Chad Burton is a former litigator and now a leader in the legal industry, especially in the areas of legal tech and developing new models of legal service delivery. As a big advocate of legal tech, he has been quoted in numerous publications and was named to the Fastcase 50 list of global legal innovators in 2014. As he puts it, Chad has “an unhealthy obsession with experimenting with the latest legal and productivity technologies. If there’s a possibility it can be leveraged to better practice and serve clients…” I spoke with him about his company, CuroLegal, his views on legal tech, and ideas about where the practice of law is heading over the next few years. 

What was the motivation behind CuroLegal?

Curo always has been focused on modernizing the delivery of legal services. Back in the day, after leaving the big firm world, I started a virtual law firm (multi-lawyer, multi-state distributed model) that prompted other lawyers to ask us how they can be ‘virtual’ too. As a result, Curo was born and started out by providing legal tech consulting and outsourcing services for law firms.

We also are firm believers that solving the access to justice gap requires not only finding new ways for consumers to get access to legal services but also fixing the law firm model. We have since directed our talents to develop technology to help modernize law firms (e.g., LawHUB and ABA Blueprint), as well as go directly to consumers (e.g., Veterans Legal Checkup and Hate Crime Help). That all might seem random, but it isn’t. Each application tackles delivery models in a new way and sets the stage for more expanded business opportunities.

To further our reach and scalability, we launched a legal tech venture studio earlier this year.

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

That the hurdles for effective adoption are too hard to overcome. A lot of this is whining or laziness. Running a business is difficult. Part of the responsibility of running a law firm is implementing technology to be more efficient and to better serve your clients. It may take time and a bit of money but getting the right tech in place is not an insurmountable task. Plus, more and more states are adopting tech competency rules, so lawyers need to suck it up and use technology.

There remains a divide between the tech world and the legal world. What do you think remains the biggest roadblock to bridging the gap?

I like the way you framed this question – ‘the tech world and legal world.’ Vague enough that it inspires rants related to consumers getting access to courts, the effectiveness of digital tools for consumers, lawyers using tech, etc. I will focus on lawyers using tech to be consistent with the theme of the rest of my answers and to take a different angle to my answer to Question 2.

The good and bad about the legal tech space right now is that it is picking up steam at an unprecedented pace (at least for our industry). We want new ideas, we want people to innovate. But, it is easy to chase shiny objects that may not ultimately prove to effectively change the delivery service model. The number of choices can create barriers to adoption for lawyers (but, as I tell my kids, nothing justifies whining – as referenced above).

This may mean that those of us who play a role in the legal innovation space have some level of responsibility bridge that gap through education, to create standards to level the playing field and/or to find new ways to connect lawyers with the right tools to run modern law practices.

What is your take on lawyers learning to code? (As an aside, I am learning Python, myself.)

I have no problem with it. Besides, as far as hobbies go, learning to code is way less destructive than developing a coke habit or joining a Fight Club. And, you might just hit on an amazing idea to change the way consumers get access to legal services.

What do you see as the practice of law becoming over the next five years?

Maybe the fear-mongering will come true and thanks to AI, robots will take all the lawyer jobs. Kidding, that is still probably 20 years down the road.

The industry will continue to see increased opportunities for solo/small firm lawyers. Tech/services are becoming cheaper. We are working on a plug-and-play law firm model that will make it easier for lawyers to run modern practices and to focus on client service. This will help level the playing field for smaller firm lawyers to compete, but also will ultimately help more consumers get access to services.