A day in the life of a deserted legal technologist
“OK Nick, so I’ve set you up with 5 RDP sessions here into each of our SQL servers and here are the two Microsoft Access databases, on this USB stick, that we need you to merge into one SQL 2005 compatible version. I need this done within the 60 minutes, so I’ll use our remote VNC software to see where you are up to in about 45 minutes or so. Good Luck!”.
It’s exactly 8 years to the day, that I was thrown into my first foray into legal technology, I can still feel the cheap polyester-mixed suit, shirt and tie combination, drenched in sweat, clinging to my back nervously, as the task of what I had been given to do, entirely overwhelmed me. The gentle whirring of desktop and computer screens accompanied by the acrid smell of soon-to-be overheating black plastic compounds.
To put into context how out of my depth I was, if you’d asked me the week before being thrown into this law firm’s IT department what a relational database was, I would have guessed it was something the government used to see who your parents are.
Fast forward 8 years, I sit more comfortably overlooking the desert palm trees and immaculately maintained lakes of Dubai Media City, here at our Thomson Reuters office.
It is purely by coincidence that I have ultimately spent a considerable amount of time, working for legal technology companies based in those hot and desert locations of Arizona, Texas and now Dubai. Thankfully the poly-mix suits have switched over to a comfortable yet affordable natural cotton. Lessons learned there and no intentions of going back.
I am equally thankful; that the days of Microsoft Access databases being the source of where our law firms, government and in-house legal departments store their key data has changed, but much still resides on Excel spreadsheets, shared folders, unsecured network directories, unsecured public cloud and yes, you’ve guessed it, those dreaded USB sticks!
The perception of legal technology has changed, the fears of job replacement are less prevalent, as lawyers, managing partners, CFO’s and CEO’s acknowledge the immediate need for automation and digitisation within their respective legal functions. The market has reached a level of maturity, that legal technology is shifting from ‘nice to have’ to ‘must have’.
A number of factors have expedited this journey, there certainly were job cuts across the regions in which we operate and government initiatives to be more innovative.
The demand for legal services is still high and growing. As such, lawyers and technologists alike, regardless of sector, are more aware than ever of the solutions available and the need to move quickly.
We now have a small, but growing contingent of legal engineers and legal technologists, working for in-house legal departments, alternative legal service providers and law firms alike. The clients that I have worked with who have been successful have all taken the approach of ‘keeping it simple’ and ‘making it easy’.
There is a temptation to push for those emerging AI and Blockchain technologies here in our region, but a pulse check on where our clients really are, is always required. If you’re storing your client confidential data in spreadsheets and shared drives, then let’s park those AI discussions for 2019.
My advice –
- Start with the basics
- Keep it simple
- Automate effectively
- Continue to innovate
As I look forward to the rest of my Sunday, (yes, no matter how long you have been here, working on a Sunday still seems a strange concept), I am reminded of a quote that I would expect resonates for everyone and in particular those engaged in legal services and technology.
“There’s a lot of automation that can happen that isn’t a replacement of humans but of mind-numbing behavior.”
Nicholas Cronjaeger is Head of Legal Software Solutions at Thomson Reuters. Operating across the Middle East, Africa, Russia and India, he leads the growth and awareness of all legal software to law firms, corporate legal departments and government sectors.