It’s no secret that a career in big law can be less than inspiring for young associates, who spend hours each day pouring over a seemingly unending stream of documents. Many become disillusioned and quit their jobs in order to start their own practice or move in house.
Aria Safar, a former BigLaw associate, took a different way out. He wasn’t content to simply leave the world of BigLaw behind. Instead, he was determined to change it.
Aria is now the Chief Business Development Officer at E-STET, a company on a mission to shake up the legal industry and make the practice of law more efficient through e-discovery technology.
“Legal technology means that lawyers have to do less grunt work.”
Aria is also the co-founder of the Los Angeles chapter of Legal Hackers, a global organization of lawyers, techies, academics and policymakers dedicated to harnessing technology to solve some of the legal industry’s most important problems.
Here, Aria reveals some of his predictions for what the future of legal technology holds and explains how in-house counsel can bring the power of technology to their companies.
What first piqued your interest in legal technology?
I was really interested in technology as a child. My dad is a gadget geek, so I took after him.
Then, as a law student, I noticed a gap between everyday, consumer technologies that are very user friendly and business to-business products, which are very clunky. That was my first indication that legal technology is behind and needs to change.
Later, I would see the same document over and over again during document review. I thought that was such a waste. There had to be a better way to do things.
“Legal technology provides an opportunity to get creative.”
I was also inspired by a Legal Hackers meetup that I attended in New York City. I saw demos of really cool products and realized that legal technology needs to be widely adopted.
What can legal technology do for lawyers?
On the litigation side, you can refine what you need to review in depth much more efficiently if you use predictive coding and other AI-enabled technology.
It’s also really important to use research tools more effectively, and there are really interesting technologies coming out that are making case research free or very cheap.
On the transactional side, AI is making incredible leaps and has an amazing role in due diligence. AI can highlight what’s different between two 20 or 30-page contracts so that a lawyer doesn’t have to read them.
There is also software that can be trained to identify certain types of contracts within a data repository. For example, the software can be taught how to distinguish a sales contract from an appointment contract so that a lawyer can easily find all relevant documents.
Overall, legal technology means that lawyers have to do less grunt work.
“A fear of technology is inherent in the law. How can you trail blaze if you only follow precedent?”
How can general counsel benefit from using legal technology?
1. Legal technology enables general counsel to reduce their bills.
With legal technology, in-house attorneys can get through more work in less time and greatly decrease the amount of overflow work that needs to be sent to outside counsel.
2. Legal technology allows general counsel to do more interesting work.
Legal technology takes care of the boring tasks, freeing up general counsel to do more of what they like.
3. Legal technology provides an opportunity to get creative.
General counsel who take advantage of legal technology are able to approach problems creatively and develop new solutions. This helps them stand out from the crowd.
4. Legal technology improves accuracy.
Rote tasks like document review can be handled by AI-enabled technology.
Though legal technology can have its inaccuracies, so does asking a human to review documents for 12 hours straight. Your eyes start glazing over, you get bored and you make mistakes.
“Rote tasks like document review can be handled by AI-enabled technology.”
Computers don’t get tired in the same way. Predictive coding has already been shown to be more accurate than human review, and is only going to get better.
Given all these benefits of legal technology, why are some lawyers reluctant to embrace it?
A fear of technology is inherent in the DNA of the law. It’s a risk averse profession – we look for risks and try to avoid them rather than thinking of better ways of accomplishing goals.
Lawyers also rely on precedent. They look at what someone else has done in order to make decisions. How can you trail blaze if you only follow precedent?
What can general counsel in traditional organizations do to convince decision makers to adopt legal technology?
I think that the most effective strategy is pointing to another company like yours that’s already using legal technology.
That way, you can say, “Look, they did it and they’re doing well, so we should do it too. Here are all the benefits it will provide.” You really have to create a business case.
It also helps to be very savvy about how everything works. For example, read up on predictive coding so that you understand its mechanics and can explain it very clearly to someone else. Take every chance you can to use technology to solve people’s problems. This helps you develop a reputation for yourself as the techie of the company. I earned that reputation while working at a law firm. I solved a partner’s problem by removing a semicolon from a filename, and after that I became known as the geek on the team.
“The world is specializing. We’re all narrowing our focus.”
That reputation gives you authority when you’re presenting opportunities for change.
What can general counsel do to educate themselves about legal technology?
I would really encourage them to attend conferences about legal technology. There are a lot of them out there, some better than others, so choose wisely. These conferences can help general counsel discover what products are available and what they can do.
Following legal tech blogs is another way stay aware of what products are coming out.
Lastly, it’s also great to consult with other general counsel and in-house attorneys about technology and best practices. How do they approach legal issues? What tools and what processes are they using for contract review? How do they structure their teams?
My friends and colleagues who’ve taken all of these steps have learned so much. They’ve learned about new tools, implemented them and made their lives much more efficient.
What will happen to companies that fail to adopt legal technology?
Technology always disrupts the industries it enters. People who fail who to adapt are often hurt dramatically and sometimes don’t survive.
“Technology always disrupts the industries it enters. Those who fail to adapt often don’t survive.”
That being said, old-school companies might be able to stay afloat if they provide value in other ways.
There are things that computers currently cannot do (for now), such as high-level appellate litigation. General counsel can focus on those things and farm out the techie stuff to other people.
In short, the world is specializing. We’re all narrowing our focus and becoming the person who does a few things really well while outsourcing everything else to someone else.
How else will legal technology change the legal industry?
I think that a lot of the grunt work will disappear, which will mean that a lot of associates at big law firms will be without work. Overall, the number of jobs in law will go down.
On the bright side, the remaining jobs will be in high-level litigation and transactions, or other novel areas.
Additionally, I believe that there will be a shift in legal services towards a more consumer-focused model. I’ve heard statistics that 80 percent of the legal market is consumer based, and for the most part, it’s untapped.
Consumers are underserved in the legal industry – they don’t really know what resources are available and only turn to lawyers in extreme circumstances. Most attorneys have lost count of the number of times that a friend has come to them with a legal issue that could have been avoided with a simple contract.
“There’s a huge opportunity for lawyers to use technology to reach small business or individuals.”
There’s a huge opportunity for lawyers to use technology to reach small business or individuals and serve them in a consultative role. If lawyers can provide affordable and accessible services to everyday people, they’ll have more meaningful relationships in their communities. They’ll deal directly with human beings on a regular basis, which many find incredibly rewarding and interesting.
Will AI ever take over all of a lawyer’s duties?
I don’t think that the legal industry will ever run completely on technology. Judges and legal scholars are constantly coming up with novel intellectual concepts and philosophies, and I can’t imagine AI, at least in its current state, replacing any of that.
I also don’t think that AI will ever be able to compete with lawyers in the interpersonal aspect of the law. At its core, law is a very social phenomenon. It’s all about how we regulate our human interactions, and at least for now, people have the upper hand.