by Sam Bock on September 25, 2019
The legal space is growing and changing with technology and evolving communication models. That forces teams everywhere to work very hard to keep pace with shifting landscapes.
Along the way, countless legal professionals have found their career niche. For many, that’s meant specializing in a particular practice field or becoming a subject matter expert on a certain workflow or technology.
For some, finding a niche in the evolving legal market has landed more on the thought leadership side of things. These folks contribute to the voice of the industry and shine a beacon of insight for the rest of us, whether we’re new to the space or veterans in it.
One of those voices—particularly in the United Kingdom—is Richard Tromans. Founder of Artificial Lawyer and an innovation-focused consulting business, he’s helped legal teams better understand the landscape and prepare themselves to take advantage of it for more than a decade.
We recently sat down with Richard to get his thoughts on the current state of things. Here’s what he had to say.
Sam: Please share a little about your history in the legal tech space, and your current role.
Richard: I’ve been working in the legal sector for over 20 years, the last decade as a consultant to law firms.
I’d always been interested in technology, but it wasn’t until I saw the surge in applications around artificial intelligence (AI) and automation back in 2015 that my interest for “legal tech” really grew.
I still run Tromans Consulting, which advises on strategy and innovation, but about three years ago I started a blog about new legal tech—initially about AI and smart contracts.
This was started in the hope that perhaps a handful of lawyers would read it. What came next for Artificial Lawyer—which is now a fully developed news site with readers around the world—has been an incredible journey and the site is still growing. This month I hired a news reporter, Irene Madongo, who is doing great work.
How have you seen this industry evolve over the years?
There have been three big phases.
The late 1990s and early 2000s was the time of rapid globalisation and expansion of firms.
Post-2009, we had the “New Normal”—a pushback on the cost of legal services, which drove the growth of legal process outsourcers (LPOs) and alternative legal service providers (ALSPs).
And then, since about 2016, we have what I call the “New Wave” of legal tech: a focus on automation and efficiency, as well as deeper data insights via AI tools.
Do you think lawyers’ and other legal professionals’ skill sets have had to change over time to keep pace with the needs of the industry? How so?
Yes and no. Great lawyers need to have the same core skills now that they did in the past.
But it’s true that some additional skills are now relevant. Lawyers do need to appreciate project management, the economics of pricing work beyond just the billable hour, and they need to understand what different types of tech can do. Ninety-nine percent of them will never need to code, but it helps if they understand how AI doc review systems work and what human resources they need in a firm to get real value from such tools.
The legal toolkit is simply bigger now.
Artificial Lawyer is a well-respected publication in this space. Can you talk a little bit about it—in terms of its history, its mission, and its readership?
As I mentioned, it’s been an incredible journey, and one that was not planned. But now, it’s a proper news site, with a jobs page, tech directory, legal tech education page, events presence, and more. It’s all grown very fast.
I especially love to see readers finding the site for the first time in parts of the world where perhaps one would not expect a strong focus on legal tech. Legal tech knows no borders, and it’s great to be part of a global community.
The mission of Artificial Lawyer is simple: changing the business of law.
The law, most people would agree, is hemmed in by its “means of production”—i.e., it’s a heavily “manual” sector, bogged down by routine tasks that create a lot of costs and slow things down.
This has to change, and it is changing. It’s great to be a part of that movement.
The readership is truly global. I’ve had the pleasure to get in contact with the very first legal AI company in Japan, for example. Over the summer I was a judge for a pan-African legal tech competition. Artificial Lawyer helped promote the Global Legal Hackathon back when it first launched.
And of course, a lot of the readers are in the US and UK, and other large legal markets.
What emerging topics most interest you when it comes to innovation for the legal field?
Systemic change and cultural change.
You can have all the best tech in the world, but if the leadership and desire for change is not there, then it’s just window-dressing. People have to make it real.
That is where it gets really exciting. And it’s what the Legal Innovators event we’re hosting in October is all about. It’s going to draw in lawyers of all tenures and backgrounds who want to be a part of the movement, too, and drive emerging technology forward for their teams.
You also have a consulting business that focuses on innovation as a business strategy. How do you help your clients be more creative and more productive?
I help management teams with the following areas:
- Where to invest time, money, and resources in innovation projects.
- Understanding their market position and competitive advantage in relation to innovation and the use of technology.
- Benefits and challenges of different approaches to innovation and legal services delivery.
- Understanding the impact and benefits of AI and automation—as this technology clearly will change how businesses operate.
- Internal governance and the development of new teams and departments that support innovation.
- Idea development and triage for innovation needs.
- Developing an innovation strategy that is integral to a wider business plan.
The idea is to help leaders see that innovation is a business and strategic issue on the same level as broader management challenges, such as business expansion and improving market position. It’s important to prioritize an innovative spirit and innovative practices as much as any other positive business growth tactic.