I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been

Wayne Gretzky

Last week, I was back at the sprawling CES (formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas. I go every year, although I missed the last two years due to the pandemic. 

CES has always been gracious enough to extend a media pass to me, even though I write more about legal tech than consumer tech. CES goes out of its way to accommodate the media. Nice media rooms close to most of the sessions and exhibit halls. Lunch every day. Lots of background material to make our jobs easier, not harder. It’s nice to feel welcomed for a change.

CES is the preeminent consumer electronics show in the world. Put on by the Consumer Technology Association, this year’s Show reportedly drew over 100,000 people. Some 2200 companies exhibited their wares. It includes big names like Samsung, LG, Panasonic, BMW, and Sony. And countless others crammed into the Las Vegas Convention Center and several hotel convention centers. 

One of my favorite attractions, though, is something called Eureka Park. Eureka Park is housed in the basement of the Venetian Expo convention center. It is where all the start-ups and entrepreneurs are housed. You can see anything and everything there. 

This year’s Show gave every appearance of being back to the full throttle pre-pandemic version. Packed hallways. Full conference rooms. Buses and the Las Vegas monorail filled to capacity. Masks? Few and far between. 

As an aside, traditional lore pre-pandemic was that most of those who attend come home with some sort of viral crud. I haven’t heard anything about this year, but I have my fingers crossed that I remain well.

Like many others, my experience is that a lot of what is displayed at CES is pie in the sky products that never quite come to fruition. And almost none of the products displayed have much legal utility, at least on their face. 

Why do I, as a lawyer and legal tech blogger bother going?

I would hazard to guess that I am one of the few legal tech journalists that regularly attend CES. (This is my 6th time). So why do I, as a lawyer and legal tech blogger bother going? 

I want to get a feel for the future of consumer tech. While the quote about skating where the puck is going instead of where it’s been has become somewhat trite, it may apply here. I like to see what the tech industry thinks may be possible or soon be possible. Indeed, CES has historically displayed tech that, albeit in different forms, later finds its way into the mainstream. Smartphones, for example. Robotics. Artificial intelligence. 

And often, that same tech ultimately gains a foothold in legal. Things like legal research and e-discovery searches that can be done in natural language. These programs are more like Google searches and less Boolean. The legal profession is often years behind consumer tech when it comes to adoption. So it’s good to get some notion of what is possible—now and in the future.

In that vein, I could talk about all the cool new stuff I saw. From cool new TVs. To self-driving and even flying cars. To new digital health devices. To baby carriages that walk themselves. To ovens that turn themselves on, cook your food, turn themselves off when the food is done and then tell you about it. To AI tools, the developers of which say can detect bias in algorithms used for other determinations. (ok, that one may have a clear relevance to legal). 

But more importantly, CES helps me see tech trends that all the new products evidence. And the Show often makes me think about how consumer tech trends may ultimately impact legal. 

I got a good sense of these trends in listening to the opening presentation to the media by Steve Koenig. Koenig is the Vice President of Research at the Consumer Technology Association. Below are some of the tech trends Koenig identified from the Show. I have added my thoughts on how those trends may impact legal and litigation—if not today, then someday.

1. Enterprise challenges and tech solutions. Koenig sees tech more and more at the forefront in helping to tackle some fundamental societal challenges. Like supply chain vulnerability. Labor shortages. Inflation and recession. Global warming. Food supply disruption. All these things Koenig believes will exponentially drive innovation to new levels. Says Koenig, significant challenges like the last recession spurred tech innovation. Mobile broadband, smartphones, tablets, and netbooks all had exponential growth and development during the great recession. And all these things impacted legal in big ways. So if Koenig is correct, we could be in for some huge advancements. Advancements that consumers and lawyers will adopt and demand.

2. Potential new innovations. Koenig says we will see a digital transformation in cloud services, robotics, and cybersecurity. Changes in retailing will rely on the metaverse to create consumer and seller virtual exchanges similar to the real world. Automation and virtualization. Smart factories, hospitals, and farms. If true, can we expect smart law offices and courtrooms? Already we see the metaverse expanding into law. 

3. The cloud and AI. Koenig believes the cloud and AI will underpin the whole economy by the next decade. Again, this transformation will create a plethora of new legal issues and challenges. From a tech use standpoint, the pandemic forced law to move more exclusively to the cloud. Will it move to AI just as fast to do more with less? As I have previously discussed, AI can already do tasks that many lawyers do but don’t need to.

