Recap: The LTH Innovation and Tech-Enabled Lawyering Conference

Published on 2023-10-06 by
Legaltech Hub

It's taken me a week to write this because there's so much I want to say.

Last Friday, the LTH Innovation and Tech-Enabled Lawyering Conference attracted over 160 in-person attendees in spite of torrential rains and flooding in New York. Some people took 3 hours to get from LaGuardia to downtown, passing floating cars on the way. One hearty soul walked through rain in flip flops and a bathing suit, bringing a change of clothes in a waterproof backpack! But almost everyone made it.

Attendees came from over 35 law firms (some from as far afield as Germany), with most innovation professionals bringing along one or two practicing attorneys to join the discussion. We had client-side lawyers from a handful of large corporate legal departments, mid-sized firm partners, law professors and law students, and a selection of cutting-edge vendors and providers. 

It was an amazing opportunity to get these key people in one room from different verticals of legal to have real conversations about this point in time in the legal industry. For us at LTH, it was particularly important to include practicing lawyers and law students in a conversation that is about their careers. We had two panels where the speakers were all lawyers, and lawyers were also represented on a number of other panels across the day.

The panels were kept relatively short, to 30 minutes each, allowing us to cover a wide-range of topics, with a program especially designed to move through the key themes of change that we're all tackling at the moment. Although the day was not exclusively focused on AI, that is obviously a theme that ran through most of the panels, and for which our outstanding keynote speaker set us up perfectly.

Professor Richard Susskind, appearing virtually in front of his impressive (and real!) background of books, kicked us off with an insightful talk that included his predictions on the impact of advanced AI in law. He talked about the fact that this is just a new chapter in AI, and still an early one. As always, he was realistic and pragmatic about the legal landscape, pointing out that a lot of the work currently being done is still experimental, and that the developments we're seeing are less significant for what they mean today, and more for what they say about things to come (we tend to overestimate the current impact and underestimate the future impact of this technology). Professor Susskind does not believe advanced AI will create disruption in the next year or two, because there are "all manner of obstacles in the way" (any of us who have worked to drive innovation in a law firm know how true this is!). 

By way of illustrating what is happening now compared to what is to come, he talked about how first generation innovation is about short term tactical work geared towards preventing falling short of competitors. Second generation innovation will be about actual transformation through advanced AI, the solution of problems through products, geared towards moving ahead of competitors.

His prediction is that advanced AI will become truly disruptive by the year 2030. 

In the panels that followed (which we will write about more extensively over the coming weeks), Professor Susskind's predictions about the impact of advanced AI were borne out by most speakers and by the audience. During the guided audience discussion that rounded out the day, pulling in voices from across the industry to comment, a whopping two thirds said they were already using generative AI or LLMs in some form or another. The vast majority, though, considered that the true impact of this technology would be felt in 3-7 years, with only very few saying it would happen in the next year or two or that it would take longer than ten years. Professor Ben Alarie of Blue J Legal, Leslie McCallum of Lexata and Joe Green of Gunderson Dettmer in a panel on the impact of generative AI on law felt that the impact would be felt sooner, but true disruption was a few years out. However, the vendors on the panel strongly felt that almost all providers could benefit from leveraging this technology in some way, with the repercussion that most technology products would soon incorporate generative AI.

Other highlights of the day:

  • The AI ethics panel (Ed Walters of vLex, Casey Flaherty of LexFusion, Eric Gross of Ozmosys, and Nicole Bradick of Theory and Principle) spoke about how our rules of professional conduct can be used to dampen innovation due to risk - but should also be seen as a catalyst, encouraging all of us to use new technology as part of our obligation to clients.
  • Nicole Bradick urged us to carefully evaluate technology we use that is underpinned by AI, especially whether the model will keep your client's confidential data private. She also said that vendors need to do a better job of building with this technology, commenting that a chatbot interface can be problematic for complex work because it "camouflages its innocence" - it puts too much pressure on lawyers to know how to interact with it in order to produce the right results. Better UI will guide lawyers so that they don't all need to become prompt engineers.
  • We had a heated discussion on our documents and data panel (Joshua Fireman of Fireman & Company / Epiq, Jacob Beckerman of Macro, Jen Parker of Morae) about whether the structure that a DMS brings will be necessary in the future, or whether this technology may become obsolete in the face of AI that can rapidly and automatically structure data.
  • Our client panel (Katy McNeil of KKR & Co and Stacy Walsh of Travelers) provided a fascinating view from the in-house side, with both panelists saying their teams were busy looking at AI providers already. In terms of what clients are looking for from outside counsel at this moment in time:
    • Clients care about service and efficiency – both said it doesn’t matter so much what you’re using but that you are investing in efficiency and excellence, using tools that will improve the way you deliver services. They want their law firms to proactively tell them what they're doing on the innovation side. 

