Review of LegalTech

June 30, 2000

Delia Venables is an IT consultant for Lawyers. She also maintains one of the principal Web sites for lawyers at and writes the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers. She can be contacted on 01273 472424.

‘LegalTech’ is the name of the USA legal conferences run by Imark Communications and American Lawyer Media. Although taking over from the previous Barbican Exhibitions, this exhibition, (17–18 May) had a completely new feel to it.
Of the 60 participating companies, around 12 were from the USA. This meant that there were lots of new faces and new products to be seen although I remain to be convinced that American companies without a UK base (and most of them gave USA addresses in the catalogue) can provide the level of support required for a successful installation. Even with the Internet, e-mail and teleconferencing available to underpin the support operation, there are occasions when the supplier’s physical presence is needed, particularly for the main accounts and practice management systems of the firm. It may be that these companies are also looking for UK partners and the exhibition will have provided the place to meet potential partners of this sort. It will be very interesting to see which companies appear again next year, and which are then associated with the more familiar UK software names.
Talking of familiar names – many of these were not in fact present, for example Avenue, Axxia, DPS, Linetime, Mountain, MSS, Norwel, Quill, Solace, TFB and Videss. Perhaps the increasing number of exhibitions has put off these suppliers or perhaps they were waiting to see if this year’s new look exhibition is going to lead to a renewed lease of life for what used to be known simply as ‘The Barbican’ (in fact, next year’s exhibition and conference is booked for 17th and 18th October 2001, in a new venue in Docklands, and will also be attempting to bring in European companies and visitors). I would say that about half of the potential list of suppliers of mainstream practice management systems were not present but many others were making good use of the opportunities, including AIM, Elite, Keystone, Laserform, Pilgrim, Pracctice, Professional Technology, Resolution, Sanderson, Solicitec, SOS and Tikit.
Many of these were showing new versions of their software offering new Web-based front-ends. In other words, the user (particularly the lawyer-user) is able to access the information via a browser and the programming ‘behind’ the browser accesses the accounts and client database files as needed to provide the information requested. I think this will probably become the standard means of access over the next year or two; it is so much easier to use the skills already acquired for Web use to ‘browse’ the firm’s internal information rather than learning new methods of access for each of the programs involved.
Another advantage of this type of approach is that it leads naturally to an ‘Extranet’ approach combining with the firm’s case management system. Clients can be given access to the status of their own matters, without needing to ring up and make enquiries in person.
Most of the key publishers were also exhibiting, including Butterworths Tolley, Context, the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting, Lawtel, Sweet & Maxwell and Westlaw UK.

Innovative New Products and Services
This is of course just a personal selection! Butterworths are offering a new service called Client Direct, which is a means for firms to ‘pass on’ the Butterworths daily news and updating service to their clients, possibly with added comment and analysis. Effectively, Butterworths set up an area on their own Web site with the selected areas of information and the clients are provided with passwords so they can access this directly. Butterworths charge the firms for the use of the information and the firms can decide whether to charge the clients, or provide the information as an added-value part of their own service. There is a sample site at
Epoch Software (which provides the Directlaw service to firms of solicitors) at were providing frequent short demonstrations and seminars about their product. The key to the service is that a firm is able to provide their own documents in an intelligent downloadable form to users, over the Web; this enables a customer (probably not a ‘client’ as previously understood) to purchase, say, the forms for an uncontested divorce, or a will, at prices much lower than with a traditional approach. Apparently around 50 firms of solicitors have signed up to the scheme so far.
Go Interactive, at, are providing a new service which enables information on a firm’s own internal databases (internal knowhow) to be presented to the visitor/viewer of the Web site. The service effectively provides interfacing software between the firm’s own information systems and the Web site.
Hummingbird, at, are working with Tikit, at, and are offering intranet portal services which enable a firm’s own internal systems (documents, precedents, e-mail) as well as external databases (from legal publishers, for example) to be searched with a single searching process. (Up until now, a user has had to know which database he or she is searching at any one time and has had to set up the search process in the appropriate way for each individual source.)
Laserform, at, have added a new product to their already impressive range of forms, case management and practice management. The new product, Legal Acumen, allows an intranet portal to be created for the firm, with access to the firm’s internal information resources using a browser method of access., at, is a new uk legal portal. The USA version is one of the leading legal portals in the USA and the new UK offshoot provides information for the UK lawyer, including a selection of Smith Bernal transcripts. There is legal news, provided by a team of UK legal sources and journalists, online CPD, jobs, various registers such as expert witnesses and a series of journals and digests in ten practice areas.
The Land Registry, at, is about to launch a new service called Land Registry Direct, which is a new version of its existing online service. The new service is based on Web browser access but uses a secure extranet (with a special phone number) rather than the ‘normal’ Web as such. Images of title plans are to be available as well as the registration details of all registered properties.
Capsoft UK are continuing to expand their free forms available at As well as being available free on the Web, the forms are available in CD form with regular updating in a service called Forms Assured.
Worldox/web, at, is a type of software, which you can run on your own server and which allows many users (worldwide) to access the same set of documents and to download and upload documents as required. It is based on the company’s existing document management software but with the new extended means of accessing the material via the Web.