4. Robotic assisted devices and safety. Koenig sees enhanced worker protections through tech devices. These devices will improve human sense perceptions and abilities. To better predict when an accident could happen and thereby help prevent them. The same is true for the protections of factory infrastructure. One of the products displayed this year was a robot that can swim thru waterpipes and look for leaks or areas of potential weakness. So much of law is devoted to sorting out faults for these kinds of accidents. What if the accidents and injuries could be prevented, to begin with? Fewer failures. Fewer of these kinds of lawsuits. But this doesn’t mean lawsuits will go away. It means lawsuits will involve different issues and problems. Many will involve technology and technology issues in whole or in large part. 

5. Cybersecurity. Today we rely on firewalls, IT, and password keepers. But the future may belong to AI. Since lawyers aren’t the quickest to protect themselves, AI protection that relies on something other than humans may be a Godsend.

6. Metaverse. Virtualization. Immersive experiences. Koenig says the true metaverse is closer than we think. Online experiences with a heightened sense of immersion into some other place. 3d interactive sites accessible with a smartphone or tablet. Metaverse as a service. For lawyers, this could mean more frictionless interactions, as I have discussed. Instead of physically traveling to lawyers’ offices or even courtrooms, we can now view things on a flat screen via zoom. But the metaverse will enable lawyers, clients, judges, and juries to interact with each other in more realistic and holistic ways. Koenig gave a retail example. Right now, you can shop online, but there is no human interaction like you get with a clerk at a store. With the metaverse, that interaction becomes possible in a more realistic way. The same will be true for interactions by and between lawyers and others.

7. Other sensory experiences. Digitized scent, for example. The feeling of touch. The things we do, feel, and sense in real life may be replicated virtually. Pie in the sky? Not hardly; actual products were being displayed in all these realms. Law is still a human experience. Making that experience more accessible thru virtual interactions while preserving much of the human aspect would have enormous advantages. Advantages, at least for those who chose to master the metaverse world.

8. Transportation. More self-driving cars and trucks will help solve labor shortages and reduce the overall accident rate. And the transformation of the in-vehicle experience as the line between office and car begins to blur. The trend toward remote is strong now. What if we add vehicles to the mix? There may be fewer car wreck cases and, again, more technology related claims and suits. Who is liable for decisions made by a self-driving car, for example? Tomorrow’s litigators will more and more need to understand and use technology.

9. Heath tech. Sensors that remotely monitor health. Home health hubs. Remote patient monitoring and a reduced need to actually visit a doctor’s office. The medical community is already ahead of the legal one in creating better access and reducing friction. That trend will continue. But clients will demand more and more frictionless experience from the legal community. They will want their legal experience to be just as easy as their experience with the medical community. And this tech will create new and different legal claims.

We can’t ignore where the puck may be going.

10. Gaming. Koenig noted that the US has 164 million gamers between the ages of 13-64. These gamers spend 24 hours per week gaming. Those are big numbers. This gaming explosion means that there will be at least one, if not more, gamers on most juries. People who get information from games. Who are used to the graphics from gamers. Who perhaps understands how games can distort reality? The same may be true of clients and judges. As lawyers, we must recognize how this sizable group of people spends their time and what they are used to experiencing. A lawyer need to understand this phenomenon and mindset.

So there was lots to chew on from CES, like always. Lots of ways for new and innovative technology to impact us. Technology advancement will require that successful lawyers understand, embrace and use tech. And while technology will decrease certain types of litigation, it will create new and different litigation and issues. Issues that may not easily fit into our current legal framework. We can’t ignore where the puck may be going.

But there is another reason I go to CES. It’s the energy and attitude of the entrepreneurs there. The feeling that they are looking for solutions and new things instead of focusing on what can’t be done. 

There is too much negative focus in legal. Lawyers too often find ways to nay say technology

There is too much negative focus in legal. Lawyers too often find ways to nay say technology. To much talk about why some technology just won’t work for legal. That it’s unreliable, and the coup des gras: it creates potential ethical issues. That it shouldn’t be used. 

It could be because we are trained to spot problems and issues. Maybe we are just too risk adverse. But there is a world of difference between the tech world and the legal world. Nonlegal shows like CES helps me keep my focus on possibilities, not drawbacks.

CES is full of energy, optimism, and hope. And that’s the main reason I go.

All photos courtesy of CES