Cat Moon is a true multi-disciplinary lawyer and leader within the legal innovation space. She is an adjunct Professor of Law at Vanderbilt Law School. She has 20 plus years of experience in the world of law, human-centered design, and agile project management. She is also a co-founder  of Legal Alignment helping change the way lawyers work and clients receive legal services via DASH an “an elegant, agile and interoperable legal workflow platform.” As if that weren’t enough, she also is the founder of Ledger.Law, where she helps legal professionals navigate the emerging world of blockchain. 

The legal tech world is really taking off in terms of both development and ideas. That being said, what areas ripe for disruption do you think are not being given due attention/are being left behind?

Why aren’t legal tech companies more focused on legal consumer-facing products?

If lawyers can’t or won’t actively collaborate with technologists to build effective problem-solving tools (see my response to 2, below), then technologists should bypass the lawyers and go straight to the people with the problems. Build for them.

Also, I frankly think we have very little knowledge of the real problems we should be solving with legal technology so it’s impossible to say where the true disruption will happen.

I can’t wait to see who really gets into the middle of the wicked problems that exist across the legal profession, to engage in some deep empathy, ideating, and solution-building. The most effective solutions are yet to be created. Who will be curious (and determined) enough to get there?

There seems to be a persistent gap between the tech world and the legal world, despite persistent efforts to eliminate the gap. It may be narrowing, but what do you think remains the biggest roadblock to full bridging the gap?

Many technologists aren’t committed to developing from a human-centered design perspective AND lawyers aren’t good at meaningfully collaborating with technologists to do the (hard) work required to build really good technology.

I’ll tackle the second point first:

We (lawyers) don’t work collaboratively. (This starts in law school and is only exacerbated by the typical law firm business model.) And, lawyers view technologists (along with other not-legal domain experts) as “non-lawyers,” which definitionally excludes them from being qualified to participate meaningfully in the doing of legal work. Or really having any meaningful input into the business or the practice of law. (Which also is perpetuated by the archaic regulations governing our profession.)

Until we eliminate the lawyer/non-lawyer dichotomy, learn how to work in truly collaborative ways, and LET OTHER PEOPLE HELP US, we are doomed to suffer in our silos. We will continue to be the loneliest, and close to the most depressed, addicted, and suicidal, of all professionals. We will continue to disregard calls for efficiency, cling to outmoded business and billing structures, and watch as more and more smart, happy people (NOT lawyers) build alternative legal systems around us. And then, we will be irrelevant.

Technology offers incredible opportunities for lawyers to practice better, faster, cheaper, and happier—to serve both clients and ourselves better. We should be helping to build the tech, not fighting with it. (I suggest this might be the best way for us to stay relevant.)

Yes, perhaps we give a new technology a (small) chance, but then we often quickly toss it aside because “it doesn’t work the way I work.” Guess what? The way many lawyers work should not be replicated in technology. And this goes directly to another challenge: technology is simply a tool, for implementing successful systems and structures. If those underlying elements are bad (and many are), then no technology is going to help.

We also need to design compensation structures that reward, instead of penalize, lawyers who experiment with technology. (Just ask any Big Law chief innovation officer what the primary obstacle to innovation is. There is but one answer: compensation structure.)

We also desperately need to educate lawyers on the technology adoption process, especially when it’s a “new” technology (as most are). Even the most collaborative, lawyer-supporting technology company in the world doesn’t stand a chance if lawyers expect tech to work perfectly, from the beginning. Co-developing a successful technology solution requires a commitment that is not rewarded by the short-term returns baked into the vast majority of law firm business models.

I’m a fifth-generation lawyer and I’ve been practicing for 20 years. I say all of the above understanding fully how hard it is to practice law and have a life and do all of the things that I’m suggesting lawyers should do to successfully leverage technology. None of this is easy. It requires a true and deep commitment to working in a different way. I get it if most lawyers aren’t motivated to make the commitment and frankly don’t blame them. You’ve got a good gig and will be retiring in 10 years? By all means, carry on! (I only hope you aren’t one of the lonely, depressed, or addicted lawyers.)

And, this is exactly why I’m teaching at Vanderbilt, my alma mater. If we bake the different way in from the beginning, then we will see the change happen as younger lawyers move up and are able to influence the profession’s trajectory. If we teach law students from day one to start with the process, engage actively with technology tools, and utilize all available resources (e.g. all the non-lawyer experts who are ready, willing, and able to help us) through radical collaboration, then we will see significant change.
Sorry to get carried away on the lawyer side! Back to the first part of my point: technology companies must do better in starting with the human-centered design process. Start by actively empathizing with the humans you are building for, understand deeply the problems and challenges they face, from there ideate creative solutions, and only then build solutions. After doing the hard foundational work.

Don’t ask, “What problem can I solve with blockchain?” Ask, “How do I learn about the problems that need solving?”

If technologists can learn how to deeply empathize and ideate with lawyers, and lawyers can learn to accept help from others and engage collaboratively, then truly amazing things can be built.

Until then, we’ll continue to see lawyers giving very short shrift to the tools put in their hands that often don’t solve a real problem.

A final point: I am not at all suggesting that technologists should build what lawyers think they need. This is a most important point: lawyers don’t know what they need. That’s why we need help. Technologists (with the help of designers, information architects, and others) who gain a deep, empathetic understanding of the problems and challenges lawyers face can take this critical information and from it design and create novel and effective solutions.

Otherwise, one of two things happens: tech is built that doesn’t solve a real problem. Or, perhaps even worse, tech is built that perpetuates bad processes and systems.

Finally, all of the above is but one answer to this query and focuses primarily on the dynamic between legal technology and practicing lawyers. I have a whole other set of thoughts on the dynamic between legal technology and access to justice (or access to legal services). For another day, perhaps?

What got you interested in legal tech?

In 2006, I opened a boutique law firm with two other women. We were bootstrapping and all coming out of firms with lots of cushy support—assistants, fancy copiers, sophisticated billing software, etc. Realizing pretty quickly that we weren’t financially capable of simply recreating what we left—and what a blessing this was!—I became the self-appointed tech expert for the firm. I simply had to figure it all out, so that we could open our doors and serve clients.

We were in the cloud before cloud-based practice management existed. We were paperless from almost day one. My practice was 98% flat fee. I started using agile project management in 2009, and have been interested since that time in building an effective tool for agile legal workflow management.

I also learned about human-centered design at this point in my practice and have come to realize that the design process and mindsets are critical to the process of building useful technology. We’ve got to figure out the human problems to be solved before we build the solutions. (Design is also critical to delivering legal services, by the way.)

So I’ve come around to this place where I’m almost not very interested in the technology. I’m much more interested in the problems that technology can help us solve. People don’t focus on the problems enough.

And the technology I’m most interested in building is focused more on people with legal problems, and less on lawyers. I want to build solutions that are about solving problems, not about who is solving problems.

What do you think the most crucial thing people should know about legal tech?

There are many crucial aspects of legal tech that deserve attention and consideration. This isn’t the one thing, but it’s an important one:

It’s really, really hard to build a really, really good technology that solves real problems. If lawyers want good technology, they must be willing to invest the time and energy to collaborate with those who can build the technology, to do the hard work that leads to the right solutions. And likewise, those who are building legal tech must be willing to engage deeply in the human-centered design process to discover the real problems, before they start building solutions.