Legal Tech

Episode 27: Chuck Fox on Virtual Reality for Legal Teams

In Episode 27 we talk to Chuck Fox, Director of the Visualization Practice Group at Engineering Systems Inc. (ESI). Chuck explains how his team creates 3D models and virtual reality applications to help lawyers better understand their cases and demonstrate to judges and juries how situations occurred.

Chuck explains that VR modeling starts with laser scan data that is turned into a point cloud and loaded into software to create the VR environment.

Chuck and ESI have been hired by lawyers to create VR models for injury cases and also patent cases. Chuck believes that VR also presents an opportunity to recreate situation for insurance claims handling and create training models for insurance claim adjusters.

Learn more about Chuck or connect with him on LinkedIn.

 

Videos of ESI’s Virtual Reality Technology

 

Things We Talk About in This Episode:

Point Clouds

Laser Scanners

Conspicuity

Oculus

 

Episode Credits

Editing and Production: Grant Blackstock

Theme Music: Home Base (Instrumental Version) by TA2MI

Image above Giphy

 

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Episode 26: Nathan Wenzel on The Journey of a Legal Tech Start-up

We headed to Silicon Valley to chat with SimpleLegal founder Nathan Wenzel in Episode 26. Nathan has a great legal tech start-up story–from idea to acquisition.

SimpleLegal provides legal operations software to help corporate legal teams run their departments, manage their legal operations and monitor finances. (This type of software is sometimes referred to as ELM software or “enterprise legal management” software.)

The early days of SimpleLegal were spent at Y Combinator, Silicon Valley’s highly respected start-up accelerator. The company was one of the first legal tech companies YC accepted. After completing the program, Nathan and his team raised seed round funding and then a $10 million Series A round to grow the company.

Fast forward to 2019 and Onit came knocking. Onit is another company providing enterprise software for in-house legal departments and legal ops teams. Onit acquired SimpleLegal in May, 2019.

Nathan talks about his legal tech journey and what it was like to raise money when investors were not as familiar with legal technology companies.

Learn more about SimpleLegal, and be sure to check out their great blog covering legal ops and in-house legal topics. The company also has a great legal ops resource center too.

Things We Talk About in This Episode

Tech Crunch
Paul Graham’s Essays
SAFE (simple agreement for future equity)
Convertible debt
4 Lessons Learned While Raising $10M: Getting an Enterprise Software Company Funded (Article by Nathan)

 

Episode Credits

Editing and Production: Grant Blackstock

Theme Music: Home Base (Instrumental Version) by TA2MI

 

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Episode 25: Neil Irwin On Successful (Legal) Careers in the Modern Economy

In Episode 25, we talk to New York Times Senior Economics Correspondent Neil Irwin about his book, How to Win in a Winner-Take-All World: The Definitive Guide to Adapting and Succeeding in High-Performance Careers.

To write the book, Neil interviewed successful employees with companies in various industries–from Microsoft to a company running popular New York City eateries.  He wanted to understand what made these people successful in the modern economy–an economy driven by automation, “gig” jobs and dominated by “winner take all” companies (companies that dominate an industry like Google, Facebook and Walmart).

Neil figured out that successful professionals are often “glue people.” People who can communicate across varying job types and roles. Glue people are effective communicators because they are flexible, held varying types of positions in their career and understand the economics of their company.

What does this have to do with legal tech and legal innovation? Quite a bit.

The legal industry is not immune to economic changes affecting other industries. Technology and automation are changing the way lawyers work. To be a successful lawyer nowadays, it takes exposure and skills outside traditional lawyering (like understanding project management and being tech savvy–or, being a “unicorn lawyer”).

In his book,  Neil ultimately concludes that for people adopting the right mindset, economic changes impacting the modern career path are positive. Those that are flexible, willing to make the effort to stay ahead of industry trends and who also understand what really drives business to their organizations are poised to succeed.

Learn more about Neil.

Things We Talk About in This Episode

Glue People

Eric Schmidt’s take on Glue People

Vilfredo Pareto

Pareto Optimal

Laszlo Bock 

Episode Credits

Editing and Production: Grant Blackstock

Theme Music: Home Base (Instrumental Version) by TA2MI

 

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Episode 23: Jim Doppke on the Ethics of Legal Tech (and the Duty to Supervise Robots)

Legal ethics attorney Jim Doppke returns for an encore appearance in Episode 23. Jim discusses the impact that legal tech and legal innovation have on the Rules of Professional Conduct and other rules that govern how lawyers practice law.

Jim explains how Model Rules of Professional Conduct 1.1 (Lawyer’s Duty of Competence) and  5.3 (Responsibilities Regarding Nonlawyer Assistance) are implicated by advances in legal technology and legal innovation. A comment to Rule 1.1 (and adopted by most states) says that as part of a lawyer’s duty of competence, lawyers must stay abreast of changes in technology.

Rule 5.3 states that lawyers must actively supervise “non-lawyer” assistance they engage to help out on legal matters. Historically, this meant that lawyers needed to supervise others lending them a hand–like a paralegal. However, Jim points out that the rule specifically relates to “assistance” and not just “assistants”.

This is significant, because certain legal tech, like artificial intelligence (AI), is really non-lawyer “assistance.”  So, as Jim points out, if lawyers are going to use AI, they must supervise the training of the algorithms to ensure accuracy, just like they are obligated to supervise the work of their paralegals and other assistants to make sure their work is accurate.

In a similar vein, Jim points out that as the use of ALSPs (alternative legal service providers) increases, there too is another situation in which lawyers must supervise work done by those who may not be attorneys.

Learn more about Jim.

Legal Tech Founder Segment: Jeffrey Eschbach of Page Vault

In the legal tech founder segment, we talk to Jeffrey Eschbach, the founder of Page Vault. Page Vault software permits users to capture webpages and social media for use in legal matters. The captures are forensically sound, delivered in pdf format and include vital metadata strengthening evidentiary value. 
 
 
 

Things we talk about in this episode:

Model Rules of Professional Conduct

Soundgarden

States Adopting Comment 8 to Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.1

AI – Artificial Intelligence

State Bar of California Request for Comment to Permit Investment in Law Firms by Non-Lawyers

Episode Credits

Editing and Production: Grant Blackstock

Theme Music: Home Base (Instrumental Version) by TA2MI

 

Episode Transcript

 

Chad: I’m Chad Main, and this is the Technically Legal podcast. A podcast about the intersection of technology and innovation in the practice of law. Jim is an ethics attorney, and on this episode he and I talk about the impact of technology and innovation on the rules that govern how lawyers operate. In our Legal Tech Founders segment, we talk to Jeffrey Eschbach. He’s the CEO of Page Vault, an app that lets lawyers easily capture web content and social media posts for use in legal matters.

Jim Doppke was my very first guest on the very first episode of this podcast, so this is kind of an encore performance. He practices with the law firm of Robinson, Stewart, Montgomery & Doppke here in Chicago. The firm’s sole focus is on legal ethics. They counsel attorneys on ethical issues and also represent them when they get into trouble for running afoul of the rules of professional conduct that govern how lawyers do their work. These rules of professional conduct are the very reason I wanted to get Jim back on the podcast. As tech and innovation changes the way lawyers work, the rules of professional conduct themselves are also changing in response to tech and innovation.

I think lawyers are generally aware that the ethics rules are changing, but this episode, I wanted to focus on what these changes really mean in practice with real-world examples that lawyers might face in their day-to-day work, but before we talked about that, we got a little sidetracked.

College Radio DJ

Chad: You were a radio disc jockey in college, right?

Jim Doppke: I was.

Chad: Yeah. So was I. What kind of music did you play?

Jim: I did two shows. I had one on an FM station and one on an AM station. The FM station, my specialty thing was I did a blues show, and I tried to go hardcore, old Chess Chicago blues and acoustic blues and things like that, but you also had to do a classical show if you had any kind of show on that station, so I did that too.

Chad: Classical music.

Jim: Yeah, so I did that too. And the other one was our AM station. This was not the official motto, but the motto that my friends and I made up was “Six watts of pure power.” And I don’t think I reached to the building across from me. The FM one could go all the way into Michigan. The AM one, I don’t think even reached my dorm. But that was just almost anything goes except unless, of course, it had swear words. This was a Catholic college after all. So that was it.

Chad: What kind of music did you play on the AM station?

Jim: Oh, I was very into post-punk like Replacements, Hüsker Dü, things like that, but just anything else that struck my fancy, and I tried to make it all fit. I broke the band Nirvana, if you ever heard of them.

Chad: You personally did.

Jim: I don’t usually want to take credit, but I played their records. What can I tell you? Then they got huge. That’s… You know?

Chad: So it’s funny you bring up Nirvana because I was just about to say you play the classical, you play the blues. My days as a college disc jockey… Actually, I started in high school. We’re not as sophisticated. I played all the ’80s metal. At its peak. The Crew, the Priest, even later into the ’80s too, where it got a little weaker, but yeah.

Jim: Nice. I’m getting together with one of my old roommates who was super into heavy rock and metal at that time, and he was… Soundgarden like changed his life, such that he would play it at 10 o’clock in the morning, and I’m like, “This is really dreary music for 10 o’clock in the morning.” We did not dig that, my roommates and I, but that’s okay. And he also… I was refreshing myself in anticipation of seeing him on the kinds of music we listened to, and I found Queensrÿche, Operation: Mindcrime.

Chad: I just listened to that the other day with Jim.

Jim: Did you really?

Chad: Yeah, of all places. And it’s funny you bring up Soundgarden, because… and it’s funny you bring up Nirvana and the change of the guard from the excess ’80s metal to the grunge movement that was kind of anti-that, but… Because the first time I heard of Soundgarden, I was… obviously I was still in high school and really into metal, but you know how I heard about it was an interview with Axl Rose in Hit Parader magazine. It might have been Circus. There was those magazines, those metal magazines, and they asked him who he was listening to and he said Soundgarden. This is like ’86, ’87, so way before Big Love and they started to get some notoriety at Sub Pop and stuff, so.

Jim: Right. That would have been like pre-Louder Than Love, even. Ultramega OK.

Chad: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Louder Than Love, not Big Love. Yeah, definitely.

Jim: Nice. Yeah, no, Louder Than Love was the one that echoed through my room all the time. And that’s okay. I liked it. It’s fine, but my guy was just way into it.

Chad: And it’s got the song that you could not play on the AM station.

Jim: Correct. Correct. That was one… If you had one of those, you didn’t… Half the time I didn’t even realize or you don’t realize until it’s on and then we had a policy of what you had to do, which was turn it down, fade it out, and say, “Sorry about that. You won’t hear that song again on our airwaves,” or something like that.

Chad: And did you major in music?

Jim: No, I majored in English and Classical Greek. I tried to find the least practical majors I could, and that’s what I came up with.

Chad: How do you go from college radio DJ majoring in English and Classical Greek to law?

Jim: Oh, you know, a series of unfortunate events, I guess. I was doing the liberal arts stuff and I was good at it, but I didn’t feel like I had the kind of creativity or new ideas I would want in order to be able to advance in it, and I wasn’t sure I’d be a good teacher of it either, which was like the obvious career path, you know? So I didn’t know… I don’t want to say I didn’t know what else to do, because I had an idea about why I wanted to go to law school, which was I wanted to learn about how the world works, you know? I didn’t know that, and I had ideas about how I thought the world should be, as you do when you’re a senior in college, and I thought I need to know things about that, rather than just about books and stuff.

Jim: And so I was able to go, and my goal was to be a legal aid attorney and I actually did that. So I wound up doing that for three years, so that was something that I pursued. It wasn’t… It’s easy to say I was casting about for something to do and I found that, like a lot of liberal arts majors say after they go into law, but I don’t really feel that way. I really was goal directed. I really had an idea, and I was able to basically achieve that.

Chad: Goal directed. But aren’t you still? Because in some ways it’s not legal aid. Attorneys can help themselves, obviously, but… Well, [inaudible 00:06:31].

Jim: Sometimes.

Chad: But you’re still in a area of law, that of ethics, legal ethics. It’s still… It’s to help the individual, you know? To the lawyers that need guidance so they’re doing the right thing or maybe if they run astray. So I don’t see… They’re not that unlike.

Jim: In some ways, yeah. I mean the work I did at ARDC, I still counted that as public interest work. It was government work, first of all, and-

Chad: And the ARDC is like the Illinois governing body for attorneys, similar to the State Bar of California.

Jim: Correct, and I did that for almost 15 years and that was public interest work. That was doing right by the profession and the public as I saw it, and the work I do not is just the flip side of that. It is helping. It is a bit less of a triage situation than legal aid was. It’s less of an emergency situation than legal aid is. Half the time you’d get a call and somebody’s being put out of their house right then or an emergent family situation is happening. You’d have to help with it. But this is not quite that, but it is helping. I still feel like it’s a service to the profession, just from a somewhat different angle. It’s one that’s even a bit richer than what I did previously.

Jim: I’m more connected even now to the profession than I was before, even though I sort of represented the profession before in a way, I feel more of a kinship with it now than I ever have because I talk to lawyers all the time and I learn what’s on their mind. I learn what their struggles are. I let them talk to me, and complain, and argue with me sometimes, but also just tell me what’s on their minds and I try to alleviate the stress if I can, in my way.

What’s Changed Since Adoption of Lawyers’ Duty of Tech Competence/Duty to Supervise Artificial Intelligence

Chad: So it’s probably about time we get to the point of their episode: tech in legal ethics. When I had Jim on the show a few years ago, we spent a lot of time talking about a change made to Rule 1.1 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct. Rule 1.1 focuses on a lawyer’s duty of competence. In short, the rule says lawyers better understand and know the particular type of law they are handling for a client, and if they don’t, they better hit the books and learn it, bring in someone to help that does know what they’re doing, or decline the representation entirely.

About seven or so years ago, the American Bar Association added language to the comments to Rule 1.1, stating that as a part of the lawyer’s duty of competence, they need to keep up with changes to technology and its impact on the law. So far, more than half of the United States have adopted this comment, made it a part of the rules that govern the attorneys that practice within their borders. Since the adoption of that comment a few years ago, use of technology has undeniably increased in the practice of law, as it has in the way we do our legal work. So that’s what Jim and I talked about. What’s changed since the adoption of the comment and also what’s changed since he was last on the podcast? One of the biggest changes, according to Jim, is the more prevalent use of artificial intelligence by attorneys.

Jim: Things are changing. The ethical duties that you have don’t change as much with the development of new technologies. They’re more or less the same duties, but they apply in different ways. They have different aspects to them as technology evolves and as the business marketplace evolves around those technological changes. So that’s what we’ll talk about today. One area I wanted to talk about in that respect was artificial intelligence and predictive coding. They kind of go together. You know a lot about predictive coding. But artificial intelligence, for example, I was reading a study by a company called QuisLex, which was founded by a number of former big law lawyers, and what they studied was abstraction tools for contracts, and that’s actually the business that QuisLex is in.

Jim: And they rated a number of the abstraction tools that are out there and rated them all according to different criteria. The conclusions that they drew were very interesting, and I would direct listeners to the study. The one that I thought was most relevant to what we’re talking about today is that they concluded that training AI, training the system and helping it develop the algorithms that it needs to do the tasks you want it to do, that is a skill that lawyers can have, and need to have if they’re going to employ these methods. And the reason I think that’s most relevant is because that seems, to me, to relate directly to Rule 1.1, which requires you to have the competence that’s necessary to carry out a representation and the skill that’s necessary as well, and if not, if you don’t have it, to develop those skills.

Chad: So what you’re saying there is if you’re using AI, be it predictive coding for a document review or maybe you’re even using it at least a first pass on contract analysis… So what you’re saying is if you, as a lawyer, don’t know how to train it, you need to bring in somebody that can or you need to learn how to train it. Is that what you’re saying? And if you don’t, maybe you are running afoul of 1.1 there. Is-

Jim: You’re in a risk area, yeah, for running afoul of the rule, because you have to figure out how this is going to work. If you go into an AI project for contract review or anything else without knowing that without having the skill to either train the AI yourself or to hire someone who can, then you run the risk of the project going off the rails and you not being able to manage it correctly, which then puts your interests at risk and your client’s interests at risk. So one way of looking at it is you have to do sort of due diligence on the AI methods that are going to be used, and on the AI providers that you’re using.

Jim: And we’ll talk about the duty to supervise those types of entities in a few minutes, but you have to ask how much time is going to be needed to train the AI? Initially or as it goes along. How do you improve it as it goes along? These are questions you can ask at the outset so that you can understand what kind of effort needs to be put into it, what kind of cost needs to be put into it, and how best to protect your client’s interests as the information you feed the AI system goes through the system.

Chad: The more I hear you discuss this, I think just that’s a perfect example of… Very few lawyers probably will or should actually figure out how to train the algorithm, the AI, but they should bring in someone to help them, but the person you bring in to help you is maybe not an attorney, and they’re not going to know the legal implications. So at that point the lawyer should step in and say, all right, here’s what’s important legally or factually. And so it’s like a team effort. So it’s the perfect example of Rule 1.1. You got to get up to speed a little bit and then bring in somebody else that maybe has skills you don’t have.

Jim: Right. Exactly. A lot of it is knowing what you don’t know. A lot of it is understanding the basics so that you can ask the right questions of the people who do know, and that, again, wraps in the concept of Rule 5.3, which is the duty to supervise non-lawyer assistance. Not assistants, the individuals, but assistance, as in the concept of the assistance that you’re getting from individuals or entities or whatever it is. And we often think of that rule as encompassing supervision of other humans, right? And working, as you say, as a team with other humans to guide a project to the right conclusion, and making sure as the lawyer that anyone you’re dealing with, when they do their tasks on it, that their conduct meets your ethical obligations.

Jim: That’s the technical obligation under Rule 5.3 but as I was preparing for our talk today, I thought what if Rule 5.3 means you also have to supervise non-human assistance?

Chad: Interesting, interesting.

Jim: The whole point of the project, of an AI project, is to train a machine to do what humans would otherwise be doing. That’s the whole reason you’re doing it. I don’t… I haven’t found any authority on this, and it’s not… I think a lot of a literature you read on AI and technological developments will emphasize the future of law is not robot lawyers, right? And so I don’t mean to suggest that we have to read Rule 5.3 to say that lawyers have to supervise robots. We’re getting pretty far afield here. But I think it’s fair to say the duty to supervise assistance that you get is a duty to be familiar with the technology as it’s working.

