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3 Quick Thoughts on ReInvent Law

February 8, 2014

Reinvent Law AudienceLarry Port is the CEO and Founder of Rocket Matter. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

I’ve just come off a whirlwind week of the most intense discussion of legal technology I’ve come across in my seven years of running Rocket Matter. In the span of five days, I attended LegalTech New York, LexRedux, and ReInvent Law, mulling over ideas and trends with the leading entrepreneurs, journalist/bloggers, and early adopters in the space.

There’s a lot happening, folks. If you consider yourself part of this world and weren’t here this year, make sure you come next year. The conversation is happening without you.

1) ReInvent Is Hit or Miss. And That’s the Point.

ReInvent Law was very impressive. Kudos to Dan Katz and his Michigan State cohorts for pulling it off. It is easy for outsiders to dismiss the event as a largely academic discussion of a utopian tomorrow of law with iPads and alternative fee arrangements.

But when the ideas are discussed before technologists and early adopters, the merits of these ideas are more rigorously discussed and tested. Some are great. Others are stinkers. The talks themselves were similar with a couple of great presentations, while others were amateurish or served more as infomercials for a product or service.

The people in the audience at ReInvent are the people that can make things happen. They can see how an idea could positively affect them (especially monetarily) as visionaries are able to do. They can invent new technologies that support new processes or methods. They can inject these ideas into the curricula at their law schools. Or they can adopt them into their practice.

2) There’s a Future Beyond Your Future. So Be Careful What You Wish For.

One of the discussions I think is seriously flawed is the one around alternative fee arrangements, particularly around the idea of pricing transparency. The idea is that law firms should reveal a list of services with corresponding prices so that consumers can see what they’re getting beforehand, like they can with peanut butter.

My first observation is that in spite of all of the discussion surrounding alternative fee arrangements, we have seen very little traction across our law firm customers for this idea. Even though Rocket Matter can provide people with detailed reports of the cost of each matter, critical for the analysis and establishing of pricing, the only major pricing change we’ve seen is the emergence of evergreen retainers, particularly in the family law segment of practitioners.

More importantly is what might happen should this vision of transparent pricing materialize. Now you have all sorts of issues facing you. Once prices are listed across law firms like hamburgers on a McDonald’s menu, how do you handle downward price pressure? Should law firms compete on price, and if they chose not to, how is that even possible? Will a standard set of billing codes emerge across all practices, like we see with medical services, and will we trend towards the mandatory adoption of those codes across all firms?

Don’t just think about the future. Think about the future’s future.

3) The Nature of Innovation Itself Needs to Be Understood

I give presenter Paul Lippe major kudos for discussing Everett Roger’s work, Diffusions of Innovations. You’ve probably heard Rogers’ worked regurgitated by Geoffery Moore (Crossing the Chasm) or pseudo-academics like Malcolm Gladwell. He was one of the only people I’ve seen in a legal technology context discuss the technology adoption lifecycle curve.

Innovation itself needs to be understood if new ideas are to take hold. As I endeavored to get legal cloud computing accepted, along with other pioneers like Jack Newton, Steph Kimbro, and Richard Granat, it was critical to understand the nature of the spreading of ideas. The academic study of this is called “diffusion” and the conclusions are that the process, whether you’re adopting new types of corn seed or better billing ideas, is largely social in nature.

The best ideas don’t always win. The DVORAK keyboard is much more efficient than the QWERTY one but is only used by a small subpopulation. Betamax was of better quality than VHS but lost the war. Bolivian villagers refused to boil water even though it was less likely to make them sick.

And until the nature of diffusions of innovation is understood well by this community, adoption will be more miss than hit.