What interoperability means in law services
Recently, I have seen some discussion on the meaning of interoperability in law, legal services, and technology.
Interoperability in law and legaltech is the ability of (multiple) legal tech solutions to work together, exchange data, and achieve synergy. As a result, data, insights, and legal solutions are reached much faster than otherwise, without the need for manual intervention.
The end result of interoperability in legaltech and legal operations may vary from mere “savings of manual labor” to “opening new services and markets".
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For some reason, the understanding of interoperability in legaltech still seems to be somewhat elusive. No wonder, frankly. Only some years ago legal professionals were just introducing their first pieces of legal tech.
(no, Outlook doesn’t count)
“...currently, the legal tech landscape is broad and extremely fragmented. This has created an interoperability challenge (the ability for different technology systems to work with each other)...”
Daniel W. Linna Jr, Law Firm Leader Perceptions of the Value of Technology
However, it seems that legaltech adoption is starting to pick up at an increasing rate. While this is pretty good per se, it inevitably leads to yet another set of problems.
And that is…
Legal tech, by and large, simply does not work together. Yet.
Why legal tech needs to collaborate
We used to say lawyers work like silos. Authors around the Globe scorned legal professionals for keeping too much to themselves. We looked upon legal tech vendors to provide platforms, and to legal business coaches to influence the change in law firms’ culture.
And what about legal tech? In all that run to collaboration, did we forget that legal technology should work together as well?
And why would legal tech need to work together?
Maziar Jamnejad illustrated with a perfect example of how a seemingly simple transaction may have a complicated execution due to the overabundance of legal tech.
“The way we have been planning how we will modernize legal matters has focused on solutions for single parts of the legal process. When you try and put them all together, you end up with a bit of a tangle…”
Legal tech amplifies the need for interoperability
As we wrote in the above article, the legal tech industry is still looking for clear category winners. With so much capital poured in, every category has more than a handful of competitors.
Even with some consolidation taking place lately, the legal tech space feels still quite fragmented.
And with so much choice to go by, law firms and in-house legal teams must be delighted. Right?
However, the paradox of choice and overchoice paint us a different picture. Legaltech buyers are having a hard time selecting their vendors in the first place.
Likewise, too many legal tech solutions within the same categories warrant that various products will be used. This would be the case within different organizations as well as in transnational law firms or in-house legal teams.
Is the lack of interoperability a real problem?
In my experience, sometimes certain trends emerge and are discussed far and wide. However, it may so happen that, outside of authors’ discussions, said issues aren’t really bothering end-users in the market.
Result? The industry may try to solve problems that, in reality, do not even exist. But how can we tell apart the real problems from those that are… a bit less real?
Let’s see what is being said and, more importantly, done about interoperability and law issues.
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Recent law firm industry surveys
Daniel W. Linna Jr., Senior Lecturer and Director of Law and Technology Initiatives at Northwestern University, has uncovered some interesting insights.
“...some of the solutions perceived as most valuable included interoperability (tools and platforms that allow different technology systems to work with each other…
...participants gave interoperability higher value ratings overall than any other concept we asked them about. Many participants expressed that increased interoperability would help their firm become more efficient by bringing essential information together in one convenient location.
On the other hand, many said that their firms already have interoperability platforms and workarounds. Some said their firm may have only limited interest in investing in interoperability…”
The above survey suggests that respondents (large law firm partners) perceive interoperability as an issue.
What law firms say about legaltech interoperability
However, it is important to note that in the case of the survey, all respondents were mainly talking about their own internal solutions. In other words, they feel that they are using a number of various legal tech that may or may not work one with another seamlessly.
“...sixty-two percent (of respondents) found (interoperability) “extremely valuable” or “very valuable” for the firm…”
...these responses suggest that a big pain point is in just getting their various applications, whatever they may be, to share data securely and work together more smoothly…”
Additionally, Ben McGuire, innovation and business change director at Simmons & Simmons, noted on a separate occasion:
“My team supports extremely complex transactions which require several technology solutions and the burden sits with the law firms of stitching platforms together. If those solutions are not capable of being easily integrated then that slows the process further…”
“The fact they (legaltech) are point solutions and don’t speak to each other means that interoperability sits with us, the buyer, and that’s a further barrier (to legaltech adoption)...”
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What law firms do about interoperability
On the outset, it certainly seems like legaltech interoperability is a pain point. Let’s see how the respondents of the above survey reacted once when they were asked what are they doing about it:
“...law firms’ current responses to interoperability challenges are limited…”
“...Twenty-two percent of respondents claim their firms do have some form of a platform that integrates data and functionality…”
Some kernels of interoperability right there…
“...about half of the respondents say their firms leverage various internal workarounds to address the challenges…”
It may be presumptuous, but to me, it seems like they meant to say they involve staff to manually transfer data between systems.
“...while the remaining 4% say they don’t have a good solution or don’t know how they are addressing them…”
Likely no solutions there at the moment.
“...just 23% of respondents anticipate investing in an interoperability solution in the next 12 months, while 46% say they “may or may not” invest…”
Seemingly, interoperability isn’t that much of a pain point (yet) to top the priority list for the latter category.
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Interoperability and legaltech providers
Lot’s of legaltech vendors are trying to somewhat mitigate the complexity which arose as a result of many platforms (whether legal-focused or otherwise).