Jim: And the reason I thought of that is because, again, what I understand is that as an AI project progresses, the algorithm can learn more, and the system can learn more about, for example, what is relevant in an e-discovery project. It can learn more about how to sort the documents you’re asking it to sort, and you can train it more. And I think 1.1 and 5.3 should be read together to require the lawyer to continue to do just that, and continue to train the AI competently or have someone else do it so that the project can work to its best effect.

Chad: I think the good news is that these tools don’t work without the lawyer’s input. And what I mean by that is, and I think that it’s a really interesting point about do you have a duty to supervise the AI? But I think the good news is it’s baked into it for the most part. You got to have the attorney’s expertise. So for instance in electronic discovery, predictive coding, best practice there is you have one of the main attorneys on the case or the… if you’re using a company like mine, one of the lead attorneys that’s a subject matter expert in that particular case to train the algorithm.

Chad: For the contracts AI, what you usually do is you feed in a contract, and the lawyer goes in and puts in things to look for and what clauses. What’s going to meet the approved clauses in their playbook. So I think baked into how this AI works… lawyers can probably meet that, their duty, to supervise the robots.

Jim: Right, no, I think that’s true. And as you say, it requires continuous input, and nobody can just press a button and have the processes start and work the way they need it to, and I don’t think any lawyers really have that expectation. It’s not a set it and forget it, and the rules require you never to set it and forget it, whether we’re talking about supervising a paralegal, supervising a bookkeeper, or supervising an AI project. You can never just count on someone else to do it, and the older cases that implicate… disciplinary cases that implicate the supervisory rule are ones in which the lawyer did set it and forget it, allowed someone to manage a trust account, often a trusted advisor who then betrayed them, and that redounded on the lawyer’s disciplinary liability because they didn’t monitor what was going on.

Jim: They weren’t opening their own bank statements to find the theft. And I think lawyers have been sufficiently cautioned by those cases over the years not to do that, and to be aware of what their non-lawyer assistance is producing. And now we have to do that with software and technology as well.

Chad: 5.3, the duty to supervise non-lawyers, it’s assistance or assistants?

Jim: A-N-C-E.

Chad: Oh, assistance. [inaudible 00:17:40]. Yeah. So common refrain, and it’s… I agree that 150% is practice of law is a team sport now. It’s not just a lawyer and a paralegal and an executive assistant churning out opinions and briefs, whatnot. You need help with your software. So you need technologists. Maybe you need project management. So it seems to me, would you agree that maybe Rule 5.3 is going to become more prevalent in governing the conduct of attorneys as you bring more people from outside the legal realm to help with legal work?

Jim: Definitely. I think that recognition of that was behind the amendment of the rule to stop saying supervising lawyer assistants, A-N-T-S, as if we’re referring to the individuals, and now to say supervising lawyer… or non-lawyer assistance, A-N-C-E. I mean to supposed to say non-lawyer, I know.

Chad: No.

Jim: That’s a bad word these days, but forgive me. I’ve spent fifteen years saying non-lawyer. No, it is becoming more and more of a focal-point type of rule.

Chad: But again, that goes to the point, because historically, like, “Oh, you’re not a lawyer. You don’t understand. You can’t help with this.” But the reason that becomes… that non-lawyer becomes a faux pas to say is people with other skills are just as important to getting certain legal matters done now, and I think that the reason behind that is it’s a team sport now.

Jim: Absolutely. I was kidding myself a little bit, because it is a habit that I got into when I was a regulator to say that. We talked about the people we regulated and then we talked about not-that, so I got used to saying things like non-lawyers, but even in my private practice, I see the point. I’ve come to see the point through my own experience and through the eyes of others who interact with the profession. And I get the reason why non-lawyer is not really the right term anymore, or if it ever was, because it sounds exclusive. It sounds like you’re either in the guild or you’re not.

Legal Founder Segment: Jeffrey Eschbach, Founder of Page Vault

Chad: Let’s take five away from our talk with Jim Doppke, because now it’s time for our Legal Tech Founders segment. In this episode’s segment we’re talking to Jeffrey Eschbach. He’s the founder of Page Vault. That’s a tool that lets lawyers easily capture web content and social media posts. But before we get to my conversation with Jeff, I want to let you know if you want to get a hold of me or you want to learn more about my company, Percipient, you can shoot me an email at cmain@percipient.co. That’s C-M-A-I-N@percipient.co. You can catch me on Twitter at chad_main. There’s also a contact page on tlpodcast.com.

Chad: Additionally, if you go to tlpodcast.com, there’s a dedicated episode page for every one of our guests and every one of our episodes. You can find out more information about them, and also there’s links to stuff they talked about. So I encourage you, if you want to learn more, to go to tlpodcast.com. Okay. Without further ado let’s get to our Legal Tech Founders segment, where we’re talking to Jeffrey Eschbach, the founder of Page Vault. All right Jeff, thanks for being here today. Tell us a little bit about Page Vault.

Jeffrey E.: Sure. So Page Vault is a solution to collect content from the web for attorneys, primarily for use in the legal system. So it could be anything from preserving Facebook to websites, online videos. If it needs to be used for legal uses, Page Vault does that. Whether it’s through our software solution, [inaudible 00:20:47] attorneys can deploy in-house, or we’ve got outsource services where we can do it for them.

Chad: Now is it SaaS-based product?

Jeffrey E.: Yeah. So the product itself for what we deploy to our law firms, that essentially works like a browser. So if you think about firing up Chrome, instead of that you would fire up the Page Vault browser. It works just the same. You could navigate to any content. Again, a Facebook profile, a webpage, you name it. If you can surf to it our browser can reach it as well. When you actually see the content, there’s a button that says Capture. Click on that and then behind the scenes Page Vault does its thing to scroll through the content, collect it, preserve it, and eventually generate a great looking PDF output that can be used as an exhibit or it can be shared.

Chad: And one of the cool things and one of the main features of Page Vault is that it preserves all relevant metadata and the important information for evidentiary purposes. What all does it grab?

Jeffrey E.: Yeah. And that is [inaudible 00:21:39]. We have our one-two punch. It is the high-admissibility along with the ease of use and looks great. So on the admissibility side, for the metadata, it gets the basics that you need. You want the time stamp. You want the URL or the link name. You want to know what the browser type was. All those other little details, but when you boil it down if you know when and you know what you collected, you’ve got the heart of it. And we do that for any web collection that we get. So any webpage URL that comes along with it. In addition to that, we give affidavits all the time. So if you get under the hood, the way Page Vault works is we keep the users out of the chain of custody, which is crucial.

Jeffrey E.: No attorney wants to be having to testify for their own case, right? They want to put their own paralegals on the stand if something ever came to that. Usually they want essentially a trusted third party, and even for our software we deploy to the law firms, Page Vault, with our tech design, we serve as that trusted third party. So at the end of the day, you’re not in the chain of custody. Content goes straight from the web server, like Facebook, straight to our servers. We store it away, which means we can give an affidavit that says this is really what the website looked like.

Chad: Cool. So you’re not a lawyer. How’d you come up with the idea for Page Vault?

Jeffrey E.: That’s right. [inaudible 00:22:47]. Took a little while to ramp up in the legal space. We’ve been doing this for seven years, and at first it was more seeing the broad need in society. Things had kind of hit a tipping point where earlier, if there was something that was relevant or mattered to me in my life, it would be stored away in a filing cabinet or on my own hard drive. And more and more we started seeing that stuff that was really about me, by me, for me, things I cared about, were on the web. I had access through a browser. Whether that’s something in a social media profile. It could be pictures or photos about something I care about. Could be my bank account. Online video.

Jeffrey E.: We’re like wow, this stuff we no longer have under our control. Specifically it’s from friends in academia that wanted to preserve content, refer to content that was online and that content changed. Caused them some issues. Had some friends that were also doing… going through some family issues. They had child custody things, and they were like, “Oh my gosh, this social media profile, Facebook said something yesterday and now that post is gone. Boy, it would have been nice to have preserved that.” And we started seeing just that need to be able to say… Stamp of truth of this is what a webpage actually looked like or what it said at a particular point in time.

Jeffrey E.: And that general need led into Page Vault. You just got to say after that I’m a technologist, so my career is more on the tech side and how to implement things in a network, and knowing how to do this from a tech perspective, kind of seeing that problem, we put together our solution that, again, keeps the users out of the chain of custody. But it did take a while to go in and learn the legal space, and now we’ve got a great brand name. Very highly trusted. But it was an interesting space to kind of get into. But we’re very glad now that we focused very much on the legal space. So we pride ourselves on being the solution for law firms. Am Law 200 boutique firms. That’s what we specialize in providing help to.

Chad: Yeah, and that leads into my next question. Who are your biggest users? What type of lawyers?

Jeffrey E.: So you can get a range, but usually it ends up being someone with litigation, because they’ve got a need to collect content that’s on the web. If you have a contract lawyer, probably less of a need. So specifically insurance defense, trademark infringement, family law, employment law. If you just think on a daily basis there might be something on the web that’s relevant to them, that’s our bread and butter. And again, as far as the types of firms, we’ve served a majority of the Am Law 100. We’ve got great boutique firms as well. Solo practitioners. If that’s what they do and what matters on the web could be relevant to their cases, that’s who we serve.

Chad: Who’s not using Page Vault that should be?

Jeffrey E.: Well it’s interesting you say that. I’d still say the groups I just outlined are the correct groups, but it’s not always easy to reach and get your message out to every single attorney that’s out there. So I wouldn’t put it as a particular camp, but more there’s always an effort that we have to let people know about Page Vault and what we’re doing. We’re actually at a point now where we’ve got, again, a lot of users, and word is getting out, so it’s kind of nice to see people reaching out to us and we haven’t had to do any marketing directly to them. But end of the day, we know that there are a lot of people that struggle.

Jeffrey E.: They hit print screen all day long or they’re getting some off the shelf tool like Snagit. We hear all these stories about some poor paralegal [inaudible 00:25:54] poor person literally taking days trying to open every comment in a Facebook profile, and hitting print screen, and realizing later they missed things. Those people are out there, and those are the ones we want to raise awareness with.

Chad: Speaking of raising awareness, let’s get you some more users. If people want to learn more, where do they find you?

Jeffrey E.: Our website is www.page-vault.com. If you go and search on Page Vault, again, like a page of paper, and a bank vault, Page Vault on the web, you should find us without any trouble. They can reach out to us through web forms. So if they have a on-demand request, say something that they want us to collect, we have forms. You can make a submission, we’ll give you a free quote, and if you approve, then we’ll get the work turned around here in a couple days or faster if needed. They can call us. We get phone calls all the time with requests. Email address is on there as well. So all these different channels, you reach out to us, we pride ourselves on responding very quickly and taking care of our customers.

ALSP’s (Alternative Legal Service Providers)

Chad: Okay. It’s time to get back to our discussion with Jim Doppke. We spent a lot of time in this episode focused on lawyer’s ethical duties as they relate to technology, but it isn’t just technology that’s changing the way lawyers do their work. There’s innovation in other ways, such as clients working with ALSPs, that’s alternative legal service providers, or what some might call law companies. Or the way clients and law firms are looking to litigation funding companies to help cover costs. Innovation outside of technology and how it relates to legal ethics is a big reason I wanted to get Jim on the podcast again, because in our first go around we didn’t talk about it too much.

Jim: I don’t think the Rules of Professional Conduct impose a duty to innovate in your own practice, or even to know exactly how others are innovating. A lot of us are curious about that, and a lot of us want to innovate or be aware of the ways others are in order to improve how we do things, and that relates to AI-type projects or just new ways of doing trust accounting, or new products offered by banks that help you in different ways. It’s good to be aware of those things. I don’t know that I would say it’s a duty that flows from Rule 1.1 to do it.

Chad: Let me phrase the question a different way then, and we’re going to talk about, in a minute, alternative legal service providers. That’s an innovation, because that’s people and tech and the way legal work is getting done, and obviously I’m going to have some bias there, because it’s what my company does, but… and this is where this question’s coming from, probably the bias. Lawyers have a duty. We have a duty to act in the best interests of a client, correct?

Jim: Correct.

Chad: I think, undoubtedly, for certain legal matters, it’s in the best interests of our clients to innovate the way the work is getting done. So what about if I frame it that way? Does that implicate a lawyer’s duty to get something done, where they should bring in a piece of tech to help look at contracts, or they should bring in an alternative service provider to help get the work done, or they should bring in a product manager to streamline things, to save money and get the work done more efficiently?

Jim: I see the point, and I think you can argue that 1.1 and really Rule 1.3 which requires reasonable diligence, it at least requires you to think about those things. What is the best method of getting these things done? And as you say, it goes back to even the more general fiduciary duty concept of having the client’s best interests in mind as opposed to your own, and doing what needs to be done in order to advance the representation to best effect. And so in that sense, I see it. Again, I think a lot of lawyers have more of a concept of should I do it for my practice? Should I reorganize my business in a certain way to make things easier for me? But you can also say your duty to represent the client best is a duty to ensure that you at least consider comment 18 to Rule 1.1 requires you to consider the ways in which you can get benefits from relevant technologies.

Jim: There are also risks and the comment requires you to know about those too, but when it says that you need to understand the benefits of technology, maybe that’s what this really is. The benefits of perhaps engaging a new business system or a new idea for accomplishing a client’s goals.

Chad: So along those lines then, alternative legal service providers. They’re becoming more prevalent now. Much more used, thankfully, selfishly. What ethical obligations, what Rules of Professional Conduct are implicated there?

Jim: Well, again, Rule 5.3 is the big one here, because especially under the rewording of it encompass a wide variety of assistance that a lawyer can get, ALSPs are for sure falling within that category. And again, the duty under that rule is to make sure that any assistance you get is consistent with your own ethical obligations, and the more traditional views of the rule that that would mean making sure that someone else who you employ in whatever capacity isn’t doing something that you couldn’t do. That’s the traditional view of it. That’s how regulators have often thought of it.

Chad: Doing something wrong that you couldn’t otherwise do.

Jim: Right.

Chad: Not what you can’t do physically.

Jim: Oh, no, no, not what you’re not able to do, but what you must not do, in a ethical sense, in a moral sense. The paralegal can’t be going out and soliciting cases in a way that you can’t. The paralegal or other executive assistant can’t take money and do things with it that you can’t do. And you have to make sure that you have systems in place to ensure that they don’t do those things. That’s the real wording of the rule, and that is how it was typically thought of. That is the forcing of another person not to do certain things by means of a system or systems.

Chad: So you’re talking about stuff like if you’re using an ALSP the attorneys involved can’t have conflicts. Security. Make sure that they’re keeping client confidences confidentials.

Jim: That’s a big one, and that remains a big one. And none of that is off to the side or in the past now. That’s all still true, and that’s all still commensurate with your duty under rule 5.3, especially the confidences and some thoughts about how tech is implicated in all of that. But for ALSPs, I think the rule has a more diffuse kind of application, because there are so many ways now in which a lawyer can get assistance. Either on a case-by-case basis or with an ongoing relationship between the lawyer or firm and the ALSP, there are so many more things that ALSPs do now than the traditional lawyer assistant used to do that the rule can be applied in many different ways, and I think can be applied in a more positive kind of way as opposed to a negative framing.

Jim: That is, it’s not just about making sure the paralegal doesn’t do X bad thing. It’s about making sure that the ALSP is working toward the goal in the right way to make sure that nothing goes wrong. And-

Chad: What are you alluding to there? What would an attorney do to make sure they’re working to the goal in a proper manner?

Jim: Well, for example, let’s say you hire an ALSP to do due diligence on a merger and acquisition type of transaction. What is that going to involve? That’s going to involve the firm giving the ALSP information about the transaction that underlies it, or expecting that they will uncover information that isn’t yet known by the law firm. The lawyer’s duty under Rule 5.3 is going to require the lawyer to supervise the provision of that information and make sure that the ALSP has procedures in place to protect that information, to acquire that information in a reasonably secure way, and to transmit the information that they gather back to the law firm also in a secure way, and to ensure that the ALSP has appropriate policies about who owns that information and what happens to it at the termination of the project.

Jim: A lot of what I just said involves the lawyer’s duty to safeguard information under Rule 1.6. There could be other kinds of concerns that arise in the engagement that the lawyer has to focus on and make sure that the service provider is conversant with and understands. And that’s what I mean when I say there’s a positive aspect to it now. There’s a consultative aspect in which the lawyer is required not to supervise as a lawyer would supervise an employee, but, going back to the team concept, to confer with the service provider and make sure that they understand what the ethical parameters have to be so that they continue to act in a way that is consistent with the lawyer’s obligations.

Chad: On the topic of ALSPs, The State Bar of California just proposed a rule that would let non-lawyers, true non-lawyers, people that aren’t licensed attorneys, have ownership interests in law firms.

Jim: My understanding is that if those entities start to occur in America, that is if entities that are part-owned by non-lawyers or have non-lawyer participation but are engaged in the practice of law, that those entities will be regulated by some form of the professional regulators that we have now. That is the ARDC here in Illinois or The State Bar of California, or whichever entity it is would be given some power to regulate those companies just as law firms and lawyers are regulated. And the proponents of the establishment of those entities are arguing for that because, they say, those entities are going to be able to innovate and invest in processes and procedures in ways that lawyers can’t, and that that’s a good thing for the development of practice.

Jim: Essentially it would be like an ALSP merging with a law firm, in a way, or becoming part of a law firm and using outside funding that does not come from lawyers necessarily, outside capital, to fund the development of business processes for the ALSP that will benefit the law firm and its clients. It’s a powerful argument, and I do see these things changing at some point in America. I don’t know if it’s going to be this California proposal, or something else down the line. Not every bar association or regulatory entity is signing on to this, you know? And California is requesting comment about it, and I’m interested to see the comments as they develop. But there’s another view of it that says no, these things should still be separate.

Jim: It’s okay for lawyers to work with ALSPs and make sure that they supervise the ALSPs in appropriate ways, but to merge the two and have that outside capital infusion is too dangerous, because it allows for profit motive to govern decisions about what is best to do for the client.

