Ron Friedmann is a lawyer and thought leader in legal innovation space with over twenty years of experience in the legal field. He currently is a consultant with Fireman & Company and operates his own website entitled Prism Legal. His experience has allowed him to assist countless lawyers solve their toughest challenges. I spoke with him recently about his thoughts on the current state of play within the legal innovation realm. 

What has been the most surprising development you have seen when it comes to legal innovation?

That so many in the legal market talk about innovation. Why is that a surprise?

I have three decades of legal market experience inside of two law firms, two legal software companies, two consulting firms, and a legal process outsourcing company. Many times, I have led change and innovation. For example, in 1990, I worked on substantive legal hypertext systems. That was pre-web and it took 30+ minutes just to explain the hypertext concept!

Each decade has seen its big tech and legal business changes yet not spawned constant innovation talk. The 1990s saw PCs on lawyers’ desk, the the Internet for commercial purposes, and the beginning of e-discovery. Law firm affiliates were also big. The 2000’s saw mobile devices, the beginning of social media, and cloud beginnings. Alternative legal service providers began their rise. The 2010s has seen the rapid spread of mobile apps, vast social media penetration, and the rapid rise of cloud computing. Law firms changed their leverage model, with many firms adding lower cost delivery models.

That’s a lot of change and innovation but it did not cause innovation buzz. I suggest three reasons for that buzz now. First, clients now have recognized their buying power and demand value. They bring work in-house or use alternative providers. That pressures firms to practice more efficiently. And clients treat innovation as a proxy for value. Second, we experience disruption daily: the rise of self-service, the decline of retailers, the rise of sharing services such as Uber and Airbnb, and the rapid advances in self-driving cars. Everyone expects big changes, and fast. And third, the rise of AI, both in the market at large and in legal, has spawned hope, fear, and a slew of legal start-ups. It also has gotten many lawyers focused on innovation more broadly.

In your view what is the biggest misconception lawyers have about legal technology?

“The magic button syndrome.” From the earliest days of PCs, many lawyers have said, in so many words, “I pressed the button, and nothing happened.” They think the technology works by itself, that they do not need to do anything differently to gain its benefit.

Even 30 years ago, legal tech offered lawyers powerful practice benefits. That’s even truer today. The difference is that lawyers today are more accustomed to ever-changing apps and websites; they accept software changes more readily. Nonetheless, adoption and integration of new ways of working does not happen automatically. Any significant change in how lawyers work requires systematic change management.

Innovation seems to be becoming a buzzword. How would you define the term innovation?

It’s a great question. Some say it means “never done that way before” or “totally new and different”. That sets the bar too high in my view.

In the legal market, I think innovation can include any significantly new way in which lawyers work. We should focus less on “innovation” and more on time saved, outcomes improved, and greater value delivered. Creating more value for clients is much more important than innovation per se. And value can come from both old and new approaches. Many older legal technologies, if adopted and used properly, would boost lawyer productivity. Why argue if that’s innovation? Ask instead, “what’s the value delivered?”

A lot has been written about Artificial Intelligence. What are your views on its role within law practice?

AI likely will increase client value but it will take more time than the hype in 2017 suggested. Interestingly, in early 2018, I’ve read numerous articles that counter the hype with more realistic AI assessments and the work required to achieve its benefits.

Common uses cases today include document review in both eDiscovery and due diligence, legal research and court analytics, and faster and more accurate ways to classify time narratives and matter types.

My Fireman & Company colleagues and I are excited about new use cases we see emerging in 2018. In particular, with software providers embedding AI in core document management systems and enterprise search, we can expect AI to deliver actionable information to lawyers in real time, as they work. And specific applications such as staffing and experience management.

How would you advise an attorney who wants to be “practice-ready” as the practice of law continues to quickly evolve? What can law schools do to better prepare their graduates for today’s legal world?

“Practice ready” as asked implies new lawyers. If I had my way, law school would be two years and one third of it would focus business training, analytics, and technology. In my view, it’s a big waste of societal resources and students’ money to spend three years primarily on substantive law, much of which most graduates will never use in practice.

Fortunately, some top- and mid-tier law schools are inching toward a more multi-disciplinary curriculum. But accreditation rules are a huge barrier to the major educational changes the market needs. (For the record, I am a lawyer and passed two state bars. I was an econometrician between college and law school and a Bain & Company strategy consultant after. That gives me a pretty different perspective than most JDs.)

Now, to close, back to lawyers with several years of practice experience or more. With a modern definition of “practice ready – which might include tech and analytics comfort – how many are ready? Lawyers at all levels of experience who want to continue delivering value to clients must remain open to new ways of working and additional training throughout their careers.