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Last week, the legal tech community was rocked to learn that the lawyer rating service, Avvo, had been acquired by something called Internet Brands. Internet Brands is in turn owned by the private investment powerhouse KKR.

 

Avvo has always been a lightning rod and represents what many would say is both wrong and right with the new realities of the law profession-depending of course on your perspective. Avvo has represented the “young, scrappy and hungry” legal innovator startup which challenged the way we did and thought about things. It offered a legal rating service and then recently branched out into offering a fixed fee limited scope legal service program and a do it yourself offering for legal forms. online legal directory, marketplace and reviews site.

 

So, imagine the surprise when we heard that Avvo was being acquired by a company that also owns of all things, Martindale Hubbell, the staid, traditional legal resource for information about firms, mainly large ones. And while on the face of it Martindale does provide a rating service of lawyers, the rating bands are broad and non-controversial. It’s like your father’s exclusive private club has now allowed a radical leftist to not only join but to move in.

Imagine the surprise when we heard that Avvo was being acquired by a company that also owns of all things, Martindale Hubbell, the staid, traditional legal resource for information about firms, mainly large ones

 

How all this will shake out remains to be seen. And since the legal tech community is pretty close knit and we all know each other well, it’s hard not to rejoice at the success of Mark Britton, Avvo’s co- founder and his team in bringing along Avvo to this point and making it so sought after and valuable.

 

But there are concerns. The Avvo acquisition joins a line of recent acquisitions by tried and true, traditional players in the legal tech arena of new and more innovative companies trying to move the needle and change things. Ravel Law was acquired by Goliath LexisNexis in 2017, LexisNexis also acquired Intelligize in 2016 and Lex Machine in 2015. Advanced eDiscovery acquired Altep Inc. in 2017, Tyler Technologies acquired Modira in 2017, iManage acquired RAVN in 2017, Thomson Reuters acquired Practical Law Company in 2013, Deloitte and Kira announce an “alliance” for machine learning in 2016.

 

So, what’s the big deal? Many of the acquiring companies are long time service providers of big law and the traditional legal profession. While certainly these companies are not likely to turn down the chance to earn a buck, I worry how much innovation and disruption of their tried and true customers the acquiring companies will permit. Unlike other industries where there are mega companies who started as innovators and disrupters and have that spirit (think Google and Apple), will the legal tech acquirers foster the same?

How much innovation and disruption of their tried and true customers the acquiring companies will permit?

Another question is whether there will be a cultural clash between a company like Avvo, which grew out of a startup mentality and its new, perhaps more traditional acquirer. In 2017, Wal-Mart, the primarily brick and mortar retail giant, acquired Jet, an e-commerce start up. Jet was a typical Silicon Valley company with nontraditional work policies at least in Wal-Mart’e eyes. The result: no one was happy and the acquisition not what everyone hoped. Here’s a link to a good article about the clash. At the very least, the risk of distraction and dissatisfaction that ultimately impacts the product and sales is high.

 

And what’s next? Will Clio be the next to go? Ross? LegalZoom? Legal tech is difficult market. The upside is limited. The customers are difficult to sell to. The big players have made their money being traditionalists, rocking the boat gently if at all. And many cater to big law not small firms and solos, not to those in need of and who can’t afford access to justice. And the things that Avvo must have valued, the freedom to make decisions and pivot when necessary, to challenge and do new things, to disrupt could be constrained now that it is owned by a group of companies that end up at the altar of KKR, an entity who cares about turning a profit irrespective of any business or professional interests.

So while we should all take a moment to toast Avvo’s success, we should also bemoan just a bit the fact that an independent legal disrupter is no longer with us

So while we should all take a moment to toast Avvo’s success, we should also bemoan just a bit the fact that an independent legal disrupter is no longer with us. Whether and how much that absence is impactful remains to be seen.

Photo Credit: Walter Lim via Flickr; Jon Tyson via Unsplash

Every year I try to make it a point to attend the Consumer Electronics show in Law Vegas. This week-long show is a gadget lover’s dream. Thousands of exhibits, lots of demos, plenty of substantive sessions and keynotes by such people as Brian Krzanich, Intel CEO, (Ajit Pai was supposed to speak but for some strange reason, he bowed out after the net neutrality vote). I’m lucky enough to have a media pass, so I get lots of inside perks and access.

Knowing where consumer electronics is headed also tells us where businesses and maybe someday, the practice of law is headed

Why do I, a practicing lawyer, attend? First, I’m a tech enthusiast or, should I say, a gadget king. But more than that, I think knowing where consumer electronics is headed also tells us where businesses and maybe someday, the practice of law is headed as consumer electronics filter over into commercial use. And one of the things I have concluded this year after just a couple of days here is that where the practice of law and lawyers may be headed is a little scary. Continue Reading CES 2018: The End of Lawyers May Not Be What You Think

I was looking forward to today at CES. The Acting Commish of the FTC, Maureen Ohlhausen, was to be interviewed by the CEO of CTA, Gary Shapiro. Three of the FCC Commissioners of the FCC, Brendan Carr, Mignon Clyburn and Michael O’Rielly were scheduled to participate in a roundtable moderated by Julie Kearney, VP of regulatory affairs for CTA.  Ajit Pai was supposed to be here but was a no show.