Chad: Come on. Profits for partner. I mean-

Jim: I know.

Chad: The whole goal of the law firm, unless you’re a public interest law firm or a legal aid law firm, the whole goal of a law firm is to put money in the lawyer’s pockets at the end of the day.

Jim: Well, the rejoinder to it is, like you said, come on. The point is law firms are getting lapped by other entities that can innovate, streamline, and do better. And why should the legal profession hamstring itself because they’re not keeping up? Even the biggest funded and best earning and most wealthy firms can’t do what outside capital does with a IPO or with just a large infusion of money to help improve systems. They’re not doing that, and it’s because of this rule that restricts our ability to partner with non-lawyers. And it’s funny that… because when I was a regulator, I dealt with Rule 5.4. Had some cases in which I prosecuted violations of it. Had nothing to do with any of this.

Jim: It had to do with lawyers paying people to go and run cases in to them and refer cases to them and so forth, and we alleged that it a splitting of a fee in a way that was improper. It didn’t have anything to do with technology and innovation, and yet that’s the focal point of that rule now, and it should be. And I think the debate is healthy to have, and I do think it’s one of those areas in the profession and in society that I just see as changing inevitably at some point.

Chad: Well it already is. Somewhat related, I mean you have litigation funding and legal funding where there are certain lawsuits that probably wouldn’t have ever been filed without third party backing. So I mean you already have people that aren’t licensed attorneys that are participating in legal matters.

Jim: Right, and there are ways of ensuring that ethical obligations are met in that. You do disclosures, you do as you would with a conflict, or you make sure that others understand where the decision making authority lies. If money is coming in from outside, is the provider of that money making legal decisions? No. That still can’t happen, and shouldn’t happen, I think. But a lawyer should be making those kinds of strategic decisions and consulting with the client in the way that lawyers do. But the money is a valuable thing to come into the case, because as you say, the case might not exist without it, and if it creates relief, if it furthers a client-based goal or even a societal goal, then that can be a good thing as long as the lawyer’s professional independence is preserved.

Jim: I hesitated almost to say that, because that’s supposed to be what Rule 5.4 is all about: professional independence. But when I say those words now, that strikes me as the same tone as we say non-lawyer. That is, the same problem with it is the problem behind saying non-lawyer. It sounds like here we are again, being the guild. The people apart from the rest of society. The special wizards who are the only ones who can do certain things. And that’s what the proponents of the amendment to Rule 5.4 would argue against. And I’m somewhat in sympathy with that. I just think… I don’t know, again, if it’s going to be the California thing or if it’s going to be a more gradual, graduated change, but I think it’s going to be there.

Jim: And I think you will see, even before we get to the point of new or amended rules being enacted, you will see not partnerships, but affiliations between lawyers and law firms and ALSPs.

Chad: We’ve already seen it. UnitedLex, you know they spun off a law firm. And the closed loop on that, from a purely economic, selfish standpoint if you’re a law firm, I think there’s an argument to be made that you want this additional capital and this additional place to look for money from people that aren’t licensed attorneys because if you don’t change, you’re going to lose this business. You’re already losing this business. My business wouldn’t exist but for the fact that clients are moving to document review, or the contract analysis away from law firms because it was costly and maybe a little less efficient. So the law firms can stay in this ballgame if they take advantage of this other pot of resources.

Jim: Right. It’s about meeting the needs that are out there, and lots of different lawyers have lots of different practices. There are still small firms and neighborhood firms that are never going to have an in-house e-discovery department, and may not need those services. But if they do, if they come up with a case that turns huge on them in ways they didn’t expect and ALSP is out there for them in a way that it wasn’t previously, and it doesn’t have to get handed off to a big law firm which, as you say, may have its own systems, but maybe the client wouldn’t be served as well by those systems as they would by a more nimble and better funded entity.

Jim: And that’s something that I think is developing whether we like it or not, and that will continue to develop as the technology gets better, the algorithms get better. I was, again, reading older articles and newer articles about that, and there are already just in the last few years, different things that you can train an algorithm, an AI software to do, than you could just a few years ago. And it’s not every lawyer that needs to know all the ins and outs of that or be coding themselves or anything like that, but if your client winds up needing it, you better be able to learn what those things are.

Chad: James, thank you very much.

Jim: Sure, Chad.

Chad: Second time’s a charm. People want to reach out, how do they find you?

Jim: Our firm website is different from what it was last time we talked. We are now Robinson, Stewart, Montgomery & Doppke, LLC, and our website is rsmdlaw.com. And you can find our contact information on there. That’s probably the best way to do it.

Chad: Well that’s a wrap. Thanks for listening to this episode of Technically Legal. If you want to subscribe, which I hope you do, you can catch us on most major podcasting platforms, such as iTunes, Spotify, Google, Stitcher, et cetera, et cetera. If you like us enough I hope you’ll leave a positive rating. Thanks for listening, and until next time, this has been Technically Legal.

 

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Episode 22: Kate Gaudry On Lawyers (Really) Using “Big Data” to get an Edge for Clients

For Episode 22 we headed to Washington D.C. to talk to patent attorney Kate Gaudry about how she uses big data to help clients get an edge when filing patent applications. To say Kate is bright is an understatement. She enrolled in college at 11, had a PhD by 21. . . and then she got a law degree.

Much of Kate’s data analysis focuses on allowance rates for individual patent examiners (the percentage of patents they approve) and also for the “art units” they work in. (Patent examiners are grouped into “art units” that focus on a particular technology or industry).

We also talk to Kate about how mathematical models like game theory can be used to make decisions about pursuing or abandoning patent applications.

Finally, Kate explains that before attorneys start collecting data and using technology to analyze it, they need to take a step back, look at the whole process and figure out which questions really need answered and identify the ones for which data may provide insight.

Read Kate’s bio.

Legal Tech Founder Segment: Warwick Walsh of Lawcadia

In this episode we also talk to Lawcadia founder Warwick Walsh. The Lawcadia platform is an end-to-end matter and spend management system built specifically for in-house legal teams. It allows in-house legal operations to track legal matters from RFP to conclusion and collaborate with their outside counsel on their engagements.
 
Learn more about Warwick.
 
 

Things we talk about in this episode:

Computational Neurobiology

Big Data

United States Patent and Trademark Office

PPAIR (Public Patent Application Information Retrieval)

Game theory and Kate’s article about game theory.

 

Episode Credits

Editing and Production: Grant Blackstock

Theme Music: Home Base (Instrumental Version) by TA2MI

Image above: Trap for a Mouse by Jose Trevino

 

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Episode 21 – Dave Rogers On Hype Technology and its Impact on Innovation

In Episode 21 we had the good fortune of talking to Dave Rogers, Chief Technology Officer for the Ministry of Justice in the United Kingdom. (For us Yankees, it is kind of like our DOJ).

Dave got his start in media, but moved to the public sector when the Government Digital Service hired him as a technical architect. He worked his way up the ranks and is now the CTO for the Ministry of Justice.

In his various positions in both the private and the public sector, Dave has come to learn that hype around innovation is probably just that–hype. We talk to him about how falling in love with “hype technology” (the hot new tech of the moment) may actually hinder an organization’s efforts to innovate.

Dave also points out that the opposite of hot new technology, legacy technology, is problematic for organizations large and small. He refers to this as the “toxicity of legacy”. Toxicity caused by older software and systems that are poorly supported, hard to update, poorly documented, non-compliant or inefficient.

You can find Dave on LinkedIn.

 

Legal Tech Founder Segment: Crawford Appleby of Rulings.law

Crawford Appleby is the legal tech founder we talk to in Episode 21. Crawford is still a practicing lawyer in Los Angeles and it is within his practice that he came up with the idea to launch rulings.law. A searchable database of tentative rulings issued by Los Angeles Superior Court judges. 
 
If you want to reach out to Crawford you can find him at contact@rulings.law.
 

 

Things we talk about in this episode:

Dave’s Medium articles on Hype Technology and Toxicity of Legacy

Qcon 

Waterfall Project Management

 
 

 

Episode Credits

Editing and Production: Grant Blackstock

Theme Music: Home Base (Instrumental Version) by TA2MI

 

 

Episode Transcript

 

Started In Media and Entertainment Industry

In today’s episode, we talk to Dave Rogers. He is  the Chief Technology Officer and interim Head of Digital at the Ministry of Justice in the U.K. For our Legal Founders segment, we talk to Crawford Appleby about his app “rulings.law.”

In this episode, we are very honored to have Dave Rogers as our guest. Dave is the Chief Technology Officer and the Head of Digital at the Ministry of Justice in the United Kingdom. For us yankees, the Ministry of Justice is kind of like our DOJ. I reached out to Dave about being a guest on the podcast after reading an article on Medium. The article he wrote is entitled, “Hype Technology is Killing Innovation.” The gist of the article is that innovation is very difficult, and sometimes easy to fall prey to the innovation façade. That is, adopting the technology flavor of the month to create the appearance that something is actually being done to innovate. Come to find out, Dave has a lot of good articles on Medium, and I encourage you to check them out. We’ll post a link to some of them on the episode page at tlpodcast.com.

Before Dave moved over to the public sector, his background was in media where he worked in both print and television, or as they would say on the other side of the Atlantic, “the telly.”

Dave: I came to London to join The Guardian newspaper. That was my first kind of proper job, I guess, and I was a software developer there. I was learning a lot about how to do agile software development. I was doing a bit of programming. It was a really exciting environment. I was only at The Guardian briefly, but I learned a lot during that period.

Then went of the BBC, and did several different types of software development role, and moving into kind of technical architecture and technical leadership. That was running through lots of different productions at the BBC. So I was involved with a lot of radio and music stuff at the beginning; that moved into things related to T.V. programs. The most exciting point at the BBC was towards the end, so I did loads of work around the 2012 Olympics. So we built lots of data platforms, lots of  APIs and data processing pipelines, and we were just trying to get all that data that was flowing through from the live event, getting that out to the website and the T.V. data visuals. And then, towards the end, worked on a really interesting project around modeling data for T.V. programs. So that was using a lot of weird and wonderful knowledge representation technology, semantic web technology.

And then, it was around about 2013, I saw a talk at QCon, the conference was running in London. It was by Matt Wall, who at that point was working for Government Digital Service, and he was kind of selling this idea that really hadn’t occurred to me before, which is: you can work for government, but actually do that in a way that you were using a lot of very modern software practices. I think he was explaining that that was a very hard thing to do; there was a lot of complexity that you had to clear out of the way first. But that was first point at which it clicked to me that you could do some really valuable public sector work, without having to kind of go back on a lot of those principle that I’d learned in what were then more progressive technology organizations.

 

Moved to Government

Chad: Did you have an interest in government before you saw this talk and it clicked with you?

Dave: I’ve always kind of tried to choose jobs where there’s a mission I believe in, and I don’t think I’d honestly thought about working for government until that talk. I probably had started to hear some of the buzz around Government Digital Service, which peaked my interest.

Chad: And for the non-U.K. listeners, what is the GDS?

Dave: The Government Digital Service, that was founded around 2011-2012 I think, it was a kind of foundation of an entirely new organization that had never existed in government before to lead on technology. And then this kind of newish word, “digital,” obviously the word “digital” had been around for a long time, but it had a kind of new meaning, and it was about bringing internet era thinking into the government sector. It’s things like agile software development, things like user set to design. Some of these things were largely new to the public sector, and it was an organization founded on some very strong principles that started to bring those ideas into government.

Chad: And that piqued your interest with your tech background, I take it.

Dave: Really piqued my interest, yeah. Because I remember in the early days of my career working on projects, and seeing all these problem emerge, and not really realizing that it was because of this thing called Waterfall that I’d never really heard of, this kind of up-from-planning way of creating technology.

Chad: Project management. Waterfall Project Management, right?

Dave: Yeah, yeah. Waterfall Project Management never really grappled with the uncertainty of technology. It’s a very complicated, unpredictable medium to work with, particularly like digital technology. And yeah, those principles really struck a chord with me when I first came across them principally at The Guardian. And then to see those kind of brought into government was a real eye opener for me. It’s like, “Oh, brilliant. I feel like I can contribute in that space.”

Chad: So in 2013, Dave made the jump from the private to the public sector when he was hired by the U.K. Government Digital Service office as a Technical Architect. As Dave explains, the agency is charged with helping to facilitate and implement the use of technology by government agencies to create a better user experience for its citizens. Dave worked his way up the ladder, and is now the CTO and acting Head of Digital for the Ministry of Justice.

Dave: I’m Chief Technology Officer, which is what you might say is my main job, and I’ve been doing that for a couple of years now. And that’s leading the technical strategy across the department. I’m also wearing the Head of Digital hat right now, which, I’m covering for the very awesome Helen Mott, who’s currently on maternity leave. And that’s kind of pushing my role into areas like the delivery of a range of services for different users, whether that’s staff or public users.

We’re also really getting under the skin of what our digital strategy is. So, what are our priorities going to be around how we transform what is still very much a paper-based industry, the industry of justice? And there’s a huge number of paths through bringing technology into justice, and that’s kind of what the digital strategy is about: understanding where those priorities are, what opportunities we should be seizing. So it goes beyond technology into, really, the transformation of the organization and the wider justice system.

Chad: For people that might be listening outside of the U.K., at a real high level, what’s the jurisdiction for the Ministry of Justice, or how does it compare to, in the United States, the Department of Justice?

Dave: So the Ministry of Justice is kind of a family of organizations oriented around a kind of corporate center. So that family includes prisons and probation, it includes the legal aid agency, which is about giving legal aid for various eligible parties, it’s the office of the public guardian that deals with things like the lasting power of attorney, where you dealing with its use of lost mental capacity, and the criminal injuries and compensation authority, which is an agency that provides funds to victims of crime. And then, finally, and there’s slightly more independence in this space, there’s the Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service, and then onwards to the judiciary, who are obviously a kind of fully independent entity that we work very, very closely with. And that covers all of our court processes, both things like family court, but also criminal courts and tribunals of various persons. So it’s quite a broad room.

Chad: And your responsibility is to head up digital for all those different areas of the MoJ, right?

Dave: To head up the digital strategy, yes. It’s gets a bit more complex in terms of delivery, so we’ve kind of got three centers of digital delivery at the moment, or actually arguably four. So there’s three that are part of the center, and that is our, we’ve got an awesome team in Sheffield who are doing mainly prisons and probations-focused work, we’ve got a couple of teams that are largely London based, but also working in Birmingham, and they’re focused around legal aid agency of the guardian, and then our kind of core central digital that does a kind of range of activities that relate to kind of cross-justice or kind of staff-facing services. And also, we have another great team up in Glasgow, Carole Oatway’s team, but that’s the criminal injuries and compensation authority.

Tech used by the Ministry of Justice

Chad: It goes without saying, as Chief Technology Officer for the MoJ, Dave is involved in the development of tech used by the organization, tech used by both the general public and by government employees. The MoJ has several apps, including one that can be used to schedule prison visits, and another one that’s used internally to locate other government employees.

Dave: So in terms of public-basing tech, we’ve got… Some of our earliest services we’ve delivered are things like the prison-visit booking, so allowing somebody to arrange to go and visit someone in prison. Similarly, there’s a kind of service to be able to transfer money to people in prisons so that they can buy the basics for themselves in prisons. We’ve got services that relate to very specific processes like applications for lasting power of attorney. We’ve got our partners over in HMCTS are delivering things like the emerging, kind of online divorce services. And then you’ve got a kind of huge range of informational services.

So we produce every kind of, very carefully designed content to help people navigate through some of the hardest points in their lives, whether that’s separating families, or people who are trying to seek access to legal aid. In effect, the ambition there is for any process that somebody needs to go through a court, which will sometimes involve legal aid, and for criminal courts may end up with people in prison or probation, we want any public interaction to be available online, and be as simple and accessible as possible for people. That’s the ambition. And I guess on those things I described, are kind of, those on the foothills of delivering that.

Chad: What’s an example of some internal-facing tech that the team is working on, that helps people working there at the Ministry get their daily jobs done?

Dave: One of the products we build is a very simple product. It’s called “People Finder.” It’s a service that allows you to look up anyone that works in the organization and access the basic details about them. So, I.D., a photograph, it might tell you what building they’re located in and what days of the week they typically work. And we found that an enormously valuable service for people to be able to find each other in a huge organization like the Ministry of Justice. We’ve got about, eighty thousand people work here, I think.

And I think one of the reasons we went for a service like that is, underneath the surface of this very complex multi-agency organization is quite a lot of different technology, and it’s often very hard to join that all together with single-enterprise solutions, and so on. So we felt that the idea of finding people was something where we could make a real difference in the organization.

And then, we’ve got from very specialist technologies that help with very particular government processes. So, for example, we built some technology around responding to Freedom of Information requests, or dealing with Parliamentary question, which are kind of part of the… One of the formal processes that exists in the kind of British democratic process.

 

Legal Tech Founder Segment: Crawford Appleby of Rulings.law

Chad: It’s time to step away from our talk with Dave Rogers for a few minutes, because now it’s time for our Legal Tech Founders segment. Today we talk to Crawford Appleby of rulings.law. But before we get to Crawford, I wanted to take minute and let you know that for each episode at tlpodcast.com, we have a dedicated page. Episode pages contain contact info for our guests, transcripts of the episodes, and links to all the stuff we talk about. So if you hear something in today’s episode that peaks your interest and you want to learn more, I encourage you to visit tlpodcast.com.

Also, if you want to get in touch with me for any questions, comments, concerns, we’ll accept praise, too, or if you want to learn more about my company, Percipient, you can e-mail me at cmain@percipient.co. That’s cmain@percipient.co.

Okay. Without further ado, let’s get to our Legal Tech Founders segment. Today we talk to California attorney Crawford Appleby. Although he’s still a practicing attorney, he also launched a legal tech website called rulings.law. It’s a database of tentative rulings handed down by judges from the Los Angeles Superior Court. Although the site at this point is limited to decisions from Los Angeles judges, I like his story, and I hope it inspires others to create their own legal tech apps or products to solve problems they see in their own practices.

For those of you outside of California, the concept of a tentative ruling may be foreign. I only know about them because I started my practice as a lawyer as a litigator in Los Angeles. A tentative ruling is a decision handed down by a judge prior to oral argument on a motion. In the old days, they were printed out in hard copy and either left for counsel on the counsel table in the courtroom, or more often than not, outside the courtroom doors, posted on the wall.

