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This is one of my posts where I keep you in the loop about events I attended that I think you would really benefit from. If you weren’t able to go to any of these conferences, this will give you a window into them. If you were able to attend, I hope that I can provide a different viewpoint.

Sound intriguing? Well then come with me my friend…

Free Your Mind

Putting in hours in the office is hard work. Drafting memos and motions, reviewing depositions or contracts, endless meetings, cranky and stressed out clients, it takes a toll. I know the grind too well. It’s refreshing (and I acknowledge, a luxury) to get away from it all, take a trip to another city, and attend a conference. Now, there are different kinds of conferences, but the kind that I would recommend are the legal tech variety.

In keeping with the theme of LawDroid’s First Annual AI conference, “Defy Normal,” a change of mindset is needed to think outside the box and free your mind. Only then does it make sense to reevaluate our work with fresh eyes. And, there is no better way to do that, but to share in the thoughts of speakers who are working at the forefront of the intersection of law and technology and to learn about new tech tools that can help you to put those thoughts into action.

If you were unable to attend LawDroid’s AI Conference last month, I’ll be announcing soon how you can get access to the video recordings and valuable extra content. So, stay tuned! But, let’s talk about ABA Techshow that took place last week in Chicago.

First of all, if you haven’t been to Chicago, I highly recommend it. Sure it’s cold in February, but it’s beautiful too.

Startup Pitch Competition

The Startup Alley Pitch Competition is a staple, organized by Robert Ambrogi and sponsored by the ABA and Clio. I learned that Clio has been a sponsor since the year after they debuted at Techshow, back in 2008. If I remember correctly, Bob said that this was Techshow’s 28th year. The startups pitch the night before the conference sessions launch in full. After the winner is picked, the exhibition hall is opened and attendees filter into it to chat up the innovators.

The field started with hundreds of startup submissions, winnowed down to 25 semi-finalists by judges, and then 15 finalists after a public voting period. I was surprised to discover 4 of the final 15 were from my adopted hometown of Vancouver, British Columbia and 13 incorporated artificial intelligence into their product in some way. Vancouver, punching above its weight, and wall to wall AI, I was in my happy place!

The format is that each entrepreneur gets 5 minutes to pitch their startup to the crowd, then an online poll of the attendees determines the winner. The startups all get free booths in the exhibition hall and the winner gets special press coverage by Bob.

Among them, there was an array of pitch strategies, some entrepreneurs focusing on features or benefits, others on weaving a compelling hero’s journey, one grabbed our attention with four letter words, another momentarily lost his train of thought. The full range of human experience of public speaking was on display. But all succeeded in communicating the gist of what they were vying to accomplish and the crowd was certainly eager to handle and test their wares.

Here’s a list of the startups and an extremely brief summary of their product hook: 

Pitch breakdown:

  1. Paxton – AI for law firms for case research

  2. Altumatim – tell the best stories with data and AI

  3. Civille – help lawyers get discovered online

  4. Beagle – make discovery cruelty free with AI

  5. 2nd Chair – reliable clickable citations with AI

  6. Gretchen – draft emails with AI

  7. Skribe – deposition transcripts with AI

  8. Henchman – AI copilot for drafting

  9. AltFee – accurately scope alternative fees

  10. LexSelect – extract and cite text with AI

  11. Recital – contract platform easy to start

  12. Resolutn – settle cases quick and affordably

  13. Lexamica – make every lead count

  14. AI.law – AI copilot for litigation

  15. Briefcatch – tools for effective legal writing

And the winners were:

3. Paxton

2. Skribe

1. AltFee!!!! 🎉🙌

The winners of the Pitch Competition

I have to admit I was a little partial to three of these startups, having had the pleasure of getting to know them in advance of the competition. Troy Doucet, CEO of ai.law, and I were booth neighbors at the Collision Conference in Toronto last June. He’s creating a great tool for helping litigators do their job, from drafting motions to discovery responses, it’s built to purpose and just works. Scott Leigh, a fellow Vancouverite, has an ambitious vision to help law firms overcome the billable hour by assisting them in designing fixed fees using AltFee’s alternative fee arrangement tool. And, Martin Ertl, who I’ve known for years (and also hails from Vancouver) captured our attention with some salty language about Recital, his contract management platform. What is unique about Martin’s tool is that it finds your files where they’re at through the magic of AI without you having to change how you operate, pretty nifty!

The pitch competition set the stage for what we were to experience the rest of the conference. An agenda replete with sessions on how AI is changing the practice of law. And, as luck would have it, I got to participate in a couple.

AI in Action: Transforming the Legal Landscape

It was fun to share the stage with Jack Newton, the indefatigable and illuminating CEO and founder of Clio, for a fireside chat about how AI is changing the legal landscape. Both he and I have a background in AI, Jack by way of his education and experience and I, by way of my experience building LawDroid.

As a side note, I’ve known Jack for many years. When I first moved to Vancouver, I co-founded the local chapter of Legal Hackers with Clio’s Attorney in Residence, scholar and gentleman, Joshua Lenon. Clio was very supportive of our group and I hosted Jack with a couple of other panelists at one of our early meet ups. He’s always been generous with his time and Clio has also been a great supporter of the American Legal Technology Awards that I co-founded with Cat Moon and Patrick Palace.

