This week I’m attending the Enterprise World Conference in Toronto put on by OpenText. OpenText is an Enterprise Information Management (EIM) company that works with businesses of all sorts to manage digital information and then use that information to better achieve their goals. If that sounds broad, its because it is. OpenText has its hands in almost every industry.
OpenText recently made a big play to get into the LegalTech space and is trumpeting this entry at the Conference. OpenText’s legal section and programs have been mentioned prominently in the company keynotes and educational sessions and it has devoted significant space on the exhibit floor to its legal related products.
OpenText acquired the eDiscovery technology company, Catalyst, earlier this year for $75 million to bolster OpenText’s eDiscovery products and to shoehorn their broader entry into the legal market. The idea, says Anthony Di Bello, Vice-President of Strategic Development for OpenText, is to offer OpenText’s substantial corporate clients seamless, end to end tools to handle eDiscovery as well as other services like cyber security , audit and compliance. This holistic approach makes some sense: treating eDiscovery not as a standalone legal problem left to outside counsel but a business, knowledge and information management problem for in-house counsel to solve makes good sense. My guess is that OpenText doesn’t plan to stop there by the way.
But that’s not the big take away from the Conference. OpenText recognizes that we headed for a world where almost all information will be digital. What can then be done with that digital information will and is revolutionizing business and ultimately the practice of law. Indeed, the power of analytics in a fully digital world holds three very powerful and important lessons for lawyers and law firms.
First, automation and artificial intelligence will or should change the way we look at problems and our world. As Marco de Vries, OpenText’s Senior Director, Product Marketing put it, in the future, business will manage to the exception, meaning that everything that is not exceptional but routine will be handled by automation and artificial intelligence. Mark Barrenechea, the CEO and CIO of OpenText articulated the critical issue this way in discussing human relations: in the future when a business is thinking about a new hire, it must ask itself whether the job can be better (or almost as well) done by automation, artificial intelligence or some cheaper provider. If it can, then that will be the necessary choice in a highly competitive world.
What does this mean for tomorrow’s lawyer? When approaching the handling of a legal matter in the future, the successful lawyer must critically ask him or herself which tasks necessary to solve the problem and handle the matter can be done by automation, artificial intelligence or some other lower cost provider.
The practice of law will in essence be stripped of all that is routine, leaving only the exceptional problems left for lawyers to solve.
For lawyers, this means any previous billable work that lawyers have done that they were overqualified to do will be going, going, gone. The practice of law will in essence be stripped of all that is routine, leaving only the exceptional problems left for lawyers to solve. And the truly successful ones will realize that and figure out how to use automation and AI tools to best solve them.
Which leads to lesson two. When you realize the implications of lawyering to the exceptional, the immediate knee jerk reaction is doom and gloom: we already have too many lawyers and not enough work. We have a manpower hangover from the days when we could leverage matters with lawyers and bill with impunity for anything and everything. We hired legions of lawyers based on these principles. But clients are more and more unwilling to pay for any excess and this will only accelerate in the digital world. We already need less lawyers. What will we all do in the future?
To get the exceptional lawyer the information he or she needs to solve exceptional problems, we will need new specialists to mine data and create the automation and AI tools
But think about how work will get done in the future. To best solve the exceptional problem, tomorrow’s lawyers will need to have information. And to get the exceptional lawyer the information he or she needs to solve exceptional problems, we will need new specialists to mine data and create automation and AI tools. Barrenechea, in his keynote, identified some of these roles for businesses and, for that matter, law firms. They are such specialists as data scientists, data officers, developers of apps and tools and digital nomads who can work anywhere and everywhere to supply our needs to name just a few.
We won’t be able to look down our proverbial noses at the “non-lawyers” and instead will have to bring them in as full partners
But law firms will have to do a cultural shift and recognize the value of these new roles. We won’t be able to look down our proverbial noses at the “non-lawyers” and instead will have to bring them in as full partners (Not necessarily legally but culturally. Although legally may be coming too). We will have to value and pay these new players and treat them in every respect as our equals. That may be hard for many of us. But it will be the only way to survive in the new world.
Which brings me to last lesson and perhaps most important lesson. Barrenechea yesterday said every business has to think of what it does differently than in the past. Barrenechea believes all businesses are or soon will be information companies.
Having all the information and understanding what it means will be table stakes for future lawyers
What does this mean for lawyers? If we want to manage to the exceptional, we will have to have every possible piece of information at our disposal to compete. Success will depend on judgment and advice based not on intuition or wild ass guesses but on data and information. Having all the information and understanding what it means will be table stakes for future lawyers. So, yes, lawyers—in-house or in law firms—will be also be in the information business: obtaining, accessing and understanding the information needed to make informed judgements about the exceptional. And getting our arms around the ever expounding information and data will call for the specialists outlined above and a different way of thinking about what we do and how we solve problems.
We are no longer in the legal business. We are in the information business. Get over it.