Lawyers would rush to the courthouse before their motion hearing to see what the judge had ruled. If both attorneys agreed with the tentative ruling, often times there’s no argument. However, if either of the attorneys disagree, they have the right to go before the judge and argue their motion, and try to change the judge’s mind, and change his or her decision as laid out in the tentative ruling.

In the early 2000s, tentative rulings were posted online the day before a motion, so the attorneys could let the court know whether or not they wanted to argue the motion. But the decisions were only kept up a day or two around the time of the motion, and were later deleted. This is where Crawford’s app comes in.

Crawford’s app collects all these opinions, and creates a searchable database of tentative rulings so lawyers can go and search them, and figure out how the judge may or may not rule on any particular motion.

Crawford, thanks for being here today. I really appreciate it. Thanks for being a listener to the podcast. So tell us a little bit about your app and website, rulings.law.

Crawford: Thanks, Chad. Thanks for having me. Yeah, I’m very excited about this, mostly the fact that I was able to make it happen. It’s not easy when you work full time as an attorney, and that I’m also a new father, too, so I’ve got a seven month old at home. So I’ve definitely got about three jobs going right now.

But yeah. The way I that I came up with it, basically, was, I work in civil litigation in Los Angeles. Plenty of our cases are in Los Angeles Superior Court, and in that court, which I think is kind of unique to the courts of California, the judges will issue what’s called a tentative ruling before the hearing on a motion. Basically, and you’re familiar with this from when you practiced in LA, but for people who aren’t, a tentative ruling is basically just the judge saying, “Here’s what I think I’m going to do at the hearing on you motion. Just to give the parties kind of a head’s up.” And then, when they go in to do oral argument, they can make the most of it.

So these rulings, they’re not binding precedent. They’re just specific to that case, to that motion, and while they matter a lot the attorneys and the parties in that case, they don’t really seem to matter that much to everyone else. And I think that those ruling are really valuable information, and I was sort of learning through my practice that they can be really valuable, if you go back and you read them and you review them when you’re preparing a motion for a particular judge, you can get some insight. You can see what the judge… What kind of cases they like on that issue, how they tend to rule on the particular motion that you might be doing.

So I started trying to sort of collect them manually, and that ended up being a lot of work. There’s over fifty judges that give out these rulings and put them online every day.

Chad: You said you collected them manually. Did you actually go to the website and try to grab them by judge? Is that what you were doing?

Crawford: I did. I did. And for one judge in particular, I managed to do that for a whole year, so I had like a thousand pages of rulings because we had case in front of that judge that was important, and I wanted to have that as a database. And so, as time went on, I started to realize that this wasn’t really sustainable. I wouldn’t be able to do this for all the judges that post. And so I decided to do something about it, and I looked around and I saw that there were some other databases that had sites that were collecting them, but they were either sort of out of the budget, or they didn’t have rulings for all of the judges that I was interested in. And so I thought, “Well, maybe I can make this happen. Maybe I can do something that would be available to everyone.”

Chad: Do you have a tech background? I mean, what were the steps you took to get this done?

Crawford: Yeah. So, I do not have a tech background. The most experience I’ve got with tech is when I was in, like, middle school, I managed to cobble together a website a long time ago on Angelfire. That’ll probably bring some people back. So I understood sort of the basics of how coding works. I was really interested in it, because I feel like there’s a lot of parallels within terms of doing legal analysis, a lot of “if this, then that” sort of step-by-step procedure that you follow.

So I kind of had a basic understanding of how things could work, but I needed more help. So I reached out to a buddy of mine from law school. His name is Bill Bitner. And after he graduated, he went and learned how to code. And he said, “This sounds like a great idea. I’m going to help you get there.” So with his help, I was able to go and locate a programmer that I was able to hire sort of as an independent contractor. His name is Stephen Dodson, and he’s going to have a site up soon, bluegrass.media, for people who want to contact him. And Bill helped me vet a whole bunch of people who applied for the position, and helped me pick Stephen, and Stephen’s been really great, he’s been working really hard.

And so, I kind of had guidance from my friend Bill on that, and was able to sort of navigate this. And that’s kind of how I was able to hire a programmer and kind of get things going, so to speak.

Chad: And from start to finish, how long did it take you to get the site up and running?

Crawford: Yeah. So, from start to finish, let me see… I think I had sort of the light bulb for this in late October, and so I put together a scope of work. And then I was listening to a podcast with Sarah Schaaf, of the company Headnote, and she had recommended if you are looking to get into legal tech, and you have an idea, one of the best ways to do test-marketing is to just put up ads online, on social media, and see what kind of click-through rate you get. So I thought, “Well, that’s a great idea.”

So I basically got some Clipart, and I managed to put up a landing page through GoDaddy that I was able to do myself, and I ran test ads on Facebook and LinkedIn for a week, and I did pretty good. I got like, between like a one and three percent click-through rate, and I got some people in LA who signed up to hear about when the site would launch, and I thought, like, “That’s enough interest to give this a shot.”

So I began with that. And so once I had that, that I realized that there were other people who liked this idea, I went ahead and hired Stephen to do the work. And he started in November, and the site began collecting rulings officially at the end of January. And then we were able to launch it officially in late March.

Chad: And without giving away too many trade secrets or secret sauce-

Crawford: Yeah.

Chad: How does it work logistically?

Crawford: Well, the good news is, is that Stephen has done the heavy lifting on that and knows the technical stuff, so even if somebody were to torture me, I don’t think I could tell them what they wanted to know. But I do know, for example, the way the site works is that the tentative rulings get posted every day, and then they disappear. So once the hearing is over, they go away, and the court doesn’t maintain any kind of publicly accessible database. So what rulings.law does is it goes on the site, and it’s a web scraper, and it saves the rulings, and then it puts them in a database and organizes them so that they’re assigned to the judge and courthouse that posted them. And then the site is publicly accessible. It’s free for everybody. And so, anybody who wants to go on and read the judge’s old ruling is able to do that.

Aside from this being something that I wanted to have, an important goal of mine with this was to make it free, so that, in my mind, this is kind of an access to justice thing at the end of the day. We all, who live in California, we pay taxes, and those taxes cover the court when you need it. And I used to work at the court, actually. I was a law clerk there for a few years. And so, I took a lot of pride in my work there in thinking that I was sort of giving people their money’s worth when I did a good job.

And so part of this for me is, sort of, giving everybody this advantage, not everybody that has the financing to be able to pay for a database of these rulings. Now everybody can have them. And so that helps solo and small firms, and individuals. Kind of levels the playing field.

Chad: Well that’s cool. Before I let you go, I always kind of take this pole for attorneys in LA. What is your record in convincing a judge to change their ruling from whatever they ruled in the tentative?

Crawford: That is a good question.

Chad: If you had to guess. To be-

Crawford: If I had to guess?

Chad: To be frank, mine is not good. I find that nine times out of ten, what you see the tentative is what you’re going to get.

Crawford: Right. No, that’s true. And to go back for just one moment about tentatives, people probably wonder, “Well, what’s the point? It’s not the judge’s final ruling,” but as you pointed out, most of the time it is. I’d say almost all the time that it is. It’s-

Chad: Yeah.

Crawford: It’s real difficult to change their mind. You know, I’m trying specifically if I have an example of it. I don’t recall. I don’t know if there was ever-

Chad: That’s good.

Crawford: A time when I was able to change it. I will say, though, that we’ve won quite a bit of motions based on taking this approach and sort of doing that I call “judge-specific writing,” where you focus on the individual judge and what they care about, what case law they care about. That really helps to win motions, I think.

Chad: That’s a great point. It’s a tool I wish I would’ve had, because it gives you insight about that judge before you even bring the motion, to see if it’s even worth it.

Crawford: Exactly. Exactly. And people are doing exciting things with these tentative rulings, too. They’re creating analytics. Obviously there’s a lot of analytics out there now. And that can be a useful tool for gauging strategy, and how you want to proceed with your case.

Chad: Well, that’s cool. Again, Crawford, appreciate your time. People can find it at rulings.law, correct?

Crawford: That’s correct. That’s the site, and if they want to reach out to me or reach out to us about the site, then you can do that through the site itself. There’s a contact link. But also, my e-mail is contact@rulings.law.

 

Why Hype Technology is Killing Innovation

Chad: Okay, let’s get back to our talk with Dave Rogers, Chief Technology Officer for the Ministry of Justice in the U.K.

As I mentioned at the top of the podcast, I reach out to Dave after reading an article in Medium about the innovation façade. That article is entitled, “Why Hype Technology is Killing Innovation.” I love the article, and thankfully, Dave agreed to talk to me about it.

In the article, Dave points out that innovation’s very difficult and elusive because it requires a change in the status quo. He notes, too, that to stay competitive, organizations must look like they are staying on top of changes and growing. As a result, this sometimes causes those in charge of innovation to buy into the innovation façade. That is, appearing to innovate with really changing anything.

One way the innovation façade is perpetuated is through the adoption of hype technology. That is, making grand proclamations about the adoption of the technology flavor of the month so it looks like steps are being taken to innovate.

Dave: There’s a huge pressure to innovate in any forward-looking organization. It’s very typical pressure on organization that maybe appears to be struggling, or is kind of, you know, understands that its technology’s not very modern, and it’s kind of looking for that spark to say, “We want our organization to be progressive,” and typically that will involve using some of the most modern technology.

The problem that emerges is that if you try and take too direct a route to innovating, what you typically do is you look around at the technologies that appear to be signifiers of progress. So at the moment, that’s artificial intelligence, it’s blockchain, it’s drones, it’s the internet of things. And if you look at those technologies and try to very directly introduce them to your organization, I think there’s a sense to which people feel that, intuitively, that’s a way to innovate. They might say to a team, “You know, I’ve heard about this artificial intelligence thing. It sounds awesome. Let’s have a look around. Let’s see if we can find ways in which we can use this technology in our organization.”And I think that for people who don’t work in technology, they maybe haven’t had that experience working with the design and creation of technology.

That feels like it’s quite an effective way to solve the problem. The thing that actually happens below the façade is that we’re presented with an extremely challenging situation with regards to how you should design things. It’s essentially the solution is being presented, and the problem is being solved.

If there are two absolutely fundamental design principles, I think the first one would be try and understand the problem before you start working towards a solution, and to keep a very open mind about what that solution might be.

Chad: So the old cliché, a hammer looking for a nail.

Dave: Exactly, yeah. And then the other design principle I think would be to keep things as simple as possible. Why seek a complex solution if a very simple tool can actually solve your problem? And that kind of push to very directly bring a specific solution into an organization, it can have some really unfortunate side effects because it’s going against those very fundamental principles.

And I think one of the ones I felt very directly is that people who really believe in those principles can feel quite alienated when those principles can be undermined by something that appears quite innocent. The suggestion of introducing a particular new technology.

So the innovation façade is when activities emerge on that basis, but they’re not truly innovating. They’re not truly having the intended effect of making the organization be more modern and be more progressive in how it’s solving problems. And that’s because those design principles are there for a reason, and you’ll often end up with scenarios where perhaps you’re implementing the technology just for the sake of it, or you’re misapplying it in some way that has unfortunate side effects.

Chad: That kind of leads into a great quote you have in the article. You say, “The reputational uplift of appearing to be innovative far outweighs the reputational impact of technology failing to deliver.”

Dave: So, that quote is in the context of technology consultancies, particularly in government. But to be honest with you, in almost any organization, some point you’re going to be dealing with consultancies who are trying to help you work with technology effectively, solve complex business problems. Now, the really tricky thing here is that if a consultancy is able to use an extremely new technology, let’s say blockchain for argument’s sake, if they can simply get an organization to agree that they’re going to run a blockchain trial of some kind, the way that the media works is that’s kind of instantly headline news. That is, “Consultancy X is using blockchain to solve problem Y.” That’s an exciting headline. I think a majority of people would be like, “Oh, there’s so much potential in that technology.”

If, six months later, that intervention fails, the proposed solution doesn’t actually deliver the expected benefits, that will not be something that will be high profile. And the problem that this creates is that you’ve actually got a kind of system-level problem there, where that enormous buzz from simply trying to introduce a kind of hype technology into a particular space is often going to outweigh the much longer term complex thing of actually achieving a genuine outcome with much simpler technology. You’re not going to end up with an article in the press of, “Consultancy X solves incredibly complex problem using really basic technology.”

Chad: This reputational impact, or the press, it also goes beyond consultancy, right? Because you see this in law firms a lot. There will be a press release that the firm marketing department puts out about how they’re going to adopt some new technology or do something differently, and again, it seems that that’s partly for reputational purposes.

Dave: Yeah. No, I would agree, actually. I think you’re right. I think, in terms of any way of communicating that you are doing this type of innovation, is going to create a very useful buzz. There is actually a very positive side to that. If you can project a reputation that you’re using the most technology, as the industry may define it, that’s a huge hiring magnet for your organization. It’s a huge potential funding magnet for your organization. Even if the actual outcome isn’t necessarily positive in terms of the introduction of technology, it can still have these very positive side effects. Those side effects are not in terms of delivery and technology themselves.

Chad: That’s an interesting point. I didn’t really think about that. So then it comes to the last question of this topic. How do you battle against, or how do you prevent the innovation façade?

Dave: I think there’s kind of several, several approaches to that, and it’s a hard problem to solve. The most important thing for me is to really value skilled professions in your organization, and I think this principle will extend well beyond technology specialists, as well. If you bring specialists into your organization, and you respect their kind of position on particular positions that your organization might want to make that relate to their expertise, then as an organization I think you’re going to make much more effective decisions.

Now, the MoJ’s been on a really interesting journey of hiring huge numbers of specialists into our growing digital and technology space. And that, I believe, has made us a much, much more effective decision maker around technology, and that’s whether you buy it or you build it. And I think a lot of people would recognize this pattern that the experts are often cynics. I work a lot with technologists obviously, and some of the people I respect most are extremely cynical about technology.

Blockchain’s a good example of that. I think blockchain went with quite rapid pace through the hype, certainly in my community. It dropped off quite significantly, to the point where I’m now skeptical that blockchain is actually useful for almost any problem I can think of. Yet, at some point maybe two years ago, I was probably still in that head space, a lot of people were like, “Oh, maybe this can solve some of those problems that we’ve been trying to solve for years. There’s some real, real potential in this technology.” And then that cynicism comes in and you start… I remember one of the earliest kind of discoveries was a long the lines of a very simple construct, like a Merkel Tree actually holds the true value of what a blockchain is.

But that’s an extremely widely available construct in most programming languages, so it was actually nothing new. And that takes all the buzz out of the hype technology. And I think I’m starting to see a similar thing happen with AI. I think the cynicism of the community is starting to erode that extremely visionary sense of what AI is going to do over the next few years.

But I do think there’s, I mean, I can’t remember the exact quote. There’s a quote along the lines of like, “Most of these innovations are very underwhelming in short term, but then surprise everyone in the long term.” So I do think AI will have an enormous impact on society. I just think perhaps it won’t be in the next ten years.

Chad: Which goes to your point you raise in the article, too, is you said, “One of the ways to protect against the hype culture and the innovation façade is to iterate.” What specifically did you mean when you mentioned that in the article?

Dave: Iteration kind of… The characteristic of iteration that’s so important is that you’re remaining very open minded throughout the design of the technology. That, combined with the principle of simplicity, means that the ideal outcome of delivering any technology is that you discover an incredibly simple solution. And if you iterate through the problem, and you remain open minded, and you understand and reflect upon your users’ experience of the technology that you’re delivering, you’re much more likely to land upon those simple solutions.

A colleague of mine used to work in  Ministry Justice said that, “The whole of justice, in terms of what we might want to achieve digitally, is largely going to be characterized by taking strings, putting them in databases, and taking them back out again.” Justice at the moment is just quite a simple, transactional process, and the scale problems that we deal with are actually to do with the kind of almost fractal complexity of the human emotions, and different situations that people find themselves in the justice system.

So iteration helps us to kind of step through what are extremely complex service design problems. But in terms of technology, we typically end up with some very, very simple web technology at the end of it.

“Toxicity” of Legacy Software

Chad: Dave’s point about the innovation façade and hype technology is mainly focused on new and emerging technologies, but he also has some great insight about older and existing technologies, technology he refers to as “legacy.” But he also points out that there’s a risk with using some of this technology, and the calls the risk, “the toxicity of legacy.” “The toxicity of legacy” refers to software that is poorly supported, hard to update, poorly documented, not compliant, and inefficient. This “toxicity of legacy” can be a potential existential threat to both large and small organizations.

Dave: A colleague of mine, John Lawrence, came up with the term “firstable.” I think he was using it to describe data, but it really struck me as quite a powerful word to use around technology because… Well, the word “toxic” means, I guess, is very actively harmful, and I believe the majority view on “legacy” I think is still that it’s a very static thing.

So I think, you talk about legacy technology, let’s say in the banking sector, people probably think of these very peaceful mainframes that sit in the basement. They were built in the 70s; no one knows how to change them, but they don’t really have any kind of dynamism to them. Whereas I’m trying to describe a situation where technology is actually very much alive, even if it’s not changing. And what I mean by that is, the context around technology is constantly changing. So, if you take the cyber security context, a system that has remained unchanged for a year may now have a vulnerability that is know to the entire world. So even though the technology has changed, its relationship to the world has changed.

Equally, we’re seeing the instruction of new legislation. So GDPR is having an enormous impact in Europe, in terms of how we think about data privacy. And the point at which that law is introduced, the technology might not be keeping pace with that if it remains exactly the same.

So if you take those types of factors and reframe “legacy” technology as something that is more dynamic, and dynamic in the sense it’s getting worse over time if you don’t invest in it, then it has the feel of something that is quite toxic to your organization. And I think everyone can kind of recognize those patterns of what happens when “legacy” emerges at scale. You end up in a situation where you’re, every year you’re accepting more and more risk. You’re writing reports to explain that you haven’t patched, you haven’t been able to upgrade, you might start to be taking risks around emerging legislation and whether or not you’re going to be able to make things compliant, and I think, worst of all, you also see that you’re ability to change the underlying technology becomes harder and harder. A small change to a business-critical system might take six to eighteen months to deliver.