Some of the SaaS solutions out there are using intermediary 3rd party platforms to bridge between various solutions.
Other legal tech vendors attempt to respond to the ever-increasing complexity by having software service teams at the ready, for purposes of integrating solutions.
Yet, some vendors develop whole intermediary layers with the sole purpose to communicate between their products (this is particularly the case with those vendors that offer more than one product).
In my direct experience, clients are often requesting integrations between different solutions - if there are none. And they are paying for such projects.
From that standpoint, it seems there is enough anecdotal evidence to suggest that legal tech customers (i.e. law firms and in-house legal teams) value interoperability in their legal operations.
Is interoperability limited only to law firms?
It is pretty clear law firms (and, in turn, in-house legal teams) are affected by the complexity of the multitude of legal tech solutions.
However, is that the only way to look at interoperability? And what of other sectors?
What of the famed access to justice?
At the recently held Berlin Legal Tech Hackaton we have had a chance to discuss access to justice. Now, up until recently, access to justice was a problem that was approached by throwing cash at it.
However, as we wrote under our recent “Do we need a trustless legal system”, officials are coming forward and admitting that the current system and all current approaches to solving this issue are simply not effective.
Now here is a thought - perhaps - much like how you can’t scale billable hours, you also can’t scale classic system that relies heavily on the human to human interaction.
What if access to justice needs a radical scalable solution? And what if having the intermediary layer between the court system, official databases, and 3rd party legaltech solutions is the way to scale access to justice?
How interoperability benefits the legal industry
Complete interoperability is an ideal state which likely may never be fully achieved (barring some serious legal tech consolidation). However, even if only as a vision, interoperability has many benefits for all stakeholders in the legal services industry.
Interoperability benefits to law firms
It is a pipe dream of many law firm partners to keep everything under one dashboard.
(at least this is my experience)
In addition to removing the need for manual labor to interface between different legaltech solutions, interoperability would likely create new opportunities for products and services, key insights, and monetization.
Additionally, interoperability could mean that law firms are able to seamlessly interface with their clients’ portals and systems. I imagine many law firms would truly want to be that close to their clients.
That proximity would enable law firms to create new legal services and products proactively and preemptively, for their clients, and help them with faster execution time.
Interoperability for legal entrepreneurs
Legal entrepreneurs are curious category - they are able to spot opportunities where there seem to be none.
Whether they are law firm partners moonlighting as entrepreneurs, or ALSPs, they would certainly have an easier time if there is a standardized middleware platform to which anyone could connect to.
A standardized platform could enable legal entrepreneurs and newlaw providers to unlock new markets, that would otherwise be unavailable by current means.
(think, for example, how ALSPs like, e.g., the Right Now Group or FlightRight, or ClaimCompass have created entirely new markets)
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Interoperability in law for the whole society
Interconnectivity of official databases, paired up with opportunity-seeking legal entrepreneurs, would lead to the state where non-compliant behavior is being deterred by intelligent solutions.
I appreciate this may sound like sci-fi. However, to illustrate, think about the recently presented Dickstinction - the “FlightRight for dick-pics”. This system, if adopted to a critical mass, would likely deter future cases of unsolicited pictures by the very threat of sanction.
Now, imagine the same concept applied to nearly every aspect of human interaction. Access to justice would be vastly improved, amplifies by the preventive effect of such platforms.
What does interoperability have to do with the above solutions?
Open databases and data interconnectivity would help identify opportunities (alike to the above eggplant-pic example), and could further improve solutions.
Tech vendors can’t wait for interoperability to kick-in
Alike to legal entrepreneurs and ALSPs, legal tech vendors are fully aware of all the opportunities that come with defined standards.
Getting to a standard enables all parties involved to leverage synergies. For example, search giants like Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Yandex teamed up to create the Schema Mark-up standard for the web.
Even though none of the involved parties control the standard, they all benefit from the greater adoption of schema, as it helps them create new products.
I fully expect legal tech vendors would reach that stage. However, we are still ways off. Before we get there, we would need to see much more consolidation in the legal tech space. It will happen eventually.
Legaltech interoperability challenges
While all the above may sound thrilling, there are certain obstacles that may impede us from reaching the full ideal of interoperability.
One large at that is data privacy and security. Certainly, we would need more regulatory clearance on what data could be used and in which way by interconnected solutions (if any).
Additionally, law firms may be reluctant to “interconnect” to a high degree. Certainly, they would want to stay in control of their know-how and trade secrets. Future solutions would have to take that into consideration as well.
This is why I feel legaltech interoperability will be pushed by stakeholders outside law firms, at least to the extent of the public domain information systems.
Meanwhile, law firms will keep asking for their unified “dashboard” - whatever that may be. And legal tech vendors will deliver, piecing the puzzle one step at the time.
Ivan Rasic holds the Transnational Trade Law and Finance LLM, a program by Universidad de Deusto (Bilbao, ES), Universiteit van Tilburg (Tilburg, NL), and Goethe Universität (Frankfurt, DE). After his work in law firms and inhouse, he started a legal tech company.
Nowadays, Ivan leads STP Informationstechnologie AG's Sofia RnD center with project/development management, culture, strategy, and special project initiatives.
Ivan is an Ambassador at European Legal Tech Association (ELTA). He closely follows and writes on future of law, legal tech, ALSPs, and new ways of delivering legal services.