Preparing For The Future: Innovation Through Incremental Change

As we start 2020, many would (reasonably) argue that the tech disruption of the legal industry is well underway. The pessimists among us, however, will argue that change has been relatively incremental. At a macro level, they would argue that law continues to be practiced in much the same manner as it always has been in the modern era. Where, they would question, is the dramatic change? Where are Tomorrow’s Lawyers? Certainly in a market that seems to sustain ongoing rate increases, one can question not only the impetus for change, but also whether that change is actually occurring at all.

Personally, I think that we get far too caught up with expectations of revolutionary change instead of evolutionary change. Stanford scientist Roy Amara is reputed to have said, “We overestimate the impact of technology in the short-term and underestimate the effect in the long run.” The ubiquitous internet gives us a great example of this phenomenon. The Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) built the beginnings of the internet starting in 1966. The omnipresent connectivity (and associated productivity) that we take for granted took many, many years to infiltrate its way into our lives, but now it’s hard to conceive of life without the internet.

Innovation blogger and author Ralph-Christian Ohr defines evolution as ongoing and incremental innovations, as compared to revolution, defined by radical and discontinuous leaps to completely new offerings. The internet in this model would represent an evolutionary example of evolution, whereas the smartphone could be argued to be revolutionary. When talking about the legal industry, I would make the argument that we are experiencing and will continue to experience evolutionary changes. Legal technology that addresses specific use cases (e.g. document review) is reaching higher rates of adoption and becoming more common, which in turn opens the door to more innovation in the future.

To take another contemporary example, consider the concept of the self-driving car. The reality is that a vehicle with full automation will look very different than the car you have today: there won’t be a need for a steering wheel, mirrors, or other safety features made to prevent accidents caused by human error. While cars made today still have all of those features and are not purely self-driving vehicles, they do have many features that are necessary for a self-driving car: self-correcting navigation, automatic braking, parallel-parking capabilities, and adjusting for traffic in cruise control. These features are all AI-driven capabilities and are aspects of the self-driving car that are materializing right in front of us.

My suspicion is that few of us are ready to get into an automated car with no driver controls at this point, but the incremental changes that we’re experiencing in automotive technology right now will help to make that transition to a fully automatic vehicle much easier, whenever or wherever that moment arrives. I would argue that the same logic can apply to legal practitioners. Incremental adoption of foundational technology will make the process of adoption enabling and even transformational technology much easier in the long run.

Wolters Kluwer’s Future Ready Lawyer survey backs this theory up with some data. The survey found that the adoption of foundational technologies delivers benefits today and sets the stage for integrating more advanced technologies on an ongoing basis. With this argument in mind, I have a couple of recommendations for those interested in driving innovation incrementally, or those looking for the next steps in implementing a higher rate of tech adoption within their organizations.

Adoption today will pave the way for better understanding of new technology tomorrow. Many of us have seen or experienced how a lack of understanding of technology can stand in the way of innovation. There is a reason why the Future Ready Lawyer indicated that technology leading organizations are more likely to overcome this challenge — having experience in adopting tech solutions can open the door for adopting newer, more complex tech solutions as they move toward maturation and become more widely available in the market.

Innovation should foster even more innovation. The legal industry is changing fast, and we no longer live in a world in which having one tech tool makes you innovative. Onboarding one type of technology successfully shouldn’t be the end goal of adoption — rather, it should be the case study in the argument for onboarding future solutions that address specific pain points and use cases for an organization.

We are all interested to see what the future brings us in the legal industry –- and it’s safe to say that no one is certain of how much different it will be in a few years. What we can ascertain is that those who are already using impactful technologies to increase efficiencies and achieve better outcomes are far more likely to benefit from the advantages that technology delivers.


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