As the saying goes, “You can have it fast, you can have it good, you can have it cheap: pick two.” This so-called Iron Triangle or Triple Constraint has long guided a management of tradeoffs to favor one aspect of service delivery over another. But, does it need to be that way? As always, Jack’s points were grounded in facts and data-driven. AI produces greater efficiency and quality results (see above slides). And, if OpenAI’s deflationary pricing for use of its AI models is any indication, it seems that it may be possible to have it all: cheaper, better and faster.

Notably, this begs the question about the sustainability of law firm’s billable hour business model. Can it survive in a world of this Triple Threat Opportunity (cheaper, better and faster)? My personal opinion is: I don’t think it can. Granted, there has always been talk of the death of the billable hour, but there was neither the political will nor a way to trigger and sustain such change. But, now the political will is coming from without, with clients (consumers and in house counsel) who are savvy about the cost saving performance of generative AI. Plus, Gen AI tech tools are now ready for prime time that enable an affordable and easy to implement legal workflow. With those two elements, it is just a matter of time before the economics of the billable hour collapses in on itself. Certainly, law firms will survive, but perhaps with value-based pricing replacing the billable hour as a law firm’s default setting.

I also got to give a demo of LawDroid Copilot, freshly launched out of beta, to demonstrate how Gen AI can be used by law firms today.

LawDroid Copilot Demo 2024 (Motion Analysis) – Watch Video

The main takeaway of our talk was this: AI is here, it’s amazing, and it’s going to change things. Today, your superpowers are to be curious about AI and to experiment with it. Block out the naysayers and jump in with both feet. I can guarantee you that you’ll be better prepared for AI than those who have chosen denialism and AI mudslinging as a strategy.

AI, Legal Tech Investment and Regulation

I also had the pleasure to present a session with my friend and renowned legal ethicist, Jayne Reardon. We talked about about how regulation and investment are limiting factors to legal industry transformation and how that may change.

One insight that caught my attention in preparing for this session was the startling amount of money chasing AI in the legal industry. One need look no further than 2023’s investment figures. In terms of legal tech funding, the amount going to law firm chatbots and assistants was a modest $117 million, ranking 8th on the list. However, if one were to include Casetext’s $650 million acquisition in June 2023 by Thomson Reuters and Harvey’s $715 million valuation in December 2023, the market cap for legal AI approaches $1.4 billion, and that doesn’t include all the bolt-on Gen AI popping up on every incumbent’s existing software offerings. For a category that’s just over 1 year old, the growth is truly astonishing.

As Jayne noted in her presentation at the opening plenary and in our session, there are those in the legal industry that react to this news with a call to guard the moat and protect the castle (lawyers’ monopoly on the practice of law). But, there are also those testing the fences with First Amendment lawsuits challenging the enforceability of UPL statutes. I myself question whether the same statutes would withstand scrutiny on the grounds of unconstitutional vagueness, given that the definition of UPL is variable over 50 states and is essentially an “I know it when I see it” standard. Taken together with regulatory sandboxes allowing for non-lawyer experimentation, it’s just a matter of time until the walls are breached.

Ironically, I don’t believe this will be a bad thing for lawyers. I think it will lead to more people being engaged with their legal rights and remedies and that this will expand the legal economy pie for everyone rather than shrink it.

Closing Thoughts

Was this overwhelming? Too many new ideas and challenges to assumptions? Well, that’s how I felt too! But amidst this whirlwind of innovation and forward-thinking, I also found a profound sense of excitement and possibility. The landscape of legal technology, particularly AI’s role within it, is not just changing; it’s evolving at an unprecedented pace. And with this evolution comes an opportunity—an opportunity for us, as legal professionals, to redefine our practices, to make our services more accessible, efficient, and effective.

The conferences, like ABA Techshow and LawDroid’s First Annual AI Conference, are not merely events; they are beacons that light the way forward. They challenge us to ‘Defy Normal,’ to step outside our comfort zones, and to embrace the new tools and methodologies that can transform our profession.

The success stories of startups at the Startup Alley Pitch Competition, the insightful discussions about AI’s impact on legal practice, and the exploration of alternative business models all underscore a crucial message: The future of law is not set in stone. It’s malleable, shaped by our willingness to innovate and adapt.

As we stand at this crossroads, the choice before us is clear. We can cling to outdated practices and perspectives, or we can seize this moment to pioneer a new path for the legal profession. A path where technology enhances our ability to serve justice, where access to legal services is broadened, and where the value we provide to our clients is not measured in billable hours, but in the quality and impact of our work.

So, let’s not shy away from the challenges and uncertainties of this new landscape. Instead, let’s approach them with curiosity, openness, and a readiness to experiment. The journey ahead may be daunting, but it’s also ripe with potential. By embracing the innovations and ideas that are reshaping our field, we can ensure that we, and the legal profession as a whole, are not just surviving but thriving in the age of AI.

Thank you for joining me on this journey through the events and insights that are defining the future of legal technology. Together, let’s continue to explore, to learn, and to grow. The best is yet to come.


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