January 2020: That was the Month that Was

What you need to read, know about or follow up in the world of access to justice and technology.

1 January: Veteran US commentator Bob Ambrogi launches the new year by identifying the top ten most significant legal tech developments of the last decade. He begins with ‘The Surge of the Startup” and ends with ‘The Emergence of Data-Driven Practice’.

3 January: Law Society Gazette reports the proposed closure of ‘almost all’ the 18 probate sub-registry offices by March as part of the pay off for the court modernisation programme.

4 January: Interesting video cast with Joshua Browder, the king of chatbots.

6 January: Citizens Advice England and Wales launches new strategic framework – discussed here.

6 January: ‘Hackers will be the weapon of choice for governments in 2020’ reports MIT Technology Review.

6 January: Chief Justice Menon opens the legal year of Singapore – a state to watch in relation to technology – with a review that includes plans for ‘the redesign of our justice system [that] should aim at delivering fair outcomes that are available to all, as a means of achieving real and lasting peace in our community. This vision requires us to embrace the idea of a court:

(a) that departs from a traditionally reactive approach to proactively resolving disputes in the most appropriate manner;

(b) that offers an extended suite of assistive services to empower and educate its users;

(c) that recognises that adjudication is part of a wider universe of dispute resolution methods; and

(d) that actively connects users with particular needs to sources of help, whether within or outside the justice system.’

7 January: Scurrilous article reports that if Apple were a state, it would be China.

8 January: UN rapporteur and Australian academic Philip Alston continues his campaign against the ‘digital welfare state’.

10 January: The Netherlands makes 10m euros available to implement UN Strategic Goal 16 on ideas for innovating legal aid.

15-18 January: the US Legal Services Corporation Innovations in Technology Conference held in Portland, Oregon – leading to discussion here and here. For those wanting a twitter summary of the greatest hits, the LSC obliged with an easy to read compilation of tweets. It usually follows with videos of the main sessions.

20 January: New York Times reports that a little known company, Clearview AI, could ‘end privacy as we know it’ with ‘a groundbreaking facial recognition app. You take a picture of a person, upload it and get to see public photos of that person, along with links to where those photos appeared. The system — whose backbone is a database of more than three billion images that Clearview claims to have scraped from Facebook, YouTube, Venmo and millions of other websites — goes far beyond anything ever constructed by the United States government or Silicon Valley giants.’

21 January: LSC President Jim Sandman, a tireless supporter of technology in the service of access to justice, announces his retirement. 

26 January: Death announced of Clayton Christensen, the author of the theory of disruptive innovation – as illustrated by the demise of Kodak.

23 January: Artifical Lawyer announces ‘in what looks to be the largest research project ever launched in this sector, the Global Legal Tech Report is seeking to assess the state of the legal tech industry across the planet.’ This was a project originally developed by the Australia Legal Technology Association.

27 January: Thomson Reuters publishes its Large Law Firm Technology Survey: law firm leader perceptions of the value of technology. This is worth skimming for its view of the wider legal market. The survey found ‘a diverse field’ with rather more ambivalence among consulates than one might have expected. ‘Some of the solutions perceived as most valuable included interoperability (tools and platforms that allow different technology systems to work with each other), litigation analytics, contract management, automated contract drafting, and crm/erm systems.’ Thomson Reuters have come to the same conclusion as many commentators in relation to technology and access to justice: we need more objective evaluation: ‘ we believe that this research points to a need for objective value and quality metrics for the industry. The law firm leaders most engaged in choosing technologies and guiding their firms’ strategies – the respondents to this survey – might lack the objective metrics they need to fully assess the impact and value of the tools they evaluate, and might be applying inconsistent standards and criteria to those decisions.’

Issues stressed in the report included the need for project management and the benefits of interoperability of systems. The latter is probably ahead of experience in the access to justice sector but it is surely to come – and noteworthy that a firm like Clio which produces case management software is developing its role as a general platform: ‘some firms are interested in a platform that enables a seamless user experience between internal firm systems and 3rd party applications. a legal platform would serve as a single interface for everyone at the firm, regardless of which systems they needed to access. The platform interface could guide users to approved applications within the firm – for example, an attorney may have widgets that direct them to an internal firm dashboard, or to a vendor’s legal research system, while a business development professional may have access to that same firm dashboard and a vendor’s experience management system.’ 

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