Disruption is Coming

Harvard Law School’s publication, The Practice, just published an excellent article, “Disruption in Legal Services,” about the changing legal field. The article predicts that change is coming (and it most definitely is) and speculates on how the profession should respond. Innovations in technology will bring automation, computing power, and democratization of specialized knowledge to the legal field. The article hits some great points as it depicts how change trickles through any industry, including the legal industry. But it implies that lawyers are resistant to change. I disagree with this characterization.

The article states, “many would say law is not subject to the same technological forces roiling other industries,” and therefore that, “the theory of disruptive innovation largely doesn’t apply.” Taken to its conclusion, this suggests that many lawyers think that what they do, and how they interact with clients, cannot be improved with software.

No one I know would say that the legal industry will not be shaken up by software. The lawyers I know are acutely aware that the way they work will change as new software rolls out — and they are looking forward to it. Although the article is correct that, in general, change in any industry is difficult and meets some sort of resistance, most lawyers I meet are excited for a system where clients — especially less-lucrative early stage companies — can manage (even generate) their own documents, saving the lawyer from the minutia and leaving them with just the final review at the end.

Option grants already follow this pattern, albeit inefficiently and without new technology (unless you count Microsoft Word as new). Few lawyers customize each and every option grant for a startup. Instead, their clients are given a Microsoft Word “Form of” ISO/NQO/RSA Agreement to complete. Then there’s emailing the Agreements, faxing signatures back and forth, and updating the cap table… You can imagine how this could be made more efficient with software. Lawyers can imagine it too.

Software can address another pain point for lawyers: Right now clients who are looking to save money try to recreate legal documents they find across the web, leaving law firms to untangle a pile of legal documents plagued with inconsistent and incomplete information when due diligence rolls around for a Series A financing. It’s not just a hassle for the lawyer, it’s expensive for the client.

Consider the difference if the CEO of the startup uses software to collaborate with her lawyer. Then the lawyer can be less involved in meaningless fill-in-the-blank exercises, but still have access to the documents and can review them at any time. This gives the lawyer the opportunity to be more involved in the big picture, like making sure the client doesn’t hire 15 consultants and subsequently grant 15 NQOs with no vesting cliff.

This article presents the legal field as reluctant to change. Historically that may have been the case, but it has been my experience that lawyers see all of the shortcomings of how things are done now, and they are excited about the benefits that change will bring. The technology industry has a huge opportunity to capitalize on this need and create software that is high-quality and complex enough to effectively disrupt the current model of how legal services are provided.

(2015). Disruption Innovation in Legal Services. The Practice, 1(2), Retrieved from https://thepractice.law.harvard.edu/archives/February 4, 2016

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