Now in that scenario, the technology is becoming truly toxic to your organization. It’s preventing changes to business processes, it’s preventing radical service redesign, and it’s effectively limiting your opportunities for change. And I think that refraining of “legacy” is not something passive and static, but something very, very toxic to your organization. For me, it’s the correct framing for “legacy” in order to raise its profile and get people to start talking about it, and addressing it.

Chad: And, speaking of addressing it, one of the things you say in the article is that, here’s the quote: “Design your technology organization, and budget around services, not projects.” Why do you think that helps?

Dave: So the thinking behind that, and there’s lots of threads that come together around that theme, I think there was a government digital service article some time ago called, “Fund Teams, Not Projects.” The service mentality gets you to think about technology as something that requires ongoing ownership, and ongoing ownership means that you start to think about the risks around “legacy” in conjunction with the delivery of new technology. And it allows you to consider things through the lens of a balance of priorities. So, should we be spending today working on upgrading a component to reduce a cyber risk, or should we spend today adding another feature to the system? And the answer isn’t clear in any circumstance, because you’ve got to way out the benefits and risks of different routes you might take.

The projects encourage a very different kind of framing. They have a start and they have a finish criteria, and once it’s finished, you do have concepts such as handing over to operations teams, or acceptance into service criteria, and so on. But they all seem to have a mentality of treating technology as something that is done, something that is now static, and worst of all, as something that is an asset to the organization.

And that starts to get into the way in which we financially treat technology. We treat technology typically as a capital asset, rather than this thing that might be better perceived as a liability to your organization. I speak to my boss, Tom Reid, about this yesterday, and he came up with a great analogy, which was, “If you have a broken boiler in a house, it doesn’t make the house more valuable. If anything, it knocks something off the house price.” We need to get that kind of mentality into areas such as accountancy and the governance of organizations so that we start treating that technology correctly.

Chad: Well, that’s a wrap for today’s episode of Technically Legal. As always, I really appreciate your support and listening. If you want to subscribe, you can find us on most major podcast platforms like Spotify, iTunes, Google, iHeartRadio, et cetera, et cetera. If you want to get a hold of me, my e-mail is cmain@percipient.co. Cmain@percipient.co. Thanks again for listening, and this has been another episode of Technically Legal.

 

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Episode 20 – Jerry Ting on Legal Tech Looking Outside of Legal Tech

In Episode 20 we talk to Evisort founder Jerry Ting about his company (contract management software that uses AI to extract legal clauses and other relevant data) and also about improving legal technology by looking outside of legal tech.

Jerry founded Evisort while studying at Harvard Law and it was there that he started looking outside of the legal world to build his business. He applied to and was accepted by the Harvard Innovation Lab to help launch the company. By the time he graduated Harvard, Jerry and his team already had customers and had raised money for the company.

Speaking of raising money, Evisort just raised $4.5 million from big name venture funds Amity Ventures and Village Global (the latter having investors with last names of Bezos, Gates and Zuckerberg). 

But, just because Evisort is flush with cash at the moment, Jerry explains that his main focus is growing the business by customer acquisition, and while he spends a lot of time wooing chief legal officers (CLOs), he is again looking outside legal to acquire clients. Jerry sees no reason why good legal tech cannot be used outside of the legal world.

You can contact Jerry at jerry@evisort.com.

Legal Tech Founder Segment: Andrew Klein of Reynen Court

In this episode’s legal tech founder segment, we talk to Andrew Klein, founder of Reynen Court,  a services automation platform that uses containerization to enable law firms to deploy computing applications without exposing firm or client content to outside computing environments. 

To learn more about Reynen Court or reach out to Andy you can find him at andy@reynencourt.com.

This We Talk About in This Episode

Harvard Innovation Labs

Containerization

Episode Credits

Editing and Production: Grant Blackstock

Theme Music: Home Base (Instrumental Version) by TA2MI

Photo Above: Jorge Lascar

 

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Episode 19: Christian Auty and Zach Smolinski on Blockchain — Redux

We bring back Zach Smolinski and Christian Auty for Episode 19. Like last time, they discuss blockchain technology and its impact on the practice of law. Zach is with Smolinski Rosario Law and Christian with the Much firm. Both counsel clients on blockchain related matters.

It was 2017 the last time the guys were on the show, so we talk about what’s changed in the blockchain world since then. Both Zach and Christian agree that regulators have stepped up enforcement and investigations into cryptocurrency transactions like ICOs (initial coin offerings) and the general public may be less enthralled about the technology. However, both are still big supporters and excited to see people getting serious about building sustainable blockchain businesses.

Zach is a co-founder of BUZZ, a monthly event working to grow Chicago’s blockchain community, and Christian authors the Distributed Counsel blog.  A blog based on an attorney’s Perspective on cryptocurrency, data privacy and blockchain.

Legal Tech Founder Segment: Basha Rubin and Mirra Levitt of Priori Legal

In this episode’s legal tech founder segment, we talk to Basha Rubin and Mirra Levitt the founders of Priori Legal. The company makes it easy for companies to find, hire and manage outside counsel without the costly infrastructure of a firm. To use the platform, clients submit an RFP and Priori leverages its extensive attorney network and data to compile a customized list of lawyer matches.

You can learn more about Basha, Mirra and Priori here.

This We Talk About in This Episode

Ethereum

Bitcoin

Distributed Ledgers

Wired Article by Bruce Schneier: “There’s No Good Reason to Trust Bitcoin Technology”

Game Theory

Nick Szabo

Vitalik Buterin

Episode Credits

Editing and Production: Grant Blackstock

Theme Music: Home Base (Instrumental Version) by TA2MI

Photo above: Gastev (Mirko Tobias Schaefer)

 

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Episode 18: Greg Siskind on Process Automation for Lawyers

The focus of this episode is automation of legal processes by law firms and in-house legal teams. We talk to Greg Siskind, a Memphis lawyer with Siskind Susser, a leading U.S. immigration law firm that handles all aspects of immigration and nationality law.

As Greg explains, he and his firm automate both client facing and internal legal processes. For instance, prospective and existing clients can access firm-built apps to determine if they qualify for visas and provide customer feedback. Internally, among other automated processes, Siskind Susser lawyers have access to tools that generate retainer agreements and help perform legal research.

As we learn from Greg, automation solves several problems and has several benefits, including a way to limit errors, automate expertise, save time and gain marketing exposure.

You can learn more about Greg at visalaw.com or on LinkedIn.

 

Legal Tech Founder Segment: Tom Dreyfus of Josef

For our legal tech founder segment, we stick to the automation theme and talk to Tom Dreyfus, the CEO and co-founder of Josef, an automation platform helping lawyers create legal chatbots, streamline processes, eliminate repetitive tasks and access new revenue streams.

With Josef, lawyers can create legal chatbots without the need for developers.  Company clients include law firms, governments, in-house legal teams and public interest legal groups.

To learn more about Tom or Josef visit joseflegal.com.

 

Things We Talk About in This Episode

Usenet

Bulletin Boards

Expert Systems

Neota Logic

Ross Intelligence

Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA)

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)

Entrepreneur Parole

ABA Blueprint

 

Episode Credits

Editing and Production: Grant Blackstock

Theme Music: Home Base (Instrumental Version) by TA2MI

 

 

Episode Transcript

Chad Main:          This episode is all about automation of legal processing. We talk to Memphis immigration lawyer Greg SIskind about how he uses technology to automate many of his legal tasks. We also talk to Tom Dreyfus. He’s the CEO and co-founder of Josef, an app from its lawyers to create bots to automate some of their workloads and processes.

Chad Main:          This episode was recorded live and direct from Soulsville, USA. That’s right. Memphis, Tennessee. Don’t think Memphis is a hotbed of legal tech activity? That might be somewhat true, but our guest lives there, and he’s one of the earliest adopters of legal technology out there.

Chad Main:          On today’s show, we talk to immigration lawyer, Greg Siskind. He practices with the law firm of Siskind & Susser, where he handles all kinds of immigration matters. He helps individuals try to get legal immigration status. He helps corporate clients and startups try to get work visas for star talent from other countries, and he even helps sports/entertainment clients trying to get their artists and athletes permission to work in the United States.

The First Law Firm Website (Almost)

Chad Main:          So, why do I say Greg is one of the earliest adopters of legal tech? He’s an OG as far as use of tech in legal goes, because he literally almost had the very first law firm website out there.

Greg:       I ended up getting married, in Memorial Day of ’94. I was working on this website. But, we took a little honeymoon. When I came back, in the beginning of June, the website launched. Now, the sad thing for me was, had I launched the website before the honeymoon, I’d had technically would’ve been the first.

Greg:       But, two other DC large firms launched their sites like a week and half, two weeks, before mine went up. Mine was like ready to go. But, I wasn’t gonna launch a website while I’m like in Egypt, at the pyramids. And, that’s what we were doing.

Greg:       So, I was just waiting, and I just assumed that everything was cool. The good thing was, for me, I got a tone of media. Nobody wanted to write about two big DC firms that had launched this website. They were more interested in the sole immigration lawyer in Nashville, who had done this, and was clients from all over the country.

Greg:       That was a lot more interesting for a reporter than how some four, five hundred lawyer law firm was using it to get corporate clients.

Chad Main:          What was the goal of the website? I assume it’s to get business, right?

Greg:       It was to get business, and it was basically to be a publishing platform for me. So, the other thing that, aside from the website, that I started was an email newsletter. And, that was the first email newsletter that I’m aware of.

Greg:       So, the website might have actually landed a couple of weeks late, but the newsletter that I put out was the first newsletter, I think, that any law firm ever distributed electronically. And, that was at the same time that the website launched.

Greg:       And, I think I had to do it at the beginning. I was doing it at the beginning, going through AOL, which was new also at the time. But, AOL had the ability to allow me to do email distribution. And, that was …

Greg:       And, not long … That was not very, no offense against AOL, but it was not … In 1994, that email product was not all that great. I was building up content on the website from the newsletter. I had a link on the website that you could subscribe to, and then I would manually add the person to the list.

Greg:       But, that newsletter grew really, really quickly. I think it was up to about 40000 subscribers towards at its peak.

Chad Main:          Wow! And, what year was that?

Greg:       This was probably after about a … maybe about two years in.

Chad Main:          So, not a long time, and it still-

Greg:       No. So, it was being distributed far and wide. And, I didn’t really have any competition from the immigration bar, probably for a good two years. So, I had some space to grow.

Greg Moves Into Legal Automation

Chad Main:          As we just heard, Greg saw the value in internet and email for marketing and client development. As an early adopter of the law firm who utilized the internet, it is not surprising that Greg progressed into using tech to automate task and processes that he was running into, every day at his immigration practice.

Chad Main:          As we will hear throughout this episode, automation helps with more than just marketing, although that is a key feature, and should not be overlooked. Automation helps create consistency in processes, it digitizes expertise, reduces mistakes, facilitates communication, and very importantly, it saves time.

Chad Main:          Greg’s first forte into legal automation wasn’t too sexy or complicated. But, taking one step at a time, Greg’s use of automation has grown exponentially.

Greg:       One of the things I did, early on, was try and find things that were not available electronically. So, even though the website was more of a marketing tool early on, I was taking a lot of primary resources and just digitizing them, and getting them on our website.

Greg:       In terms of automation, the other thing that was a first for us, back in about ’97 or so, was the immigration forms. This sounds like a basic thing that you just go on to USCIS website, and you can either-

Chad Main:          Which is?

Greg:       USCIS is the agency that handles immigration. Now, you go on, there’s a form section. Some of them are electronically submitted. Some of them you download as Adobe, and you print them out. There was no Adobe Acrobat. Well, there was. Adobe Acrobat had just started making PDF conversion tools available to the masses.

Greg:       So, that was a traffic builder for me, was I went and I got the forms, ordered the paper forms from the immigration service, and got all the popular ones, and then scanned them, and made them into PDFs and put them on our website, which sounds like the lowest tech thing that you can imagine today. But, it was like a huge deal, because it was the only place on the entire internet you could find government forms.

Greg:       The INS was the agency before USCIS. They did not have a website until about 1998, 99. Their first website, all it was was a photo and a bio of the INS commissioner. Not very helpful.

Greg:       So, I was getting a lot of traffic there. And, it certainly occurred to me that … So, you asked when I got started. So, I would say it’s always sort of been in the background trying to find-

Chad Main:          I count that. I mean, I count that at some level, because you automating the process of filling in these forms.

Greg:       Right. But, in terms of more recent years, we’re definitely interested in trying to use tools on basically taking the expertise of our lawyers, and building automation tools that offload that expertise into tools for lawyers, for internal use for lawyers, for potential clients, that they can get that information on demand, as opposed to having to have a lawyer basically regurgitate it, and better information, because lawyers make mistakes.

Greg:       They often times make assumptions as far as what they think they’re hearing. I’m not talking about mistakes in terms of malpractice or anything like that. But, not necessarily interpreting correctly what they’re hearing, or missing asking for some background information that would change the answers.

Greg:       And so, a couple of years ago, I started hearing about expert systems that were using artificial intelligence, and decided that that was something that made a lot of sense for immigration law. We are a practice that is very rules oriented.

Greg:       It’s a lot of times in our heads, we’re using decision trees, we have a lot of time decision trees in our practice, that we’re using to figure out whether people qualify for different benefits. We are assembling a lot of documents that are based on what we’re finding out.

Greg:       And, we have been, for a long, trying to figure out, in our firm, how to streamline processes, and be more efficient, and be more consistent how we do things across the firm. And, as we started to get into that, heard about Neota Logic, which is an expert system software that was one of the first AI products that were out there. Heard about ROSS Intelligence, and a couple of others.

Greg:       But anyway, I contacted Neota. Neota, their early clients were largely large firms, and had some interesting products. And, it was expensive. But, I talked them into taking a chance on a small immigration firm that was gonna try and do some different things it. And, that product has been great, as far as what I’ve …

Greg:       We found that it was very versatile, as far as things that we could do. So, for example-

Chad Main:          For the listeners, what’s the elevator pitch in Neota Logic? What does it do for lawyers?

Greg:       Basically, it offloads the legal analysis from lawyer’s brain to an application, so that essentially, the app allows you do an interview, and basically come up with a legal analysis at the end that would be very similar to what a lawyer would be doing if you were face to face with the lawyer, and the lawyer was interviewing you, to figure out if you qualify or if a lawyer needed to get information from you, in order to build a legal document.

Greg:       It basically automates that interaction between a lawyer and a client.

DAPA Automation Tool

Chad Main:          One of the first things Greg did with tool automation was client phasing. He created an app for people to use to see if they qualify for DAPA, which is the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans. That is a precursor to DACA, which I’m sure all of you have heard a lot about in the news lately, which is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

Chad Main:          Because of legal uncertainty, the DAPA app kind of got stuck in limbo. So then, Greg made another app. This time, it was an app that startups and entrepreneurs could see if they had a chance to get a Visa to hire employees from outside the United States. Unfortunately for Greg, the powers that be also kind of put that app into limbo too.

Chad Main:          But, the point is this, apps can be built to help attract clients, help clients help themselves, and also streamline communication with both potential and existing clients.

Greg:       Well, so the first tool that we took out was … It’s kind of sad how this shock out. But, I guess it depends on your perspective. But, we wanted to have a big splash with the first tool that we rolled out with Neota.

Greg:       And, it was during the Obama administration. And, they had announced a program in 2014 called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans. And basically, this was a follow up to the DACA program that’s been in the news a lot lately. And, DAPA was gonna benefit about four million people. And, they announced the rules, and then immediately was taken to court.

Greg:       And so, what we had done was we built an app that help people figure out if they qualified for the program. And, there were a bunch of complicated rules as far as whether they qualified or not. We built this whole thing, but we couldn’t actually put it out there, because the program is tied up in the courts.

Greg:       Well, it works its was all the way to the Supreme Court. And, we find out what they, the Supreme Court … It’s the last case of the year for the Supreme Court. So, we had this app built, and we were going to launch it, as soon as the Supreme Court upheld DAPA.

Greg:       So, we had this whole app built that was basically ready to go. We had press releases. We had everything all set. And then, the Supreme Court ended up on a 4-4 tie. And, the program died because the lower, the fifth circuit decision stood on there.

Greg:       So, the first app never actually launched because of that. It was really good exercise for us to build this whole thing. We gambled that if it succeeded, and the Supreme Court had ruled in favor, I think we thought that the odds were that they were going to, that we would have this.

Greg:       It would be a very exciting news making thing, ’cause everybody would be excited about this program going forward. But, here’s this tool that instantly available that you don’t have to go to a lawyer. You can just go online. And, we had in the Spanish version, we had an English version of it, all ready to go.

Greg:       So, that didn’t happen. But-

Entrepreneur Parole Tool

Chad Main:          You said it was good exercise. But, there is one you did that we talked about it earlier, before we went on. The Parole.

Greg:       Yes. So, that was also a … President Obama, in 2014, came up with this whole package of these reforms that he was gonna do on immigration after congress couldn’t get their act together and pass an immigration reform package. So, he had a bunch of announcements.

Greg:       One of the was the DAPA program I just mentioned. Another one was something called Entrepreneur Parole.

Chad Main:          Which is?

Greg:       Entrepreneur Parole was a program that they were trying to figure out this problem where they have this visa called an H-1B visa. It is in short supply. And, they had a lot of high profile cases where startup companies, founders, didn’t get picked in the annual H-1B lottery, and they ended up having to close their companies down, or migrate their companies to Canada, or not be able to grow as quickly as they wanted, or fire sale, where the founders could get out of it.

Greg:       So, they came up with this program that based on a whole series of criteria, that the immigration service could exercise discretion and allow a founder of the company to qualify for a work card for up to five years.

Chad Main:          Just correct me if my wrong, and this is my layman’s understanding of these H-1B visas. There’s a quota on them, and they’re only available to non US citizens with certain skills, or certain high level skills. Is that correct?

Greg:       Has to be at least a bachelor’s level background that they have. And, they have been getting, sometimes, over 200000 application for 65000 sports. So, it is very much a lottery. It’s a lottery. They draw them once a year. Basically, a company’s fate.

