Due in large part to the emergence of advanced artificial intelligence-based legal technologies, the US legal services industry today is in the midst of a tech shakeup. Indeed, the number of advanced legal tech startups continues to increase. And so too are the opportunities for law firms to receive product presentations from those vendors.
Over the last several months, I’ve participated in several pitches and demos from leading legal tech vendors. Typically delivered by company founders, executives, technologists, and/or sales, these presentations have been delivered live, as audio-video conferences, audio by phone with a separate web demo, or pre-recorded audio-video demos (e.g., a slide deck video with voiceover). Often, a vendor’s lawyer will discuss how his or her company’s software addresses various needs and issues arising in one or more law firm practice areas. Most presentations will also include statements about advanced legal tech boosting law firm revenues, making lawyers more efficient, and improving client satisfaction (ostensibly, a reminder of what’s at stake for those who ignore this latest tech trend).
Based on these (admittedly small number of) presentations, here is my list of things I wish every legal tech presentation would provide:
1. Before a presentation, I wish vendors would provide an agenda and the bios of the company’s representatives who will be delivering their pitch. I want to know what’s being covered and who’s going to be giving the presentation. Do they have a background in AI and the law, or are they tech generalists? This helps prepare for the meeting and frame questions during Q&A (and reduces the number of follow-up conference calls). Ideally, presenters should know their own tech inside and out and an area of law so they can show how the software makes a difference in that area. I’ve seen pitches by business persons who are really good at selling, and programmers who are really good at talking about bag-of-words bootstrapping algorithms. It seems that best person to pitch legal tech is someone who knows both the practice of law and how tech works in a typical law firm setting.
2. Presenters should know who they are talking to at a pitch and tailor accordingly. I’m a champion for legal tech and want to know the details so I can tell my colleagues about your product. Others just want to understand what adopting legal tech means for daily law practice. Find out who’s who and which practice group(s) or law firm function they represent and then address their specific needs.
3. The legal tech market is filling up with single-function offerings that generally perform a narrow function, so I want to understand all the ways your application might help replace or augment law firm tasks. Mention how your tech could be utilized in different practice areas where it’s best deployed (or where it could be deployed in the future in the case of features still in the development pipeline). The more capabilities an application has, the more attractive your prices begin to appear (and the fewer vendor roll-outs and training sessions I and my colleagues will have to sit through).
4. Don’t oversell capabilities. If you claim new features will be implemented soon, they shouldn’t take months to deploy. If your software is fast and easy, it had better be both, judged from an experienced attorney’s perspective. If your machine learning text classification models are not materially different than your competitors’, avoid saying they’re special or unique. On the other hand, if your application includes a demonstrable unique feature, highlight it and show how it makes a tangible difference compared to other available products in the market. Finally, if your product shouldn’t be used for high stakes work or has other limitations, I want to understand where that line should be drawn.
5. Speaking of over-selling, if I hear about an application’s performance characteristics, especially numerical values for things like accuracy, efficiency, and time saved, I want to see the benchmarks and protocols used to measure those characteristics. While accuracy and other metrics are useful for distinguishing one product from another, they can be misleading. For example, a claim that a natural language processing model is 95% accurate at classifying text by topic should be backed up with comparisons to a benchmark and an explanation of the measurement protocol used. A claim that a law firm was 40-60% more efficient using your legal tech, without providing details about how those figures were derived, isn’t all that compelling.
6. I want to know if your application has been adopted by top law firms, major in-house legal departments, courts, and attorneys general, but be prepared to provide data to back up claims. Are those organizations paying a hefty annual subscription fee but only using the service a few times a month, or are your cloud servers overwhelmed by your user base? Monthly active users, API requests per domain, etc., can place usage figures in context.
7. I wish proof-of-concept testing was easier. It’s hard enough to get law firm lawyers and paralegals interested in new legal tech, so provide a way to facilitate testing your product. For example, if you pitch an application for use in transactional due diligence, provide a set of common due diligence documents and walk through a realistic scenario. This may need to be done for different practice groups and functions at a firm, depending on the nature of the application.
8. I want to know how a legal tech vendor has addressed confidentiality, data security, and data assurance in instances where a vendor’s legal tech is a cloud-based service. If a machine learning model runs on a platform that is not behind the firm’s firewall and intrusion detection systems, that’s a potential problem in terms of safeguarding client confidential information. While vendors need to coordinate first with a firm’s CSO about data assurance/security, I also want to know the details.
9. I wish vendors would provide better information demonstrating how their applications helped others develop business. For example, tell me if using your application helped a law firm respond to a Request for Proposal (RFP) and won, or a client gave more work to a firm that demonstrated advanced legal tech acumen. While such information may merely be anecdotal, I can probably champion legal tech on the basis of business development even if a colleague isn’t persuaded with things like accuracy and efficiency.
10. Finally, a word about design. I wish legal tech developers would place more emphasis on UI/UX. It seems some of the offerings of late appear ready for beta testing rather than a roll-out to prospective buyers. I’ve seen demos in which a vendor’s interface contained basic formatting errors, something any quality control process would have caught. Some UIs are bland and lack intuitiveness when they should be user-friendly and have a quality look and feel. Use a unique theme and graphics style, and adopt a brand that stands out. For legal tech to succeed in the market, technology and design both must meet expectations.
[The views and opinions expressed in this post are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views or opinions of the author’s employer or colleagues.]