Reflections from the Emerging Legal Technologies Forum in Toronto

by Drew Winlaw

I recently hopped across the pond to Toronto, Canada, which was beautiful in the late summer (it reminded me of Sydney). We were in town to attend the Thomson Reuters and MaRS LegalX Emerging Legal Technology Forum. It was a fun event; I met with many like-minded folk and enjoyed some thought provoking presentations.

One of the big impressions was left by Prof Daniel Katz from Illinois Tech - Chicago Kent College of Law. I’ve been a fan of Professor Katz for some time – at Wavelength we like one of his general precepts that goes something like, it’s not about lawyers versus the machines, but what lawyers and machines together can achieve.

Katz helpfully publishes most of his presentations and the slides from his Toronto keynote can be found here. Thanks also to the Canadian Lawyer and the National, the magazine of the Canadian Bar Association for capturing some of the quotes below that we didn’t write down because we were too busy listening.

So, what nuggets did we glean:

  • Katz believes that “data driven law practice is gaining steam,” and is linked to good practice, he said “great lawyers design systems that balance risk and improve transparency, helping clients price risk internally.”
  • The value proposition for lawyers is in putting a price on risk. “A mediocre lawyer finds risk; a great lawyer helps you price risk,” says Katz. That ability to price risk will be valued all the more in the coming years as we see the more sophisticated elements of the legal industry “financialize” risk. I like this word, as it’s more pronounceable than “actuarialize” that I have been using since my discussion about these same concepts with Jack Diggle of Elevate Services about a year ago. This is all about “financially rigorous measurement of the value proposition associated with various legal services” and is described in more detail in Katz’ slides
  • Managing enterprise legal risk is all about data. “We care about data because we want to be able to predict things” said Katz. At Wavelength we know that unstructured data in particular needs work to make it really useful – understanding the provenance of data is key, as is the process of contract abstraction, cleaning, de-duplication, deciding about boundary conditions, and having workable systems in place to enhance the reliability of subsequent data additions.

Two key themes emerging from the conference go right to the heart of Wavelength’s ‘Legal Engineering’ philosophy:

(i) a quote from Katz: “Embrace legal analytics to help you do your job better”; and

(ii) a general conference theme: get the best brains focused on legal problem – whether they happen to be lawyers, data scientists or other professionals!