Dear lawyers: The legal tech boom has neglected you.

Aug 17, 2020

By Mathew Rotenberg

In Richard Susskind’s book The Future of Law, published in 1998, the prophetic author and legal tech expert predicted that email would become the primary means of communication between lawyers and their clients. Officials at the Law Society of England and Wales responded that Mr. Susskind should not be allowed to speak publicly and that he was bringing the legal profession into “disrepute.”[1] 

Mr. Susskind also claimed in the 1990’s that the Internet would become the primary method of legal research. Lawyers and judges universally denounced the prediction, stating that Mr. Susskind didn’t “understand the practical and cultural significance of law libraries.”[2] 

We all know how those predictions turned out. 

Today, interestingly, the pendulum has swung in the other direction. In a recent study, more than 50 percent of lawyers predicted that artificial intelligence, predictive analytics, machine learning, and big data will have an impact in the near future.[3]  Unlike the lawyers of the 80’s and 90’s, many in the legal tech world assume innovation must be big, bold, and disruptive. Current investment in—and adoption of—legal technology has thus focused on extremes: huge upfront investment to build new technologies, which then require tremendous effort to implement. 

In reality however, profound innovations can be subtle, and add incremental value to our lives or the lives of our clients. Experts say that the way to make cultural change stick is to work “with” and “within” the system, focusing on small interventions designed to change a small set of behaviors.[4]  It’s these incremental enhancements that have the most potential to help attorneys, yet have largely been ignored. 

The Current State of Legal Tech

In 2019, investments in legal tech exceeded $1 billion.[5] Yet the adoption—and investment associated with it—has been limited, as the vast majority of this innovation has disproportionately taken place in only a few areas:

  • In large law firms, investments focused on tackling the most tedious legal tasks have skyrocketed first, primarily in cloud document management and artificial intelligence, specifically in the eDiscovery and contract analysis spaces. 
  • In smaller firms and solo practitioners, investments have primarily been in the legal operations space, to help lawyers run the business of their firm.[6]  These innovations include solutions that help with billing, client intake, and document management, with Clio having a large monopoly.

Of course, there are many other software companies in the industry targeting attorneys. But these are the categories that are pulling in the majority of investment and revenue so far. 

As a result, investment in these areas has neglected the day-to-day workflow of the profession’s highest performers. It’s not that E-discovery and Contract AI shouldn’t be automated–they absolutely should. But these innovations do not tackle the most important and immediate need: addressing the organizational and collaborative demands of a modern legal practice. 

Innovation for Today’s Attorneys

While the world is undergoing a Fourth Industrial Revolution that is fundamentally changing the nature of professional work, attorney workflow has remained largely unchanged for 20 years.[7] It continues to be nearly 100 percent reliant on email for internal and external communications, record keeping, and collaboration. 

In part, it’s because no one seems to understand exactly what innovation means in practice. In one study, Seventy-two percent of attorneys said that “coping with increased volume and complexity of information” is a top trend, yet, only 31 percent feel prepared to address it with the tools they have available to them now.[8]  As they say, “[Legal] Innovation is like teenage sex; everyone talks about it, nobody really knows how to do it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they are doing it.”  

To meet client demands, and improve our practices, there needs to be a shift in focus from what we do, to how we do it

It’s time to build products that help lawyers get organized. It’s time for tools to be developed for lawyers, like Slack was built for business professionals and Salesforce for Sales professionals. We deserve our Salesforce. 

What’s Involved?

This doesn’t mean the heavy lift many assume is required to adopt bombshell technology (think about the migration to a new document management system, or case management system, woof!). Instead, innovation gets accomplished through small changes to existing process. It means automation, increased ease of communications, and universal views of information. 

Consider how adopting new productivity software could radically improve your internal organization and collaboration—and your own well-being:

  • Email Automation: Like E-Discovery and Contract AI, sifting and sorting emails into Outlook folders is tedious and should be automated. Reduce the time spent on organizing incoming messages, and the time finding them later. 
  • Virtual Workspaces: The pandemic has accelerated digital transformation and working in dispersed, virtual teams. This has deepened our need for a better way to communicate and convey joint views of information, which is currently taking place exclusively in the depths of email chains. 
  • Collaboration in Chat: Email is still an important part of your communication toolkit, but it shouldn’t be the only one. Collaborate with your team in real time, in a dynamic chat within each client dashboard, keep track of changes, and enjoy a more fluid alternative to email chains. 