CTA is the largest consumer tech association. CES is one of the most well attended tech conference in the world. What’s the hottest topic in tech these days: the overturning of net neutrality. I thought at least we will get some insight on the pros and cons of this issue by those most directly involved in the decision. Wrong. Instead we got abbreviated wave to and acknowledgment of the issue and a recitation of slogans with little real explanation. Continue Reading Net Neutrality: CES Discussion Disappoints

“They can’t take it from me, if they try, I lived though those early days.

Early Days by Paul McCartney

 

I constantly marvel at the technology we have today. I am a tech and innovation evangelist. I believe the delivery of legal services can and will be improved and disrupted. I can’t wait.

 

But that doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes reflect back to the way things were when I first began as a lawyer. Some things were worse. Some things were better. Some were just, well, different. And I wonder how much the technological tools we have and the innovation that’s out there have truly created the positive changes of which they are capable Continue Reading #legaltech #innovation: Changes for the Better?

Much has been written about the ethical duties of a lawyer regarding technology, a duty found in Rule 1.1 (competence), Rule 1.6 (confidentiality), Rule 1.5 (ethical billing) and Rules 5.1 and 5.3 (supervisory responsibilities). These rules and their nuances should in and of themselves be enough for lawyers to be as inquisitive and knowledgeable about tech as they are the substantive law.

But forgetting these for a moment and that technology can generally make us more efficient, there are also some 6 very sound practical reasons lawyers should be familiar with and welcome technology and, as expressed in Comment 8, know of its benefits and risks. Continue Reading Technological Competence for Lawyers: Six Practical Reasons

This week, the International Legal Technology Association or ILTA as its commonly known, released the results of its annual technology survey. ILTA refers to itself as a peer to peer networking organization for those in the legal tech field. Unlike the ABA Tech Survey which also recently came out, ILTA survey respondents tend to be from larger firms and are people who work in the legal tech field as opposed to practicing lawyers.

 

So, what are the takeaways? On a quick review, 5 things stood out: Continue Reading ILTA 2017 Technology Survey: 5 Quick Takeaways

Last week, Google announced the results of its new AlphaZero (aka AlphaZ) AI program that may revolutionize the use of AI in all fields including law.

Here’s the deal: we all remember Google’s AlphaGo, an AI program Goggle developed that beat the world’s human champion of Go, which is called the most complicated game yet developed. Unlike, say chess, Go is a very difficult open ended game. Continue Reading AlphaZ: The Ultimate Legal Disrupter?

I recently almost didn’t attend a Conference in my hometown. I almost didn’t go because a) it was not necessarily in my field (lawyer) and b) it was in my hometown (no one is a prophet in their own land, right?). (The Conferance was actually put on by the Louisville Digital Association, a local organization that’s more or less about all things digital and the Conference was really more about digital marketing and media than anything else).

But I did go and something remarkable happened…I learned things. New things. And my head immediately started applying the things I was learning to my field. It was magical. Even one of the speakers who I introduced myself too afterwards said “I saw you sitting there. Your head was going a hundred miles an hour. What energy you brought!” Continue Reading Life Long Learning: Profess It. Live It

This blog is devoted to the tension created as traditional legal concepts are applied to new questions created by technolgy. AKA the problem of  trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, to use an old cliche.

I recently ran across an article by a friend of mine, John Amabile and his partners at Parker Poe, Michael Birns and Todd Sprinkle entitled “Textualism Is The Law of the Land in Georgia: What To Do About it?” Here is a link to the article which appeared on December 7, 2017 in jdsupra. The article poses this exact question within the confines of a series of decisions by the Georgia Supreme Court.

 

“textualism requires the court to apply the plain meaning of the statutory text at the time the statute was originally“

John and his team report that the Georgia Supreme Court has firmly embraced the concept of textualism and rightfully lament the deleterious impact the application of this concept could have on businesses.   Continue Reading Textualism: The Enemy of Innovation?

Earlier this month, the 9th Circuit dealt online anonymous reviewing services a chilling blow when it decided United States v. Glassdoor. Faced with an online service which allowed people to post employer reviews for the benefit of others, the Court determined that those who posted on the service were like newspaper reporters and reverted to an analysis used for print media some 40 years ago.

Specifically, the Court ruled that the government could compel Glassdoor to reveal the identity of anonymous reviewers of employers by employees who posted on the site even if those who had posted didn’t consent. What this means for other online services that rely on similar anonymous posts could be significant. At the very least, use of outmoded legal concepts for new technological driven will be chilling and is unfortunate.

This means the government could compel Glassdoor to reveal the identity of anonymous reviewers of employers by employees who posted on the site even if those who had posted didn’t consent.

Background

The case started when the government served a subpoena on Glassdoor, an online forum where current and former employees can anonymously post reviews about the salaries and work environments of their places of employment. The subpoena asked for identifying information for more than one hundred accounts that had posted reviews of an employer whose contracting practices were apparently under criminal investigation by a federal grand jury. The investigation centered on alleged wire fraud by one of the companies that was under investigation by a Grand Jury.
Glassdoor refused to reveal its users’ identity to the Grand Jury citing among other things the First Amendment right of its users to speak anonymously. Continue Reading When Anonymous Isn’t Really: Government Threats to Online Reviews