Legal Week 2023 – Review

Each year in March, attorneys, vendors, and legal workers descend on the Hilton Hotel in New York’s mid-town for Legal Week. I don’t yet know the official numbers, but I did hear from various folk that attendance was around 8.500, which is a lot. What was new this year? In truth, not a lot, but then the legal tech world moves at a stately pace. The most significant announcement was that Reveal-Brainspace had acquired LIGL, adding advanced hold and evidence-collection capabilities to its eDiscovery platform.  But although there weren’t many exciting new announcements, we were able to have some good conversations, and I particularly enjoyed spending some time with iManage & NetDocuments.

Plus, broader and more casual conversations with tech vendors and conference attendees uncovered some interesting themes. First, the topic of AI, and to put that into context. It felt like almost every single exhibiting vendor was touting their AI capabilities; however, conversations revealed a growing frustration that legal firms ‘just don’t get it.’ Or rather, partners at these firms like the idea of using AI and improving their margins and efficiency. Yet at the same time, they don’t want anyone to ever access their data under any circumstances, which limits things a bit. Of course, legal firms are using AI & ML more now than ever before. Still, the fascinating stuff focused on LLMs (Large Language Models) hits a practical and relatively immovable objection.

This will be the challenge, I suspect, for some time to come, as although AI via the super hype around ChatGPT and OpenAI has elevated LLMs and Generative AI to the mainstream, it is doing so at a high cost. What is good and frankly fascinating to a consumer or marketer is not good enough at all for critical business and legal situations. Few buyers today (or likely in the future) know the difference between LLM and a Knowledge Graph; they hear the generic term AI arise everywhere and, worse, listen to it associated with misinformation and farcical and, at times, dangerous outcomes. That’s not something Legal wants to hear, so it’s a hard hit on the brakes for many. Tech vendors will need to do a lot to educate law firms that their approach is quite different and does not come with the associated baggage.

Another common topic for discussion at the event was the perennial favorite, cloud computing. This has long been a thorny topic for legal firms, and for over a decade, this sector was the last real holdout. But things seem to have changed; cloud is the de facto option today, though some smaller and mid-sized firms still resolutely refuse to budge. The bottom line is that the holdouts’ opportunities to stay relevant and deliver modern services are becoming severely limited. Before the pandemic, many vendors quietly complained that they could not move legal firms to the cloud, but necessity (remote working) played a significant role in shifting perceptions. Finally, and indeed of interest to me, was the topic of blockchain; it’s still early days, but the idea of reducing or eliminating the need for notarizations and digital signatures through blockchain is gaining traction. It has already gained traction in much of the world, but just like the cloud, the US is sometimes slow to adopt new approaches.

Tying these themes together and factoring in the reality that those reaching partner status are millennials, it’s fair to say that legal technology, from AI-powered eDiscovery to automated contract review and assembly, is going mainstream. Add to this the fact that Cloud is now the preferred option; the legal tech world has transformed itself over just a few pandemic years and looks set for more significant technology adoption in the coming years.

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