Now is the time to address the day-to-day workflow of attorneys in the modern, information-driven world. It’s time for innovation in the legal productivity space

Dig deeper into ways attorneys can harness the power of legal tech software to become the profession’s highest achievers in my earlier article Look Beyond Outlook: The Future of Productivity Software for Lawyers

What Innovation and Diversity Have in Common

Calls for law firm innovation is being driven in part by demands by clients for change in several areas. They won’t be satisfied by lip service or keywords on a firm’s website, or even the hiring of an innovation officer.    

There is a powerful similarity to client calls for diversity and inclusion over the past 20 years, which was also vague and difficult to address decades ago. Over the 20 years however, clients implemented more stringent measurements and evaluation processes that ultimately drove change within the firms.[10] Clients have already begun to request similar benchmarks to judge firms on innovation and collaboration, and choose to take their business where such processes have been prioritized and implemented.[11] To answer these calls for more sophisticated processes, Harvard Law School’s Center on the Legal Profession has found that in-house legal departments are increasingly implementing data-based measurement tools to gauge their own innovation efforts through big data and analytics.[12]

What clients care about is whether innovation and collaboration has infiltrated the culture of the firm in a way that is fundamental and concrete, and not just external. They want to see real collaboration: concrete efforts that demonstrate your practice’s adoption of innovative technology. 

What will you say when your firm is required to demonstrate concrete innovation?

Your Daily Workflow Is Still a Mess. Here’s What You Can Do About It.

In creating Dashboard Legal, we’re building for the future-ready lawyer. We’re creating a more fluid attorney workflow that offers the ability to alleviate the major pain points that are holding us back from best serving our clients. 

While lawyers are traditionally risk averse (and likely need to be in order to be good lawyers), lawyers are also adaptable and resilient. As a third-generation attorney, I’ve been privy to the ways legal practice has evolved over the past 30 years, from handwritten documents to email, from law libraries to web-based research, from on-prem servers to cloud document storage. And while we now have contact management tools, billing tools, research tools, e-signing tools, and even some automation tools, these investments and new products are missing the most immediate need: our day-to-day workflow is still a mess.

Learning to innovate in the productivity and collaboration space can propel our profession forward, as we increasingly understand that this is a game we can’t lose, if only we step out on the field and play.


Dashboard Legal is a platform designed to help legal practices increase their collaboration and productivity by reimagining the attorney workflow. Want to learn more? Contact us for a free demo.



[1] Susskind, Richard. The Future of Law: Facing the challenges of information technology. (1998).
[2] Legal Talk Network: Law Technology Now: Richard Susskind – How technology will change justice. (2020).
[3] de la Guardia, S. 16 Incredible LegalTech Stats Every Lawyer Needs to Know in 2019. (2019).
[4] Katzenbach, J., Steffen, I., Kronley, C. Cultural Change That Sticks. (2012).
[5] Skolnik, Sam. Legal Tech Broke Investment Record in 2019 as Sector Matures. (2019).
[6] Krutchfield, Ken. Legal Operations: Impact Makes The Case For Investment. (2020)
[7] Schwab, Klaus. The Fourth Industrial Revolution: What it means, how to respond. (2016)
[8] Wolters Kluwer Legal & Regulatory. The Future Ready Lawyer: The Global Future of Law. (2019)
[9] For an excellent read on this topic and the future of innovation in law, see Michelle DeStefano’s book Legal Upheaval: A Guide to Creativity, Collaboration, and Innovation in Law. (2018).
[10] In its 2019 Report on Diversity in U.S. Law Firms, the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) reported that women and people of color continued to make improvements in their representation among law firm partners in 2019. See 2019 Report on Diversity in U.S. Law Firms. (2019). National Association for Law Placement.
[11] Michelle DeStefano, Legal Upheaval: A Guide to Creativity, Collaboration, and Innovation in Law, Chapter 3 (2018).
[12] Innovation and Legal Markets. (2019). Harvard Law School: Center on the Legal Profession.