Themes from the Conference
This year, there was a major two-day conference associated with the exhibition, arranged by PriceWaterhouseCoopers. There were two keynote presentations which were particularly impressive, one by legal guru Richard Susskind and one by Australian lawyer Elizabeth Broderick from Blake Dawson Waldron.
A key theme was the unbundling of the legal product. There are some parts of a ‘traditional’ lawyer-client relationship which can be ‘unbundled’ and provided in a more efficient – and less expensive way. This can be done where, for example, part of the advice concerns an analysis of whether the client is acting in accordance with regulations; a question and answer approach over the Web, using structured flow charts (and seeming to be ‘intelligent’ to the user) can identify problems without the lawyer being directly involved. Indeed, where a large repository of information is involved (for example, where there are multiple jurisdictions, each with their own regulations) a ‘virtual lawyer’ can do the job even better than a real one. This is the type of approach used by Blake Dawson Waldron in Australia and also by Linklaters (Blue Flag) and Clifford Chance (NextLaw) in this country. If part of the advice is ‘automated’ in this way, there is still room for the real lawyer to concentrate on particular aspects of the case.
Elizabeth Broderick said that the virtual lawyer’s work was a profitable part of the practice, since the normal link between time spent by the lawyer and profits earned can broken in this way (‘you can earn whilst you sleep’). However, this is possibly only going to be the case whilst a particular firm is ahead of the pack; Neil Cameron, on other occasions, is on record as saying that he thinks that advice of this sort will ultimately be given away as an incentive for the client to use the firm for the more complex questions.
A recurring theme of the speakers was that new information services of this sort will be provided not only by legal firms but also by other types of business and that therefore the legal profession is particularly under threat.
Another theme, this time particularly from Richard Susskind, was that new ways of encapsulating information also provide a new opportunity for legal firms to embed their ‘knowhow’ in the client’s intranet; he was convinced that the client would not be satisfied, ultimately, in visiting the lawyer’s Web site for information but would expect the lawyer’s information to come to him.
Although intermediaries are being left out of many operations (you perhaps do not need a travel agent – you book your flight directly with the airline), there was another type of body coming onto the scene, the ‘Infomediary’ which provided more food for thought. This person (possibly human but possibly also a programmed ‘agent’ of some sort) would assist a customer to put together the package of legal services required – some free sources of information (of which there are already many), some ‘automated’ services, and some ‘real lawyer’ interaction – to fit the customer’s requirements and budget.
The new types of business may undermine the existing ones; Amazon has taken some of the business from conventional bookshops and automated divorce packages, say, may take some of the current services provided by High Street legal firms. It may therefore be necessary for a business, including a legal business, to cannibalise its own business before someone else does. Floating off a service, as Linklaters is now doing with Blue Flag, may be another way of handling this situation.
Elizabeth Broderick talked about the analogy with R & D budgets of large companies; you have to try new ideas and be prepared for some of these to fail. Elizabeth believes that the market will separate into the big players, who will get bigger, and specialist niche firms. The niche firms will be the ones who have the energy and resources to put into providing new services in their chosen legal areas.
These are still not, however, likely to be the genuinely smaller firms. I asked her what the corresponding strategy should be for the High Street firm which has little spare energy or cash for such ventures and she said ‘I will think about that!’
Part of the answer is probably in adopting a scheme such as Desktop Lawyer (described above), which effectively allows many firms to share the costs of R & D. But I am not sure whether this is a complete answer. I suspect that anyone who has the answer should put themselves forward for a talk at the next available conference!