When you ask Randi Mayes about the future of technology in law firms, she says its growth will stem from attorneys’ behavior rather than specific product offerings.
“The real possibility for change in the future sits more with the mindset,” says Mayes, the executive director of the International Legal Technology Association. “It’s all about the law firm adopting its client’s worldview and innovating service delivery with those views in mind.”
Randi Mayes is the founder and executive director of the International Legal Technology Association. She has also worked for worked for the Texas law firms Brown McCarroll (which merged with Husch Blackwell in 2013) and Small, Craig & Werkenthin. She lives in Austin, Texas.
Craig Ball likes to say he got into law to stay out of prison. The Austin, Texas-based attorney, professor and electronic evidence expert has always been passionate about technology—somewhat too passionate at times. When he was a teenager, he created a device that allowed him and his friends to make long-distance calls for free. He got in trouble with the law. But luckily for him, the prosecutor and judge didn’t think his crime was all that serious.
“The lawyer who helped me out hired me as a law clerk, and that put me on the path to becoming a lawyer,” says Ball, who earned his JD from the University of Texas School of Law in 1982, after which he opened his own law firm.
The advent of the personal computer and the internet reignited Ball’s interest in technology. He became fascinated with computer forensics and the nascent field of electronic discovery—areas that still flummox many lawyers and judges today.
Legal technology has changed since 1999, when Ed Walters and Phil Rosenthal founded the legal research service Fastcase—but not as much as they’d like.
Phil Rosenthal and Ed Walters are the founders of the legal research service Fastcase. They were associates with Covington & Burling when they started the company in 1999.
Most people see librarians as the quiet personification of technical obsolescence. Jean O'Grady is out to change that. The senior director of research and knowledge at DLA Piper in Washington, D.C., is at the forefront of pushing the legal industry toward embracing technology as a means of enhancing the practice of law. Through her acclaimed blog, Dewey B Strategic (which has been selected for the ABA Journal Blawg 100 every year since 2012), as well as through numerous public appearances and interviews, O'Grady informs lawyers about what the current legal tech landscape looks like and what kinds of innovative tools are at their disposal.
The license plates on Jerome Goldman’s Subaru Legacy reads “OYEZ,” in honor of his U.S. Supreme Court-focused multimedia archive. Now at age 71, Goldman, named a Legal Rebels Trailblazer by the ABA Journal, says he has some more “ephemera” that he hopes will get on the site, which is moving from Chicago-Kent College of Law to Cornell University’s Legal Information Institute. “This means passing along my knowledge gained over 25 years, plus offering complete details regarding my workflow,” says Goldman, who believes that his political science education was instrumental in understanding judicial behavior.
Stanford Law School Professor Deborah Rhode is the enemy of complacency. This Legal Rebels Trailblazer is one of the most cited scholars in legal ethics, though she wears many more hats. She has carved out specialties in discrimination (ranging from race and gender to the unfair advantages that flow to physical beauty, often probing their intersection with legal ethics) and in criticism of legal education itself.
"Working with tech startups, I realized that there is this vast unmet need for affordable legal services," lawyer Charley Moore says. "There's a real need for technology to make it more efficient for lawyers to be able to answer simple questions online and to be able to represent small businesses, individuals, startups and families at fraction of traditional cost."
Moore decided to try to fill that need with Rocket Lawyer, his online, do-it-yourself legal services provider that helps individuals and small businesses access legal forms (and, if necessary, local attorneys.)
Moore was more bullish about Rocket Lawyer's recent move to provide employees at large companies with comprehensive legal plans similar to health insurance.
"Our Q&A service is growing very fast," Moore says. "You can ask a question about any legal situation on any mobile device, and an attorney will respond to that question at an affordable price."
Lawyers often think technology should always work. That's aspirational, says Sharon Nelson, president of the cybersecurity, information technology and digital forensics firm Sensei Enterprises Inc.
"People can screw up, but technology fails too," says Nelson. "You really need to recover from what the problem is, as opposed to pointing fingers and being angry."
Nelson and John W. Simek, her business partner and husband, formed Sensei Enterprises in 1997. Simek, an engineer, previously worked for Mobil Oil as a chief network designer and troubleshooter. The two met when she hired him to computerize her law practice.
"John had the technical genius, and I had the legal, business and marketing experience," she says "We figured that together I could sell his talents, and it ended up that I sold us both. People were happy to have someone they could talk technology with, along with someone who knew legal ethics."
"We didn't start out to be disruptive," says John Suh, LegalZoom's chief executive officer. "We were set up to fix a problem. The legal system was broken and too many people were frozen out of it."
For Suh, the main goal of LegalZoom continues to be providing access to the legal system for millions of Americans who can't afford an attorney and do not qualify for free legal services. "So much of our legal system is focused on BigLaw or access to justice for those below the poverty line," says Suh. "What about the 84 percent or so of people between that? For them, the system really has failed."
What Suh has done during his tenure as CEO is transform the company from a do-it-yourself outfit into one that has partnered with lawyers.
"The perception that we're an online legal company with no human lawyers is just not true," says Suh. "Over the last five years, we've embraced lawyers and become quite adept with working with them." There have been over 200,000 one-on-one consultations between LegalZoom customers and lawyers licensed in their respective states, he says.
Ernie Svenson-a.k.a. well-known blogger Ernie the Attorney-was an early evangelist for what he calls The Paperless Chase. The basic premise: "Anything you can do with paper, you can do more with PDF. Way more."
Now he spends a lot of time teaching, training and speaking, all aimed at enabling small-firm and solo lawyers with the ability "to save money, make money and outmatch bigger firm adversaries," he says.
In fact, calling Svenson an evangelist is an understatement. "The walls are closing in on lawyers who haven't adapted, with e-filing in the courts and the increased use of the PDF format by others," Svenson says. "It's here. It's good. Do it."