ABA Tech Show 2017

This was my first time attending the ABA Tech Show, and I loved it. Not only did I get to connect with several old friends, but I met and enjoyed spending time with many very devoted and engaged teachers, developers, and practicing lawyers. I have special fondnesses for each of these groups. As a legal educator, I am passionate about teaching law, but even more so about connecting with law professors. The ABA Tech Show included an “Academic” series that was truly outstanding. I hope that it becomes a regular feature of the show. 

Some overall impressions:

1. Legal tech is at a tipping point. What Oliver Goodenough calls the 1.0 stage, where technology assists lawyers by making them more efficient, is still the dominant position. Venerable products, like WordPerfect, still have a vibrant place, even in the face of limited interoperability with other software. But, productivity and effiency are the dominant theme.

2. Nonetheless, there are new technologies that are making their presense felt. (That’s 2.0.) AI is only beginning to have an impact. The most impressive deployments now are in document analysis where AI can find meaningful passages and data in contracts and other documents. This is useful in due diligence and some aspects of transactional and corporate drafting. 

3. There is little 3.0 tech, where the lawyer is replaced by an AI.  Perhaps the closest things to that are the Legal Zoom products that clearly have had an impact for access to the law, but it seems unclear to me that they have taken away any legal work. There is a potential false dichotomy, if one were to assume that legal tech either does or does not compete with lawyers. It seems more likely that, at this point, what is most likely to happen is that automated legal services might make the legal system much more accessible to people who are traditionally underserved. 

Legal educators are passionately engaged in figuring out what core compentencies need to be taught.  I suspect that this will always be a matter of chasing the game, since the technology moves much more rapidly than the law.  But, it is being done and done well. University of Oklahoma’s technology suite looks so futuristic that I think Spock should be learning to lawyer there. There are outstanding Legal Technology programs at Vermont Law School, Kansas, Florida State, and UNC Central, to name just a few.  And, schools like Chicago Kent, Michigan State, and Vanderbilt are developing Centers for legal innovation that are forward looking think tanks where the future of law is being developed.  University of Seattle has a great LLM program. Duke Law has its new Tech Lab. The future looks bright.  

But, it is of vital importance that the legal academy makes a place for consistent high quality reflection on the nature and meaning of the changes that are coming. Law is a lucretive profession, and legal tech entrepreneurs can do well. But, the legal academy must always keep in sight its obligations to society, to analyze and to critique the moral meaning of the law even as it is taken up into new forms and executed by new types of agents. 

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