Joanna Goodman’s LegalTech column in the Law Society Gazette magazine (https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/) is usually a good read, and this week’s “Stick or twist” piece is no exception. She perceptively spotlights the need for many firms to upgrade their technology, the rapid emergence of an abundance of products, and even the introduction of taxonomic tools to help customers navigate the market. For me, the merit of the article is the nod to the universal truth that legal technology is an accelerator of service delivery and not a surrogate service.
Three and a half years ago I set up Mattersmith to build a platform to help the negotiation and management of contracts. Shortly after, I bumped into an MD at one of my custodian bank clients who asked me how the venture was going. “Great” I enthused, “lots of ideas to implement”. “Glad to hear it and I hope you succeed” he replied, but then came the friendly reminder as he got in the lift, “the thing is, I rely on my lawyer, Andrew, not a computer, to keep me out of jail!”. The doors closed leaving me smiling inanely for too long at no one in particular.
Serious LawTech businesses and experienced lawyers understand that the real value lies in solving a problem by the application of skill and experience supported by technology. Self-help on-line legal “services” aimed at people with no knowledge of the subject matter have struggled to monetize a sustainable model. To argue that their “failure” is due to the inadequacies of the technology is to miss the point. It is the fact that people want a lawyer to advise them that what they are proposing to do is fine or not as the case may be. If you are willing to rely on a computer to give you advice, whether or not using AI, you might want to check the small print. If you expect to be able to bring a claim if the “advice” is wrong, good luck.
A tech entrepreneur said to me during Mattersmith’s early days that if your platform looks the same as your MVP in three years, you are not doing it right! So true. Mattersmith’s platform has grown from a contract modelling and playbook graph database into an integrated document handling, enterprise search and knowledge base that speeds up simple contract reviews to nuanced drafting, which we use and validate every day. However, our philosophy remains the same – let the lawyers advise on the law.