    • Some of the more important technology for clients is actually pretty old. For example, a portal that gives them access 24/7 to deal status is still a huge win.

    • Data is gold, and they want access to it - not just their own data but also market insights and what’s market data. If firms took the initiative to collect and offer them access to that data it would be a gamechanger.

    • After a successful deal or close of matter, law firms could score easy points by putting together a deck and presenting to the client team about the success - an easy win for the firm that comes from sharing and celebrating success with the client. Too few firms think to do this.

    • It can be beneficial for firms to offer support to clients around how to evaluate the market for legal technology. Clients can also lean in to what the firm uses, and firms can offer this as a benefit, but sometimes there are also advantages for the client if the firm can work directly in the client instance of a technology solution to help the client with tech-driven projects.

  • A panel of attorneys from different sized law firms (TJ Wilkinson of Shulman Rogers, Scott Jablonski of Berger Singerman, Neda Shaheen of Crowell & Moring) was notable for the consistent optimism of the panelists about technology and its potential in law. One fascinating comment was that "lawyers don't have the time to be wrong". Firms that are slower to adopt an advanced AI solution are waiting because, when they dive in, it has to be the right move. They all said that as advocates for technology within their firms, generative AI had made things easier because "even the most cloistered partner" knows about it. 

Over the course of the day we heard about specific solutions that were solving real problems in firms, or that lawyers were genuinely excited about. We saw a DLAPiper real estate group project involving extraction of data from real estate matters at scale, making "what's market" type insights feasible, and it was great to see a key partner involved in the project (Barbara Trachtenburg, Co-Vice Chair of US Real Estate) present on this alongside Knowledge Management counsel Seagrumm Gilbert. We also heard from firms that were actively building with LLMs, and providers who were addressing build needs. 

The final panels of the day addressed strategy around planning for innovation and valuing legal work into the future. The consensus from our strategy panel (Carla Swansburg of ClearyX and Elisabeth Cappuyns of DLAPiper) was that long-range, three horizon planning was more important now than ever, but also that the timescale of strategic planning was shrinking so that third horizon innovation was closer than it has been in the past. Cassie Vertovec of Paul Hastings, David Cambria and Deb Tesser agreed, saying that generative AI was making everything move faster, so that the time to have conversations around strategic, value-based pricing is now - not a year from now or three years from now.

Perhaps most relevant for our future: the law students present all expressed optimism and excitement about their legal careers, seeing this inflection point as an opportunity. Importantly, they were all students currently enrolled in legaltech courses, and therefore felt they were gaining an advantage in the market. The law professors present reinforced the importance of changing law school education broadly to include topics of this nature, so as to set up future lawyers for success.

A lucky 75 attendees walked away with a copy of Susskind's Tomorrow's Lawyers (3rd ed.), and a handful scored a signed copy of Professor Ben Alarie's book The Legal Singularity.

The consensus we get from people who attend this conference is that it's special. We hear from attendees that it feels like they are part of a community. It's a community we are committed to building, both through our platform and through our targeted events. At this point of time in particular, a collaborative, cross-vertical approach is critical to ensure we are all moving forwards in the most ethical, appropriate way.

Thanks to all who came along, trecking through catastrophic weather conditions to get there. Thanks to our amazing panelists, and especially to Professor Richard Susskind, for providing us with the perfect opener to a day full of enriching discussions.



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