I just returned home after four days in New York City for LegalWeek2020. LegalWeek is one of the biggest and most well-known legal tech conferences more info. While there are other conferences, LegalWeek is more eDiscovery and vendor orientated. CLOC, for example, focuses more on substantive issues surrounding legal ops. ABA’s TechShow is designed to get basic information to a broad audience.

LegalWeek is geared more toward larger commercial law firms. It’s the tech show for the AmLaw 200. Yes, there is good substantive programming, but  it’s also the opportunity for tech vendors to sell their wares to big law. Plenty of sales meetings, plenty of parties, plenty of marketing speak. It’s appropriate that’s in held in New York where everything is big, expensive and the hustle is always on.

Don’t get me wrong. The show is valuable because it tells you what’s going on in this upper-end law firm and business market. What people in this market are interested and thinking. There is no better place to get these insights. And yes, I attend every year.

So, what were my impressions this year? Here’s my top five

One of my former partners asked me one time why legal tech can’t work more like Google? It sounds like legal tech vendors are getting that message.

Ease of Use. Legal tech is finally starting to realize the key to lawyer adoption is ease of use. We don’t have time to spend hours learning and operating technology. And for those of us who bill by the hour, learn, and operating tech is nonbillable. Every minute spent doing this costs us money. I heard several times from well-respected vendors who are resigned to the need for ease of use. They understand the need to take on the complicated operation and infrastructure of technology, so their customers don’t have to. Vendors like Relativity, who recently announced  a cloud-based product priced on a pay as you go basis for customer convenience. I heard it from Neota Logic, (Neota is a no-code AI automation platform, providing professionals with a wide range of tools to build applications that automate services). Neota recently came out with Canvas, a drag and drop workflow templates that lets customers and lawyers initially create applications on their own. Neota technicians then supply the technology to make it work. I heard it from Lexis Nexis representatives. LexisNexis is hard at work on a natural language type bot for use by their customers to make search inquiries easier. One of my former partners asked me one time why legal tech can’t work more like Google? It sounds like legal tech vendors are getting that message.

Data Rules. It’s clear vendors appreciate that if they want to sell products or convince customers of anything, they better have data to back up their claims. You see this in survey after survey by big tech companies like Lex Machina (usage of data analytics). CaseText and Wolters Kluwer. The sales pitch used by Dan Broderick, CEO of Blackboiler, is a good example. Broderick shows a customer with real data exactly how much his contract automation product will save his customers. I can’t help but wonder how many law firms use data in their marketing pitches. How many take the opportunity to use data to show how their technology and work processes translates into savings for clients? Will ALSPs realize the business opportunity that eDiscovery and document management provide? I think, yes.

Will ALSPs realize the business opportunity that eDiscovery and document management provide? I think, yes.

Collaboration. Another of my former partners was fond of saying always try to become knowledgeable and get control of your client’s documents. It will make you become indispensable. By that, he meant you would get such great insights into your client’s problems and business that you will be in a unique position to provide advice. I heard over and over from eDiscovery product providers the same sort of idea. They want to work directly with the clients to control and manage their documents. And since more and more clients are dictating what eDiscovery provider their law firms will use, these eDiscovery providers have the opportunity to become more like alternative legal service providers. To add value by knowing and understanding their clients’ documents. Will ALSPs realize the business opportunity that eDiscovery and document management provide? I think, yes.

Security. Really? Seems like every sales pitch I listened too included something like, “Oh yeah, we are really secure, and you never have to worry.” Or: “Yeah, we can monitor all your employees’ emails to see what they are up to. But don’t worry, we really respect their privacy” I suspect these guys doth protest a little too much. Time will tell whether this is just politically correct tech speak or whether vendors sincerely want to protect security and respect privacy.

The best of times? The worst of times? Over and over, I heard vendors and pundits say they were optimistic and that times are finally changing. That law firms and in-house departments are starting to understand the efficiencies and improvements that technology and better processes can bring. But I’m not so sure.I spoke to Dan Linna on the last day of the show on the exhibit floor. Dan is one of the more astute people in the innovation space I know and who runs the Innovation Score Card. Dan said, you know we all keep going to these shows and keep saying the same thing. But no one ever offers any proof that change is actually happening.

Many law firms are all too willing to say they are innovative and deliver value. But too few want to do it.

Indeed, what evidence there is tempers optimism. For example, A 2019 Altman Weil survey shows 69% of partners resist most change efforts. 60% of partners have no idea what they could do differently. 65% say there is no economic pressure to change. 59% say clients aren’t asking for change. According to an Intapp 2019 study, while 86% of law firms think automation is important to deliver insights to clients, only 18% have taken steps to do so. A Bloomberg Law survey from last year shows 54% of law firms use no AI or machine learning.

And even these numbers may be conservative. Many law firms are all too willing to say they are innovative and deliver value. But too few want to do it.

The bottom line for me: the show demonstrated some good things going on in the industry: better and more intuitive technology. Better use of data, at least by vendors and businesses. More involvement in document management as a tool to offer better business advice, at least on the vendor side.

But there are still some yellow lights. Possible lip service to security and privacy that, if true, could come back to haunt in very big ways. And still the apparent reluctance to change by too many law firms and a hesitancy to demand change by too few businesses.

We may still have a ways to go.