daily for lack of access to critical information which would save their lives.

The leap to law and its need for interoperability requires no suspension of disbelief. Clients, lawyers and the technology industry that serves them will all provide greater value, at less cost, with less error and greater efficiency when interoperability in the exchange of data related to legal matters becomes a reality. Each technology solution that joins in the interoperability ethosphere will become more valuable than it ever could by retaining its data (not its operating system) in an impenetrable silo.

Imagine a legal tech world in which the power of ROSS Intelligence's instant natural language legal research shared data with a lawyer at trial who also needed to access her firm's knowledge information repository through KIM Technology's artificial intelligence engine in the functional context of her trial presentation technology tool.

The possibilities are endless. Each lawyer could create his own practice specific dashboard with single sign on verification and find (or automatically be provided) all the data necessary to serve the client with little waste and great accuracy. Access to real time data is possible through the concept of interoperability. Does your trial opposition rely on a case the Ninth Circuit has ruled invalid just prior to closing arguments in your case? Interoperability will inform you in real time.

This transformation will speed access to justice, reduce the costs of legal service for those who pay for it, improve the profitability for those who provide it and begin to narrow the inexcusable 80% gap for those who currently have no access to legal professional assistance. In doing so it will also provide more work to lawyers who fear the pie of legal services is shrinking.

Instead of fighting over a larger piece of an ever shrinking pie for which the math simply doesn't work, legal technology interoperability will make the pie bigger to the benefit of all in the legal service delivery industry.

Let's get on board for creating a vibrant, efficient, trustworthy, secure, client focused Boeing 747 legal technology environment that reaches its intended destination rather than one which crashes and burns.

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