Greg:       You start a company. So, whole fate depends on whether they get picked or not in the lottery. Some of them have US workers, and they have venture capital funding, and there’s a lot riding on it.

Greg:       So, the Obama administration comes up with this plan, and they issue a proposed rule in late 2015. Late 2016, I apologize. And, we built the app based on the proposed rule. And then, we were watching to … And then, the plan was to tweak it when the final rule came out. And, launch the app. Just build the app, have it sitting in the server, and then launch it, hopefully within a day or two with the final app, because our assumption was that the rule wasn’t gonna change that much.

Greg:       And, they, the Obama administration, got this program launched like the week before Trump got inaugurated. So, they beat the clock, and they got the program out. And, they announced it was gonna have a six month lead in before the first application would come.

Greg:       But, we had the app launched, I think, 35, 48 hours after the rule went final. So-

Chad Main:          And, you say it’s still online.

Greg:       Yeah. It’s still online. It’s entrepreneur_parole.com. And so, we launched this thing. And then of course, the Trump administration decided that they wanted to kill the program, even though I don’t really … I mean, it’s a very pro business program. I don’t know what their problem is with it.

Greg:       But, they decided they wanna kill the program. And then, it ends up in court, where … And, I fortunate actually to be involved with the plaintiff’s group that was working on it. But, the case was successful, and the Trump administration was forced to actually open the program up. They hadn’t. They were supposed to open it in July, after six months passed. They didn’t do it. They got sued.

Greg:       The court said you have to open the program up. They opened the program up. They got about 15 application, and they have been sitting for all 2018, without a decision. But, the app is still up. It’s still technically tells you that you qualify. But, it’s gonna take a judge, probably, to make the government-

Chad Main:          So, let’s talk about the app. It’s built on the Neota Logic?

Greg:       Yeah.

Chad Main:          Who is the target user?

Greg:       The target user are founders themselves, and the venture capital and funding community.

Chad Main:          And, they go online, and there’s … I actually tested it out to see what it did. So, they go online, there’s questions asked. And, the questions are?

Greg:       The questions are; when was the company founded? How much funding have you gotten? Whether the funders are qualified? Are they US citizens? Are they individuals? Are they companies? There’s a bunch of questions to see whether the government can make a safe bet that the company has a reasonable shot of growing quickly, and creating jobs.

Greg:       So, we go through all that. And then, at the end, we came up with a meter from red to green, as far as the likelihood. Nobody actually … There’s no guarantees with this program, because it’s discretionary. But, there are certain things that definitely make you not qualify. And then, there are factors that make you qualify.

Greg:       So basically, what we ended up doing was we gave a rough score on what we thought that the person’s chances were, and then an explanation of why we came up with that. What the negative factors, or what the positive factors were.

Greg:       And then, this is also … This was kind of a cool thing that were able to do with Neota. If they scored poorly, we sent them to one page that was to set up a paid consultation with the firm. And, if they scored well, we sent them to another page where they got free consultation with firm.

Greg:       Of course they didn’t know. People don’t know that when they’re filling it out. But, the idea is that if they scored well, we thought that there’s potential work there, and there’s a solution for them. If they score poorly, we don’t know if there’s a solution for them. There might be other things that are available.

Greg:       Then that’s one of the cool things about Neota is that at the end of the sort of questionnaire, you can have a scoring system, you can have a generated document for you. You can do a lot of different kinds of things, as far as what happens after the person goes through that process.

Use of Automation to Gauge Client Satisfaction

Chad Main:          Another app Greg built to help strengthen client relationships is a client satisfaction survey. And, if you’ve listened to some of our prior episodes, you know conducting client interviews to gauge client satisfaction is key to building a strong practice.

Greg:       We wanted to build our own client survey tool. So, we built a very simple survey that looks very similar to online surveys that you take from any business that you go to. And, it’s just a couple of questions.

Greg:       And, it dropped down which attorney you worked with, with paralegal you worked with, and asked some basic questions about your experience. And then, a comment box if you wanna say anything or nice. You rated one to five, like most of the websites that are out there.

Greg:       And, if they score us a five, then they’re invited to go to a … They go to another page where they’re invited to go on to one of our social media pages where the firm has a presence, whether it’s, or whether it’s Google, or Facebook, or whatever, and rate us there.

Greg:       If they rate us poorly, that’s actually more important information to me than a nice rating on social media, because I wanna know what went wrong with the case, and where their dissatisfaction was, because a) we wanna address it, and b) somebody that, if you don’t address it, they’re gonna go out on social media and say bad things anyway. And, you’ll have deserved them, in a lot of cases if you didn’t address them.

Chad Main:          How do you get this survey to the client?

Greg:       So, that’s actually right in front of you, right there. We stick that on the final letter that we send to a client. And, it’s just a little sticky note that goes on, and there’s just a little website for feedback. And, some of the lawyers, I think, put in their signature blocks, some of them put the sticky notes on their letters that go out, either at the end or in the middle of the case, or wherever they are.

Greg:       And, I think also on the website, there’s a feedback link.

LegalTech Founder Segment: Tom Dreyfus of Josef Legal

Chad Main:          We’re gonna take five from our conversation with Greg, because it’s now time for the legal tech founder segment. In this episode, we’re sticking to our automation theme, because our guest is Tom Dreyfus. He’s the CEO and co-founder of Josef. Josef is an app lawyers can use to create their own legal chatbots and streamline processes.

Chad Main:          Although Tom spends a good deal of his time here in the good old United States, he hails from the land down under, which is where we caught up to him, in Melbourne. 95 degree temps, at 7:30 in the morning, while I was dealing with subzero temperatures in Chicago in the middle of the afternoon.

Chad Main:          Tom, thanks for being here today, and good morning to you. My day is about done. Yours is just starting. Tell us a little bit about Josef.

Tom Dreyfus:        Thanks very much for having me, Chad. What we’ve built with Josef is a legal automation platform that is really easy to use. It’s designed for any lawyer, anywhere, any time, to build logic driven workflows, integrate them with document automation inside our platform, and launch those products to their clients in a conversational interface. So, as a legal bot.

Tom Dreyfus:        It’s designed so that lawyers can take the high volume repeatable services that they provide, and create automated and scalable versions of them, for their clients to access online.

Chad Main:          And, I saw you have a law degree and were a solicitor prior to Josef. Is that correct?

Tom Dreyfus:        That is correct. So, as you might hear by my accent, I am Australian. I went to law school here, and then practiced as a big law attorney in Australia. I clerked at our highest court. And then, I went over to New York to study legal data analytics at Columbia Law School.

Chad Main:          And so, how do you end up getting into legaltech and creating the app?

Tom Dreyfus:        Yeah. I mean, this is a great question. We actually created the app in response to demand from both Australian and American legal services organizations, who were looking at ways to use technology to help them to bridge the access to justice gap.

Tom Dreyfus:        And, one thing that we realized talking to them, and it’s something that’s sort of been repeated to us over and over by lawyers and attorneys across legal organizations of every size, from the biggest firms to the smallest, from in house teams to legal services organizations, was that legal technology, for the most part, is hard to use.

Tom Dreyfus:        So, even though there are attorneys who really want to create products that they know their clients will use and love, the platforms to do it require intensive training. The barriers to using them are just too high for organizations to incorporate them into their practice.

Tom Dreyfus:        And so, what we did was we identified this need for really simple, really easy to use legal technology, initially in the access to justice space. And, since we built and launched the platform, we’ve really expanded across the industry.

Chad Main:          So, let’s talk a little bit about under the hood. What are some of the features that Josef offers to create these bots?

Tom Dreyfus:        When we talk about Josef, we talk about three core features. So, the first one is a workflow buildup. And so, what that is, is a click type, drag and drop interface for attorneys to build logic driven workflows that reflect the work that they do with their clients, day to day. So, that allows them to create series of questions, a conversation, that their clients can use to provide them with all of the data that they need to do the legal work for them.

Tom Dreyfus:        Now, the second core feature is a document editor. So, what that looks like is a place for you to take your pre-existing templates, all of those legal documents that you have in your document management system, and you can input them into our platform, and layer in the logic from the automated workflow that you created.

Tom Dreyfus:        So, you have some legal agreement, or a form, or a letter, that you know you can create an automated form of, if you only had access to the client data necessary to populate that document, and generate it on a customized basis. So, the second core feature is that document editor for you to build those documents.

Tom Dreyfus:        And then, the third core feature is the conversational interface itself. And so, this is something that we’re really proud of. I think that legal technology, for a long time, especially for end users, the clients, has been pretty old fashioned, stuck in kind of web forms. And, no one likes filling out forms.

Tom Dreyfus:        And so, this third core feature is a conversational interface. So, what some people might call a chat bot, where your clients, or if it’s internal phasing, your attorneys, get to interact with the automated products that you’ve built. That’s where they put in all of the data that’s gonna feed into those automated documents, that can then be generated as part of the end to end automated legal service that you’ve built.

Chad Main:          And, you said there’s an API available?

Tom Dreyfus:        Absolutely. So, our API is open. We can push and pull data from any external source. We have a number of really exciting integrations that have been both built already, and are in the works. I’m very happy to talk to anyone interested in using the platform to integrate with third party data sources about their plans, their projects. That’s some of the most exciting work we do.

Chad Main:          And, the app is … It could be used really virtually any size of law firm or legal department, right?

Tom Dreyfus:        That’s absolutely true. So, to give you a sense of who is using it, we have a solo lawyer in Florida who is using it to create an automated version of a part of filing for bankruptcy, all the way up to one of the largest firms in the world, who is rolling out access to Josef on a distributed basis across offices in, I think it’s, 12 different countries.

Tom Dreyfus:        And then, in between, we have some of the most impactful legal services organizations using the platform. We even have the American Bar Association using Josef to power a service that they provide to their members.

Chad Main:          And, let’s talk about that for a second, because you mentioned to me before we hoped on, that’s a program called Blueprint. So, if people wanna see Josef in action, the can visit the ABA website. And, where would they find that?

Tom Dreyfus:        Absolutely. If you head to abablueprint.com, you will see this great service that’s been developed in partnership with the ABA and CuroLegal. And so, what we’ve done on Josef, with the ABA is build this service that more firm attorneys, solo attorneys can use to understand what technology is out there, what technology they should use for different parts of their practice.

Tom Dreyfus:        And, all of this is powered by Josef’s logic engine. And, at the end of your interaction with ABA Blueprint, the system will actually provide you with a report containing recommendations of different products. It will diagnose where in your practice some technology might really help you do what you do even better.

Chad Main:          Well, that’s great. I appreciate your time today. If people wanna learn more about Josef, where do they go?

Tom Dreyfus:        So, you should head to joseflegal.com. You can request a demo. That will come through to my team, and I will be in touch as soon as I possibly can.

Internal Facing Legal Automation

Chad Main:          So, let’s get back to our talk with Greg about automation of legal processes in law firms and legal departments. So, Greg has talked a lot about applications that are client facing. But, many of the benefits legal departments and law firms can gain is the automation of internal processes.

Chad Main:          For instance, Greg’s firm uses automation to generate retainers, and engagement agreements.

Greg:       So, we have a retainer generator tool that we built also using Neota. So, the problem we were encountering, at the firm, was that we would have a template that we would push out to the lawyers.

Greg:       And, it was like the telephone game, where everybody starts out with the same engagement letter, and then they evolve in different directions, and people add something that … This lawyer adds something for this case that made sense in their case, and they basically mock up that same engagement letter for the next client. And then, eventually everybody has different engagement letters across the firm.

Greg:       We wanted to end that, and have consistency, and make sure there were certain important things that we wanted to have in the document like the conflicts of interest, and consistency of fees, and all kind of things like that.

Greg:       So, we decided to build this tool that would ask basic questions to the lawyer that was creating the engagement letter. Type of case, and how they wanted to structure the fees, and all kinds of things like that.

Greg:       And, we built in fee calculators to make it easier for people to … Actually, we bill a lot of cases on a flat fee basis at the firm. So, we may structure where people pay, and benchmarks at different stages, or they may pay a flat fee per month, or they may pay X% quarterly, or that kind of thing. And, there’s different ways that it’s done.

Greg:       We also wanted to make sure that we were having consistency on our fees. We have a fee schedule. And so, we also built it in with the tool, where we wanted the firm’s official fee to flow into the agreement.

Greg:       Now, a lawyer may make an adjustment here or there from the official fee. But, we built this tool that after the lawyer fills out the form, which may be a dozen questions or so, then it’ll generate the document or it’ll calculate the fees. It will pull in the fee from the fee schedule, and then it just makes it a lot faster for the lawyer to push it out. And then, we upload the right signature for digital signature and send it to the client.

Greg:       But, we have … Lawyers like it. And also, it solved this problem where we had all these inconsistencies.

Siskind & Susser’s Automated Tool For Doctors to Determine Visa Eligibility

Chad Main:          One of the most ambitious automation projects Greg and his firm undertook is a tool that its lawyers and clients can use to determine if doctors from other countries might qualify for work visas in the United States.

Chad Main:          As noted earlier, although Greg practices in law firm, automation is also very well suited for use in corporate legal departments. And, the doctor visa analysis tool, he and his firm has developed, is a great example of how certain types of legal analysis can be automated, something in house legal departments can take advantage of for legal questions that come up routinely, and tie up law department resources when they may not need to.

Greg:       It’s a tool that helps to determine if a doctor qualifies for a visa. And, the reason why it’s so complicated is immigration’s all federal. So, generally speaking, we have one set of rules for the whole country for immigration, except for doctors.

Greg:       Congress created this program where they delegated to each state the ability to custom design your own immigration program to get doctors into shortage areas, mostly rural areas, Indian tribal clinics, and places like that.

Greg:       And so, what will typically happen for us is physician recruiters have a real struggle of trying to figure out whether they can recruit a doctor or not, that was educated abroad. They are trained in the United States. And, it’s about a quarter of all the doctors that are in the United States in training.

Greg:       So, we’re not talking about a small group. We’re talking about roughly 78000 doctors that enter US every year for training, for residency programs. So, it’s a pretty big pool of doctors that they’re recruiting from.

Greg:       But anyway, figuring out whether they qualify, there are so many rules, and they differ from state to state. It’s very hard for a physician recruiter, a headhunter to be able to figure out if they can recruit a doctor or not for their facility, and whether the doctor qualifies, because a doctor has to meet a bunch of requirements, the hospital has to meet a bunch of requirements.

Chad Main:          So, give me examples some of the requirements that have to be met.

Greg:       So, they have to accept Medicaid, they have to be in what’s called a health professional shortage area, which is the US Department of Health and Human Services designated certain locations as having shortages of doctors. They have to have a certain amount of recruiting that they’ve gone through to try and get the doctor there. They have salary requirements that they have to meet.

Greg:       Sometimes there’s a bunch of requirements for what would need to be in the employment contract, which will work for some employers and not for others. A lot of issues that have to be dealt with. And, I think it’s one of the most complicated areas in immigration law, which is why there’s not a lot of lawyers, immigration lawyers, that handle doctor cases.

Greg:       But, the challenge that we’ve had over the years is because these physician recruiters get intimidated by the rules, they tend to, even though the shortages are dire in some places, they will still do everything that they can not look at the international doctor, even though they may be educated or trained at Harvard, and have all the requirements that they want, they just are intimidated by the immigration aspects of it.

Greg:       So, the lawyers, a lot of times, if you can make the process easier for the recruiter, it makes good sense from a business point of view, from an immigration lawyer, because they’re more likely to recruit that doctor, and they’re more likely to use your services.

Greg:       So, over the years, we’ve decided, for example, even though we charge for consultations, we always say we don’t charge hospitals for consultations regarding physician recruiting, because we didn’t wanna have one more reason for them to put that resume to the side.

Greg:       But, when they contact us, we have to go through this research process to figure out whether this location qualifies. We have to look at their address, we have to ask them a bunch of questions about their own practices, we have to ask questions about the doctor.

Greg:       And sometimes, it takes us a couple of days to get back with them. And, in of itself is a burden on the firm, because we have to go through this research process, and they may end up not hiring this doctor.

Greg:       And, it’s a burden on the recruiter, has to sit and wait, and they may still decide that, “You know what, it’s still too much of a pin in the neck to call a law firm up, even though we’re not charging for it.”

Greg:       So, what we wanted to do was to build out a tool that essentially had all the research built into it. The question sets would be different for every state, because remember every state gets to custom design their program. It will query the necessary databases.

Greg:       So, remember there’s a salary question, and it’s based on Department of Labor data. So, we wanted the tool to query the data from the department of labor. We wanted the tool to query the shortage area data. And then, we wanted them to ask all the questions that were appropriate for that particular state.

Greg:       Some states have some federal programs in there as well. So, it sort of it more complicated, because you have to ask questions based on more than one potential program that you could use in the state.

Greg:       So, we had this idea of this simple looking app that was actually fairly massive in what’s happening behind the scenes. And, we have been pushing it out about a state per week, over the last year, to finally get that done.

Greg:       And, I think that … I mean, it’s probably, I think, the most ambitious app that anybody would have done with Neota, and probably, I think, in legal, using an expert system like this, probably as far as the amount of labor that’s gone in. I think probably as much as any tool that’s been developed to date.

Chad Main:          I’ve got two question for you on that. So, number one, who’s using it? The attorneys? Paralegals? Others in the firm?

Greg:       It will be used by the attorneys and the paralegals who need to find out the answers themselves. So, it’s a lot faster for us to look it up in the tool than it’s gonna be to basically go and do the research.

Chad Main:          And, how is the answer given to you? What’s spit out?

Greg:       So, at the end it spits out a … We use that metering system, red, yellow, green light. Red means that you don’t qualify. And, it’ll tell you why you didn’t qualify in there, because it maybe something that you can address.

Greg:       It’ll tell you yellow, like some states for example, some of the programs have a limited number that you can do per year in the state. So, it may mean that you’ve met all the qualifications, but they have a lottery for doctors in their state. And so, you may not qualify, even though you meet all the rules.

Greg:       For green, it’s a state, there’s either no limits on the numbers, or it’s a state that tends to never fill up.

Greg:       And then, we have a checklist of all the items that are gonna be needed in order to be able to proceed with the case. So, this is something we want clients also to fill up, because they’ll get the answer they want, without having to wait on the law firm. So, they’ll know whether they should recruit that doctor or not.

