Chas Rampenthal, General Counsel of LegalZoom, doesn’t trifle with the niceties. He offers no diplomatic circumlocutions or plans to subtly alter the current regulatory system for lawyering. Instead, in his keynote address at Suffolk Law’s Legaltech Symposium, he put that system on a skewer and, at least metaphorically, set it aflame. Watch Rampenthal’s talk.
He argued that the current legal services system, by design, limits access to most consumers—about 80 percent of the marketplace, he averred. The system, he said, offers little transparency on pricing and deadlines, keeps costs out of reach for average consumers, and, unlike many other professions, offers few avenues other than word of mouth for consumers to assess a practitioner’s quality; it’s a system built for lawyers, he said, and not for consumers.
While a large swath of industries have used technology and data to improve the customer experience, he said, the legal field has mostly ignored advances that could make legal service cheaper and much more user-friendly.
And just because a lawyer is doing a certain type of work doesn’t necessarily mean that a lawyer is always the best person to do that task, he said. In the UK, where bank employees are allowed to handle certain discreet legal transactions, often at a fraction of the cost of a lawyer (solicitor), those bank employees also receive significantly higher ratings from consumers for their service than do the lawyers, he said.
LegalZoom has started a legal services company in the UK that will act on the company’s vision of the legal future. The firm, Beaumont Legal Services is almost 200 years old with 200 employees. Its niche is in conveyancing, that is, transferring home ownership. Beaumont is building an app that will allow customers to fill in documents on a laptop or tablet, explain disclosures in plain English, e-chat in real time with a solicitor, sign forms online and, guarantee a move-in date. The technology for the app is not new, Rampenthal explained; it’s just a question of using existing technologies in the legal sphere, an idea that he said, has met strong resistance from lawyers.
Andrew Perlman, Dean of Suffolk Law, opened the conference with a call to find ways to make the legal system more accessible through technological efficiencies, and giving law students understanding of the kinds of tools that will allow much needed innovation. As a case in point, he mentioned the Law School’s Accelerator to Practice program, which recently won an award from the ABA for innovations in the provision of legal service to average income clients. The Accelerator students and students in the school’s Legal Technology and Innovation Concentration use legal project management and document automation tools, among others, to make lawyering more efficient and drive down costs.
Professor Gabriel Teninbaum, Director of Suffolk Law’s Institute for Legal Practice Technology & Innovation said Rampenthal’s call for greater access to the legal system is integral to the success of a changing society. He pointed out that Suffolk Law has devoted significant resources to training its students to enter the legal workforce as change-agents who are highly trained in using technology and other innovative methods to streamline and improve the way consumers interact with legal professionals.
During the symposium, Marc Lauritsen, a legal tech consultant, adjunct professor at the Law School and former director of Harvard Law School’s clinical program, offered a session on the use of his proprietary software Choiceboxer, a next generation tool for filtering data that offers consumers a more sophisticated way to make decisions. One benefit of Lauritsen’s idea is a new form of crowdsourcing for decision making. Users will be able to quickly see how thousands of others weighted and assessed various parameters in making their decisions. For example, if a consumer were trying to decide between two types of cars, she might place a high value on safety and reliability, and a lower value on style and capacity in snow. Participants considered ways the tool might be used for legal service.
Mastering massive numbers of docs
Joe Pirrotta, Director of Legal Services at Integreon, gave attendees a hands-on opportunity to understand how data analytics can add efficiencies to document review projects with massive numbers of pages. He demonstrated the clustering of documents with similar words or word frequency, and the audience learned how to use the software to highlight and cluster documents that contain similar concepts.
TurboTax-style court docs?
Erika Rickard, the Massachusetts Trial Court’s Access to Justice Coordinator, demonstrated some new ways to improve the public’s access to the justice system, including MassLegalHelp, a Turbo Tax style application that walks users through court documents.
Coding for non-coders
David Colarusso, a staff attorney for the Massachusetts Committee for Public Counsel Services taught participants to use QnA Markup. The programming language was designed with attorneys in mind, transforming blocks of text into interactive question and answer sessions—thus the name QnA. These QnAs can be used as stand-alone expert systems or help construct rule-based documents.