Greg:       Basically, they’re getting a green light to recruit the doctor. And, some of these cases, I mean, you’re talking about people that are gonna be making anywhere from two to five hundred thousand dollars a year salaries. So, it’s a lot of money riding on recruitment.

Greg:       And, they’ll get a list of all the things that they’re going to have to provide in order to proceed with the case. So, that’s also something that saves some time before they actually … And, the law firm get it as well. So, we know they contact us, what the app said. On there, we can look at the logic as well, and we’ll know that without having to spend the time going through all the questions again that this is going to be a case that should work, as long as they answered the questions correctly.

Greg:       So, it’s designed for clients, and it’s designed for us. And then, we were talking beforehand, we probably will sell it to our competition as well.

It Takes Team Effort to Develop Automation for Law Firms

Chad Main:          So, what goes into the development of Siskind and Susser automation tools? A team effort.

Greg:       So, there’s a couple of folks that are involved. So, we have lawyers that are involved on the quality control issue, making sure that they’re going to the question sets that the answers correct, and that the questions are the correct questions.

Greg:       We have a couple of paralegals who have been helping as far as developing the question sets. These are people that regularly work with clients in terms of developing a checklist and everything that they’re gonna need.

Greg:       And then, we had two people in the office that are involved with coding. And, it’s coding, not in the sense that you have to have a background as a computer programmer. With Neota and with some of the other tools, you need to be technically comfortable. But, you don’t have to have a programming background in order to be able to develop with Neota-

Chad Main:          That’s the whole point of these tools. Those with non development, non coding background-

Greg:       They can be trained, right? So, we’ve had, probably on this tool, about six or seven people that have been working on it consistently.

Where to Start with Legal Automation

Chad Main:          As I got ready to end my visit with Greg, I asked him the question I ask most of our podcast guests. Where can people start doing what he’s doing?

Greg:       So, I think one of the first things that you should be doing as a lawyer … It’s not so much from a technology perspective, but you really should be mapping out your processes. So, in most practices, even though every case maybe unique and have it’s own … There are standard procedures for it.

Greg:       If you’re litigator, there are certain steps that you go through in terms of preparing your documents, and collecting information, and how you set up your files, and all that. And, I think the first thing that we’ve been struggling with, and trying to deal with as well in our firm, is really trying to map out all of our processes, so that we can figure out where we can streamline and automate.

Greg:       But, just the actual process of going through and figuring out, even if you don’t develop, use technology to automate that system, having your system actually mapped out, and understanding what your system is, and it maybe that it’s completely half hazard. If you go through that process, I think it sort of reveals itself where you should be automating.

Greg:       So, that’s step one. I think that it’s been around for 30 years. But, document automation, probably most law firms can start with that as far as figuring out where your forms library that everybody’s had, and used to have in file cabinets. And now, it’s electronic.

Greg:       But, that’s probably the easiest place for a lot of firms to start, is on basic document assembly. And, you don’t have to have necessarily artificial intelligence tools to be using that. There are tools that have been around for a lot of years that are available for that.

Greg:       So, I would probably say that would be the place I would say. For a lot of firms would be to start with document assembly. As far as the expert systems kind of thing we’re talking about, I think the good news is this is an area that is about to get a lot of competition, and also of less expensive tools, that are pretty user friendly. And, we’ve been seeing a lot of them in course of researching how we’re moving forward.

Greg:       So, I think once you’ve gone through that, and figured out the … And probably, and hopefully, that of these things that we talked about today will get people sort of some ideas of their thinking about the interactions that they have with their clients, that there’s a lot of repetition, in how they do things, and the advice that they give.

Greg:       But, I would say, probably my guess is in the next six to 12 months, some of these inexpensive tools are gonna be coming online, that do some of the things that Neota does, some of the things that Neota probably … Some things that Neota does probably won’t be that easily available.

Greg:       But, I would say that the cost probably won’t be as much of a barrier as they have been. So, those are a couple of things I think that firms could do.

Chad Main:          That’s great. Appreciate your time. If people wanna get in touch with you, how do they find you?

Greg:       They can find me on our website, visalaw.com or on LinkedIn. Probably the two easiest places.

Chad Main:          Great. Thanks.

Greg:       Thank you.

Chad:       So, that’s it for another episode of Technically Legal. We appreciate you listening, and hope you enjoyed it. If you wanna subscribe, you can find us on most major podcasting platforms like iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, et cetera, et cetera. If you wanna get a hold of me, you can shoot me an email at cmain@percipient.co.

Chad:       Thanks again for listening. And, until next time, this has been Technically Legal.

 

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Episode 17: Stephen Kane on Online Dispute Resolution

This time we talk ODR, short for online dispute resolution, with Stephen Kane, the founder of Fairclaims a platform that helps people resolve legal claims online.

As Stephen explains, ODR has been around since the 1990s, but really took off when companies like Ebay and Amazon started to use it to resolve customer complaints and disputes.

ODR can look a lot like a terrestrial arbitration or mediation–documents and evidence are exchanged online and an arbitrator or mediator tries to settle the dispute. But, disputes can also be resolved online without any human intervention at all.

If you want to contact Stephen, you can find him on Twitter or contact Fairclaims at info@fairclaims.com.

 

Legal Tech Founder Segment: Tucker Cottingham of Lawyaw

This episode is a two-for-one in the legal tech founder department because for our legal tech founder segment, we talk to Tucker Cottingham, the CEO and co-founder of Lawyaw, a document automation and assembly tool for lawyers. Lawyaw helps lawyers cut down on document assembly time by auto-filling court forms and turning Microsoft Word-based legal documents into online templates.

 

Things We Talk About in This Episode:

Los Angeles County ODR Program

European Commission Online Dispute Resolution

Judicial Council Forms

 

Episode Credits

Editing and Production: Grant Blackstock

Theme Music: Home Base (Instrumental Version) by TA2MI

 

Episode Transcript

Chad Main:          That’s Stephen Kane. He’s the founder of a company called FairClaims. In today’s show we talk to him about ODR or Online Dispute Resolution. Instead of going to court to resolve a legal problem, ODR permits parties to resolve legal disputes online.

In our legal founder’s segment, we talked to Tucker Cottingham. He’s the co-founder and CEO of Lawyaw, the document automation and assembly tool. I’m Chad Main and this is Technically Legal, a podcast about the intersection of technology and the practice of law. In each episode we talk to a legal innovator about what they’ve been up to and hopefully get a couple of real world tips from them about implementing technology into legal practice.

Not only is Stephen the founder of FairClaims, he’s a lawyer. FairClaims is an ODR platform that permits parties to resolve legal disputes online rather than via more traditional means like heading to court. But, what is ODR exactly? 

Stephen Kane:       Use technology to more efficiently resolve disputes. Thereby making it quicker and less expensive to all stakeholders to get to resolution.

 

History of ODR

Chad Main:          At a very general level, there are a few main types of online dispute resolution. Some aren’t hugely different than the dispute resolution solutions we’re used to. For instance, as we will hear in this episode, both arbitrations and mediations can be conducted online through platforms like FairClaims. In those situations, rather than relying on court fines and hard copy memos, evidence and arguments are submitted electronically. However, there are also purely tech-based solutions where disputes are resolved solely by algorithm with little to no human decision-making input.

While ODR is somewhat newish, it has been around for a little bit. At least since the 1990s. When the general public really started using the internet and searching the world wide web, it was inevitable that disputes would arise. Some of the very first ODR programs were launched at colleges and universities and focused on the study of ODR, but also attempted to resolve disputes between students or domestic-related disputes. When commerce on the web took off, sites like Ebay and amazon embraced ODR for the resolution of customer complaints and disputes. That’s when online dispute resolution really took hold.

Stephen Kane:       People were talking about it 30, 40 years ago because I remember, I went to law school, I was a 2006 grad, and I read articles in law school and that’s what got me thinking about it when I was talking to my own clients about small disputes. I read articles then about people who were talking about it in the ’80s. The moment that there was the personal computer, the idea of connecting computers. Certainly the moment the internet was around, people were talking about it. It’s been decades in the making. Different companies have succeeded in different ways. It’s been attempted at least a dozen times, probably more. As far as the history goes, it’s been an idea for decades and then, I would say the first company that people would agree developed ODR would probably be Ebay, actually.

Consumers don’t necessarily think of the Ebay forums as dispute resolution but it’s very much dispute resolution. Same thing with Amazon. Amazon and Ebay were two of the first companies to really execute on dispute resolution. When you go to Amazon, you miss a package, it’s a few clicks.

Chad Main:          Expand on how Ebay and Amazon, what kinds of disputes they’re resolving and how it works because I think some people, they wouldn’t think of that as online dispute resolution.

Stephen Kane:       It totally is and yeah, because some people think, “Okay. Online dispute resolution is an alternative to litigation.” That’s totally true but, online dispute resolution also gets in front of litigation. In our world at FairClaims, we think information is dispute resolution. If you and I are debating who’s in a movie like, was Will Smith in that movie? We google it now and we resolve the dispute. When I was a teenager, we would debate it, there was no resolution. We would just debate it. We would’ve had to go to the library or happen to see it on the news because I was around when AOL first got started. That’s a form of dispute resolution and I agree that it’s not necessarily in people’s mind share, and I don’t think ODR’s in people’s mind share in general per se. But yes, with Amazon and Ebay … with Ebay, let’s say your package gets there. You buy something from a seller and it arrives damaged. If there weren’t tools on Ebay to resolve disputes, what would you do? You might hire and attorney, you might sue them. It depends on the value of the package.

But if it were a hundred-dollar package, you’d probably have to just walk away. But one of the genius things about Ebay and Amazon is you don’t have to walk away. They set it up so that you can easily resolve things and get ahead of litigation so that I would imagine, and I’m not a lawyer there, that they’ve had less litigation over the years versus other companies.

Chad Main:          For the most part, there’s no human involved in the resolution of most of those claims, correct?

Stephen Kane:       Correct. In terms of volume, there’s no human involved. They try to resolve it digitally first just with some exchange of information. However, Ebay built a huge panel of mediators way early on. I don’t know the exact year, but they had volunteer mediators so that there would be digital solutions and then, you could get a human mediator. So few people go through dispute resolution because disputes only come up half a percent of every transaction or so. Most people don’t experience it. People experience disputes but they haven’t necessarily experienced a dispute on Ebay. I think more salient, they don’t necessarily think about it as dispute resolution. That’s beautiful because if you’re not thinking about it as dispute resolution, you’re just thinking I need to solve this problem, and I think that’s what law should be.

 

Why Stephen Started FairClaims

Chad Main:          Like many of the people we talked to on this podcast, Stephen was a lawyer in private practice before he launched FairClaims. In his practice, he saw a pain point in the legal industry that was not adequately being addressed. But it was a probably that tech might be able to help. Specifically, the resolution of legal disputes involving parties that might not be able to afford lawyers or disputes that maybe didn’t even really need the involvement of lawyers.

Stephen Kane:       I’m sitting here at a recording studio in the arts district in downtown LA. I grew up a couple miles from here. I grew up mostly in Monterrey Park and grew up also in downtown LA. The reason that experience is relevant is I grew up not rich. I can’t say I grew up poor because I had everything I needed. But there was a six-month period for example where my mother who worked for the city government most of her career was out of work. That was very anxiety producing. Most of my family still lives like most people where they’re living paycheck to paycheck. I’m still living paycheck to paycheck. I’m totally fine and compared to most people, I’m super wealthy or rich or whatever, but I think that because of all of that and because I’ve struggled still in my adult life and I’m about to turn 40 in two weeks. 

Because of that, I still empathize with people who go through struggle who don’t have access to an attorney like 90% do not who have no idea what to do when they get into some sort of legal dispute or situation. As most of my family has no idea what to do when they’re in some sort of … not even necessarily litigation. I’m not talking about that. I see it all the time. Since I started FairClaims, and I’ve been working on it for four and a half years, it’s amazing how many phone calls I still get about disputes. People, they don’t know what to do about it and how simple it is for me with my legal background to give them two bits of information or something where they can do something about it. That’s the motivation for FairClaims and I think one of the reasons for our success is that I’ve recruited a team of people who are in a similar boat.

Not necessarily that they’re all struggling. Some of them have a good amount of money. Some of them have spouses who make money, but some of them don’t and I think that means that we’re all empathetic of what our end users go through.

Chad Main:          What was it within your practice or about your practice that gave you the aha moment and says, “You know what? There’s gotta be a better way to resolve disputes?”

Stephen Kane:       I kept getting calls from people with small claim disputes they weren’t sure what to do about. Usually it was the typical story and I would get about four or five calls a month was, “Somebody owes me $2500.” Or, “I had a work-for-hire or a contract for $3000.” Or, “A home-improvement project for a couple thousand.” Or a landlord tenant issue of $1500 security deposit and they didn’t know what to do about it. They called me because that’s what people do if they can. They call a lawyer. I offer free consultations. I think it was an effective way to get clients. I would have to explain to them and it was heartbreaking really, that, “Hey, I actually can’t help you because I’m gonna cost more than the claim is worth.” Then they would say, “Well, but then what do I do?” I’d say, “Well, you could go to small claims court.” 

Small claims court of course is a nice option. The courts are very good people with difficult roles who have a lot of volume coming their way and I would explain to them how that process worked and that they would have to look the court up, file paperwork, that I could only help them really just because I only did this part-time. I had to make money of course for my time if they paid me and that wouldn’t be worth it so that they had to go get paperwork, go submit it, serve the other side, go appear. They get their court date, it’s two to three months out. Go appear in person, make their own arguments. I could just tell they were … a lot of them were intimidated by the process. It was tough that there was that timeline when $2000 would make all the difference for their budget, whatever that was. The fact that they had to stand in from of a crowded packed courtroom and make an argument and et cetera, et cetera.

The point is that it’s a tricky situation for people when they have to navigate things on their own and just got me thinking, “Isn’t there’s something out there?” Because, at the time it was 2014. “Isn’t something out there that can help people?” I went searching, and I personally did not find something that I thought made sense for them. I don’t know what happened. Something clicked, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I got obsessed and so I started just sending an hour a day thinking about it, working on it. I remember taking a trip to Utah where I thought, “I can make money with legal work. This is interesting to me,” and I set out to start I don’t know what. A little website, a small business. I never thought it would turn into a thing.

 

FairClaims’ Business Model

Chad Main:          Stephen launched FairClaims in 2014 as he phased out his law practice. For now, FairClaims mainly handles disputes under $25000 and many are related to insurance claims. However, the company continues to grow.

Stephen Kane:       We want to help people resolve any disputes under $25000 period, and we’re set up to do that now. We have a series of escalations. Our philosophy is resolve early, resolve often and avoid headache. If you go to your site, it’s be heard, resolve, move on. That’s how we think about it that in a perfect world, we all resolve disputes very quickly so there’s less stress and anxiety and worry and so that everybody gets to resolution quicker which means you can reduce your liability and get paid out and et cetera. But we can handle any monetary claim under $25000. What we do is we have a full stack that starts with information and resources. We’re giving you information about your dispute. That’s only built out for insurance claims right now.

We started working with marketplaces first. HomeAdvisor and Turo and companies like that where we mainly use arbitration and mediation. But, insurance is a great example of where we have the entire A to Z solution. A claimant comes in, first they look at literally some information about insurance claims. Some resources. It’s certainly not legal advice. It’s not specific.

Chad Main:          When you say information, you mean how the claim’s gonna proceed, what’s expected of them, what to expect in general?

Stephen Kane:       That’s basically right. Because, I think we did a lot of customer development. I’m sure a lot of us know people who have been in an auto accident. When you’re in an auto accident, no one’s sure what to do. I didn’t know anything about what to do 14 months ago. The first step is, “Hey, here’s some basics on what goes on with an auto accident claim.” That’s the first step and then, “Here’s some resources and you can go research some stuff.” Then they can go google things and we say, “Don’t take our word for it.” We are partnered with different people like the Better Business Bureau and that helps us. We have articles on our site. Good social proof, but we say basically they can look it up themselves.

That’s the first step, info and resources. Then there’s an intake module where they can kinda … we have some videos about more about how the process works. They can add information about their claim. They can add different aspects. Medical bills, property damage. Is there anything else that we need to solve for to resolve things here? Are you in pain still? When are you gonna recover? That sort of thing and it automatically walks them through a TurboTax type tool. But what we do, and this is where my co-founder John is a total product genius. Total genius. We empower them to think for themselves about what they think is fair. What that does is a couple things. One, it makes them think about it and then, it helps them consider the trade-offs of, if I want more money, is it gonna take longer? Can I cover all my bills? But more important than that, it empowers them.

I bought a hat. I went to Yale Law School a couple weeks ago to visit. I just happened to be driving from Hartford to Manhattan. I had never been on campus. It’s a beautiful campus. It looks like a bunch of castles. I bought a Yale Law School hat and our thing is we are all Yale attorneys or we could be. Because, when I do TurboTax I’m a pretty damn good accountant. That’s the idea is hey, this stuff’s actually not rocket science. A lot of it. Now, some of it is. Some of it is. If it’s a complex claim, if it’s over $25000, if it’s more than just soft tissue damage, FairClaims is not for them. Again, we don’t give legal advice but it’s more like if you give people some info and resources, if you let them walk through the elements of an insurance claim, which actually doesn’t have to be complicated, I think insurance companies have very sophisticated ways of doing things for good reasons. But, from the claimant’s perspective, it can be very simple.

What we found out in talking to them is hey, I just want a fair payment quickly. What they want is something in between. Perhaps a Google search and talking to their cousin and hiring an attorney. Now, if they go through our tool, they still have the option of hiring an attorney, and that’s fine. Some people will always want to hire an attorney but some people want a different option like a TurboTax type option. They go through and they see that, and we’re very transparent. It says, “Look, what this comes down to is who’s at fault and how much. There’s some other stuff involved, but it’s really about property damage, medical bills and then if you’re in pain there could be perhaps a pain and suffering component. We introduce some information on how they could think about guidelines. They decide for themselves what they think is fair.

I was in an auto accident two years ago. My self-esteem was low after that accident. When you’re just taken off guard and you slam into a wall, you feel a little down. We’re trying to build people back up again in this way that shows them, hey, you can do this. You’re gonna be okay. We can facilitate something to get you somewhere quickly. That’s the next step and then they go and immediately they can then decide if they want to submit it to the claims adjuster at the insurance company or not. People can literally go into our tool, get information and then go hire an attorney. They can go on our tool, get information and [inaudible 00:15:34] the attorney. They can go on our tool for fun. It’s free for consumers. But if they would like to then submit that information to the insurance company they can do that. Then, right away they’re taken into a negotiation platform where they can make offers and counter offers back and forth if they’d like. Then, they go into a mediation platform to discuss the matter with the insurance company.

Chad Main:          If the negotiation fails, then they go to mediation.

Stephen Kane:       That’s correct.

Chad Main:          I assume the negotiation’s with the claims adjuster as maybe had they hired an attorney it would be?

Stephen Kane:       Yeah, correct. Look, claimants can do this. Whether or not they have an attorney, they can do this alongside thinking about hiring an attorney. It’s a perfectly valid option either way and again, many cases where they absolutely should get an attorney but, hopefully maybe things settle in the negotiation platform and both sides are happy. If not, then they can call in a third-party neutral mediator who’s totally separate from FairClaims. It’s a 1099 and that person has insurance experience in their state, and they work it out from there.

Chad Main:          Is the mediation also facilitated on the FairClaims site?

Stephen Kane:       Yes.

Chad Main:          Okay. What happens if mediation falls through?

Stephen Kane:       In that particular flow for auto accidents, then unfortunately that means they didn’t get their resolution. We don’t recommend arbitration for most insurance claims. We think arbitration is a separate solution for separate types of problems. We do think there’s a place for arbitration with some insurance claims, like when it’s just property damage and they’re at an impasse. We have done that for other companies. We do it voluntary, not mandatory. Then, there’s a digital solution there where within two to three weeks, the arbitrator makes a decision. There’s a video hearing included.

Chad Main:          We just talked about insurance claims relating to auto accidents. Does FairClaims offer arbitration for other types of disputes?

Stephen Kane:       Absolutely. We can handle anything and with our marketplace customers, with the sharing economy customers we work with, the main solution’s arbitration. Some of them use … we call it fairchat. Our mediation tool which is like … it’s a chat tool, you can upload evidence. There’s some automated messages from FairClaims to help drive the conversation. There’s some deadlines. You can do a video call or a phone call for mediation as well. But absolutely, we can handle any arbitration under $25000.

Chad Main:          It’s basically a tool open to anybody. If you and I get into a dispute over I don’t know, we decide to start a business and it falls through. If we decide, you and I, to use FairClaims to resolve that dispute, it is open to us, right?

Stephen Kane:       Correct.

Chad Main:          It would be submitted to an arbitrator or you could do a mediation or arbitration?

Stephen Kane:       Correct. We even put the mediation tool within the arbitration platform and about 15% of our cases … I shouldn’t say cases, our arbitration matters settle with that mediation tool.

 

Legal Founder Segment: Tucker Cottingham of Lawyaw

Chad Main:          We’re gonna step away from our talk with Stephen for just a few minutes because now it’s time for our legal founder’s segment. Today we’re talking to Tucker Cottingham. He’s the CEO and co-founder of Lawyaw, and that’s spelled L-A-W-Y-A-W. It’s a document automation and assembly tool. Tucker, thanks for being here today. I appreciate your time. Tell us a little be about Lawyaw.

Tucker C:           Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for having me. Lawyaw is a cloud-based platform and with Lawyaw, attorneys can upload their word-based legal documents. Then, we use software to turn them into templates that can be easily and quickly filled out online. Unlike other programs that use pre-can language, Lawyaw creates templates out of the documents attorneys already have created. They use their own well-crafted words, their own documents and turn those documents into templates.

Chad Main:          It’s a cloud-based app, correct?

Tucker C:           It’s 100% cloud-based. You can use it from a Mac or PC or iPad on the go, exactly.

Chad Main:          What was the motivation or inspiration to create the app?

Tucker C:           I’m an attorney and I worked at a small law firm in San Francisco and spent a lot of time dealing with a lot of similar documents. We would use the same documents over and over again but we’d have to change bits and pieces of them and customize them to clients but, a lot of the language was gonna be the same across different projects. What we found is that it’s really unfair that attorneys who want to streamline their document drafting have to choose between really elementary tools that have a lot of limited flexibility, or these more complex programs that are really expensive and hard to use. When faced between these two options of something really simple and limited or something really complex and expensive, most firms just don’t end up doing anything. We decided to help attorneys achieve their goals by creating software that’s really powerful and also allows them to realize their benefits immediately. Occupying that middle space between the existing options right now.

Chad Main:          Let’s talk about that for a minute. The benefits. Tell us about some of the features that Lawyaw has.

Tucker C:           If you have a document on your computer, you can open up Microsoft Word. We have a add-in that allows you to easily turn that document into a dynamic template. What I mean by that is it’s not just fill in the blank. You can save alternative clauses, you can have multiple choices for different sections of the document, you can save formatted text, you can give yourself hints. You can turn your documents into these flexible templates and then, you sync it with Lawyaw and you log into Lawyaw and you can fill out the journey that you’ve created and generate that document. You can have multiple users on your account so you can manage your templates across your firm very easily. We also have a federally compliant e-sign tool so that when you actually generate the document, you can either download it back into Microsoft Word and do additional custom edits, or you can go directly to e-sign and send it out for signature. You can also upload outside documents back into Lawyaw and send them out for signature.

Chad Main:          Not only custom made Word Documents, the app also lets you fill in judicial council forms if you’re a California attorney, right?

Tucker C:           Yeah. We have about 6000 standard court forms and California’s a great example. California is super heavy on pre-printed court forms. There’s 58 counties and they all have their own forms and then there’s the judicial council that has about 2000 forms. We have a library of standard court forms. We also have all the immigration forms in addition to the ability to turn your own documents into these flexible templates.

Chad Main:          You use Word-based documents to load into it for templates, so I assume that it works with a Google Doc too if you save it in the right format?

Tucker C:           If you export your Google Doc into Word then it will definitely work. What we’ve found is the vast majority of attorneys are still using Microsoft Word and that’s where they have their existing documents. Rather than having somebody rebuild a document from scratch, you can just open a document that you already have, quickly turn it into a template and sync it with Lawyaw.

Chad Main:          Who is the target audience for Lawyaw? Is it small firms? Big firms? Middle firms? Any type of law department? Any type of lawyer?

Tucker C:           Yeah. Really we’re targeting small firms from two people all the way up to 100 attorneys. That’s the segment of the market that really doesn’t have great options right now. Those are the attorneys that are really based between a really inflexible option that’s really simple or a really complex expensive option. We’re targeting both litigation attorneys and transactional attorneys and in small firms.

Chad Main:          That brings up a point too is it really doesn’t matter what type of law you’re practicing because you probably have the same types of documents you’re doing over and over and over for your clients. 

Tucker C:           Exactly. What we’ve found is that each law firm is unique and has their own documents, but it’s a similar set of problems that they’re all facing which is that they have templates that they use, or they go to a previous client project and they make changes in that previous document. Those are all essentially templates. Attorneys that have been doing this for a long time, they know their documents really well. They know the process really well and what we’re helping them to do is to streamline that process using our cloud-based platform.

Chad Main:          To that point when you demoed it for me before we hopped on here, you showed me pleading template and a fee agreement template. You got a contract and a pleading. There’s two different types of documents. It’s really pretty amendable to any kind of document. Any kind of legal document that has variables and is consistently used, right?

Tucker C:           Yeah, exactly. Some of the commonly used documents are gonna be engagement agreements, fee agreements, discovery documents. A lot of discovery documents people are automating or streamlining. We also see a lot of motions as you mentioned. Then, on the transactional side, contracts, wills and trusts. Those type of documents as well. 

Chad Main:          That’s cool. Again, I appreciate your time today. If people want to learn more about Lawyaw, where do they find you?

Tucker C:           Yeah, absolutely. Thank you. If people want to learn more about Lawyaw, they can go to lawyaw.com/techlegal and you can also call us at 415-742-5600.

 

Does ODR Take Lawyers Out of the Process?

Chad Main:          Okay. Now let’s get back to our talk with Stephan Kane, the founder of FairClaims, an online dispute resolution platform. One criticism of ODR or depending on your point of view, maybe just really an observation is that at some level, online dispute resolution lessens the need for lawyers and may take the human element out of dispute resolution. However, Stephen doesn’t necessarily agree and points out that for many disputes, lawyers still may and do, and are necessary to participate in ODR.

 

Stephen Kane:       People are welcome to have an attorney represent them in any arbitration including with FairClaims. We’ve had plenty of attorney-represented claimants and respondents in the platform. I think that’s just up to each end user. For the end users who cannot afford an attorney or don’t want to use one, they don’t have to. For the ones who would like their attorney to handle matters, they can do that. Other people go and consult with an attorney as they’re going through the process and those are all open options.

Chad Main:          A similar critique of online dispute resolution especially as it relates to mediation, I think people might say to you, “Well, mediation is effective because it gets people in a dispute in the same room and there’s a human element, and the mediator can appeal to emotions and their reason.” But that might be absent when you’re using technology to resolve a dispute. What’s your response to that kind of critique?

Stephen Kane:       It’s not untrue and it depends on the type of dispute and the parties involved and the emotions, and we pay attention to all of that. We don’t believe that this is a solution for everything or everybody. We think it’s a different kind of option. We think there are trade-offs. It depends on somebody’s personal appetite for, do I want to get this done quicker? Do I prefer in person? We hear from some end users who say, “I don’t want to see that person.” Sometimes people want to and sometimes they don’t. Other people tell us, I don’t want to use FairClaims because I want to see the other side cringe in person and piss them off. You know what? It’s America, they have that right and it’s fine. It’s just trade-offs and what we try to do is we try to figure out what are the best solutions for certain problems? Then, optimize around that and we’re not trying to be the everything to everybody. In fact, we take a very small percentage of disputes from … with the companies we work with. 

With the marketplace companies, we’re an option of last resort. If they haven’t been able to work it out and they’re at an impasse, they either will do it where it’s voluntary or sometimes they’ve decided to include it in their provisions, but it’s up to the stakeholders involved. Our job is to be neutral, our job is to be open to everybody. Like you mentioned earlier again, anybody could use it. Other people will decide that for certain problems, they’ll decide case by case whether they use us. We’ve seen a lot of different approaches and we continually learn what’s best.

 

ODR is Taking Off in Europe

Chad Main:          Resolving disputes online is obviously not limited to commercial disputes, and is not always handled by private companies like Ebay, Amazon or FairClaims. Courts around the world are beginning to embrace ODR. For instance, consumers of any company in the European Union could submit disputes to the European Commission’s ODR platform. Closer to home? Courts in Los Angeles and other areas, offer certain litigants the opportunity to have disputes resolved online.

Stephen Kane:       There are several states and counties who have built a mediation platform particularly with small claims cases where they offer it as an option for people at some point in the process and it’s of course different in every place and that’s really wonderful. Look, I’m interested in people resolving disputes whether it’s through us or somebody else. I don’t care and I think it’s pretty cool. Then, yes, Europe has created some online dispute resolution standards. They have a product you can use to resolve disputes in Europe. England has done some interesting things where they’ve deregulated some legal regulation and allowed non-attorneys to invest in law firms. 

They are certainly experimenting and have been for the last couple years with providing online dispute resolution for insurance claims and by all signals, that’s going incredibly well where everybody’s better off. Because if you can just resolve things quicker, you free up more money and in the economy period. Then, if you can do it in the right way and thread the needles in the right way, which we try to do, then most, if not all stakeholders potentially could be better off depending on the decisions they make, their litigation strategy, et cetera. 

 

The Future of ODR

Chad Main:          As my talk with Stephen neared the end, I asked him where he thought the future of ODR was headed. He said, “One of the focuses at FairClaims is the resolution of non-monetary claims.”

Stephen Kane:       What we get most excited about are actually non-monetary disputes. The problems we’re solving now are big and especially with insurance claims. Getting money into people’s hands after an auto accident and having them feel good about themselves and about the result, that’s big, and building more trust within society. That’s really what this is about. But, we get excited about things like roommate disputes. Resolving those. I don’t think I’ve run into anyone who’s had a roommate and didn’t have some dispute, whether it’s monetary, non-monetary. I think with my roommates, like 10 years ago, one of our roommates was moving out and we had bought furniture together and the question was how much do we pay each other for the furniture? Do you diminish the value? We were geeks, okay? We were trying to figure it out and what’s fair.

It’s like, we figured it out. We figured it out amicably but we spent a lot of time on it and it was real money and it very well, very easily could have gone the other way. There’s certainly roommates who fight about rent and who’s gonna do dishes, and big and little things and that creates tension. Whenever there’s tension and stress, you’re not at your best and you’re focusing your time on things that you could be doing for yourself, for your family, for your friends that’s improving society. Roommate disputes is one example. Disputes between boyfriends and girlfriends. We as a team, early on when it was just three of us, we would go to small claims court just to ask people questions about what are you here for? We were able to do that of course all by the book. We weren’t soliciting them for our business at all. We were just gathering information. We were in the place we should have been, et cetera.

But we were like, “What are you here for?” It was interesting. There were like three people who were there, or at least two people we ran into and we visited a few times, who had a dispute against an ex-boyfriend and girlfriend about who was gonna get the dog, or who was gonna pay for something and reimbursement for a ring and stuff like that. We thought that’s really interesting because people are getting married later in life and there’s probably more of these. There was one time where I think it was through the Better Business Bureau who sends us some claims if people would like … and we’re partnered with the California chapter … where there were two or three roommate disputes in a row. What we noticed is that the conversion rate on the respondent voluntarily agreeing to sign up, because they can either have it pre-arranged in their contract or not, that it was higher than other areas.

We thought about that a lot and we said, “Well, maybe it’s because they know each other. Maybe they’re more likely to try to use something like this where they just need a little bit of a push.” We get excited about solutions on things like that.

Chad Main:          That’s very interesting and I never would have thought of that. It raises an interesting point then because I think if someone has a roommate dispute or a falling out with a significant other and they’re fighting over the dog, they might think for an instant, we could call an attorney for some advice, or I suppose they could go to small claims but that seems like a pain in the ass. I’m gonna do nothing. How do you, as the founder of FairClaims get the word out that there is a solution? There is a solution that exists that didn’t exist before and is cheaper and better and faster to resolve these kind of disputes that people may not take the time to resolve in the current day?

Stephen Kane:       We started working on dispute resolution with marketplaces, the home advisors of the world for specific reasons. That was we wanted to see a lot of disputes across a lot of different industries. They also are outstanding really early adopters who were willing to take a chance on me when it was just me with a Squarespace site. A couple of them, not most of them, who I was doing things manually because it was a problem for them. They recognized that there was value in people trusting them. They recognize that if they could resolve disputes quicker, they can enhance that trust. We started with them for that specific reason. With insurance claims, we feel like we’re solving potentially because we’re just getting started … a few months ago we rolled out our first proof of concept customer … that, that’s a big problem that we think people will talk to their friends about. We’ve already seen that happen with our marketplace disputes where we notice that once a year or so we get more in-bounds.

It’s been very slow going. It’s been four and a half years but, we think people talk about it. We think maybe folks like you are interested and then spread the word. What we focus on more than anything instead of getting the word out like with marketing, is building the very, very, very best product we can that solves big problems for people so that they might come back. Like when Starbucks just built … when they built beautiful stores and grew slowly. We’re in an industry, the startup industry that both evangelizes and worships hyper-growth. We believe there will be will a point where we hit hyper-growth, but we think the way to get there is by slowly and methodically establishing micro and macro trust with every single person who’s involved. And that at some point, enough people will talk about the result they got and look, some of them get pissed because they lost but at least people know it’s an option.

We do other things. We mainly reach out to influencers and stakeholders in law. We think the more lawyers who know about it, they can decide for themselves if it’s something they think is interesting, if they want to recommend it to a client.

Chad Main:          Yeah, I was gonna say that’s a great start is lawyers recommending to the clients because we’ve all had those calls. You talked about it earlier in the podcast. It’s a $2000-dispute. It’s not feasible for a lawyer to handle it and now they have a place they can refer their clients to. That’s a great point there.

Stephen Kane:       Absolutely. I always felt guilty when I had to turn people away. We think that over time … and I think we’re similar to Airbnb in that way. Airbnb was slow, slow, slow, slow and then at some point enough people talked about it that it became a thing. Look, we do things to reach out to groups and our investors are happy because we are selling enterprise software and I suppose services depending how you look at it to big companies now, where we can make money. We want to become the place people think about and go to when they have any kind of dispute once we gain trust in each category. Then, at some point, hit enough momentum in an inflection point so that it becomes more of a thing.

Chad Main:          That’s great and your point about Airbnb is very apropos I think because we’re talking about the change in mindset. With Airbnb it was like, “Why would I ever rent out somebody’s house or why would I rent out my house?” It’s real similar and with enough momentum it finally changed the way people look at staying overnight somewhere.

Stephen Kane:       Yeah.

Chad Main:          It could the same for what you guys are doing. It’s just a change of mindset and getting the word out that there is an alternative where one might not have existed before. 

Stephen Kane:       Absolutely.

Chad Main:          Cool, I appreciate your time, Stephen. If people want to learn more about FairClaims or get ahold of you, how can they do that?

Stephen Kane:       I’m on Twitter. Stephenlkane with a P-H. Stephenlkane. Feel free to DM me. Info@fairclaims.com. We try to be as quick as possible. Fairclaims.com and check out the site. Hit me up on LinkedIn, whatever works for you.

Chad Main:          That’s a wrap for this podcast. As always, I really appreciate you listening. I would also like to say thanks to all our listeners who submitted our name to the ABA for consideration for their Web 100. We made the list for one of the best podcasts of 2018. That’s a nice honor and we really appreciate it. If you want to subscribe, you can find us on most major podcasting platforms such as iTunes, Stitcher, Google, iHeartRADIO, et cetera, et cetera. If you like us, I’d hope you give us a favorable rating. If you want to get ahold of me, you can reach me at cmain@percipient.co. That’s C-M-A-I-N @percipent.co. Until next time, this has been Technically Legal.

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