Two weeks ago I wrote in a post here that I was struck that none of the 28 professionals on the Commission Roster of the ABA’s Commission on Future of Legal Services were technology entrepreneurs who had founded, guided or participated in legal technology companies or startups focused on the delivery of legal services. I went on to query why in the main thirteen recommendations of the Commission, the word technology was only mentioned once, that being that “All members of the legal profession should keep abreast of relevant technologies.”

David Lat (@davidlat), managing editor of Above the Law, and I then heard from Renee Knake (@reneeknake), Professor of Law at University of Houston Law Center and the Commission’s reporter, that the Comission felt there were inaccuracies in my post, particularly that there were Liaisons, Special Advisors and people who gave testimony before the Commission who had experience with legal tech startups. Though I still believe what I wrote is accurate, I thought it only fair to allow the Commission to respond. You can then draw your own conclusions. So for the remainder of this column, I turn it over to Rene Knake.

By Renee Knake

I write to correct inaccuracies in the post by Kevin O’Keefe on August 10, 2016, “No Legal Tech Entrepreneurs On ABA Commission On the Future Of Legal Services.”

The ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Services not only included members involved in legal technology, but we also actively sought input from legal tech entrepreneurs and innovators.

The Report on the Future of Legal Services in the United States, released by the Commission on August 6, 2016, may be viewed by some readers as controversial or not sufficiently bold by others (which we readily acknowledge in the Report’s introduction) but the Report cannot be critiqued for lacking input from the legal tech world.

The Report is a consensus document, and it represents the expertise and input of the entire Commission, as informed by written comments supplied by the public and the profession, testimony at public hearings and meetings, grassroots events across the country, a national summit on innovation in legal services, webinars, and dozens of presentations on the Commission’s work at which the public’s and profession’s feedback was sought.

Many members of the Commission have long been involved in legal technology and innovation, including:

  • Ruth Hill Bro (former chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Technology and Information Systems and author of the ABA Cybersecurity Handbook)
  • Chad Burton (founder of one of the first virtual law firms and CEO of CuroLegal, a next-generation legal technology consulting and software development firm)
  • Lisa Colpoys (executive director of Illinois Legal Aid Online)
  • Margaret Hagan (founder of Open Law Lab using technology and design to increase access to justice, and lecturer at the Stanford Institute of Design)
  • Stephanie Kimbro (author of the books Virtual Law Practice: How to Deliver Legal Services Online and Consumer Law Revolution: The Lawyers’ Guide to the Online Legal Marketplace and founder of Virtual Law Offices Technology, acquired by Total Attorneys)
  • Andrew Perlman (dean of Suffolk Law School and founder of Suffolk’s Institute on Law Practice Technology)
  • Marty Smith (founder of MetaJure, the smart document management system)
  • Ron Staudt (professor at Illinois Institute of Technology Chicago-Kent College of Law and director of the Center for Access to Justice and Technology)

In addition, the Commission received input from numerous leaders in the legal tech community, including the very companies O’Keefe identifies as good sources like Avvo and LegalZoom. The CEOs of both companies—Mark Britton and John Suh, respectively—spoke at the Commission’s National Summit on Innovation in Legal Services, along with other technology innovators such as Richard Barton (founder of Expedia, Glassdoor, and Zillow), Colin Rule (founder of online dispute resolution company Modria), and Richard Susskind (author of The End of Lawyers? Rethinking the Nature of Legal Services and the UK Civil Justice Council’s report Online Dispute Resolution for Low-Value Civil Claims). Many others testified at public hearings and submitted written comments in response to the Commission’s issues papers, again including experts identified by O’Keefe like Richard Granat, CEO of SmartLegalForms. All comments and testimony were carefully considered by the Commission. The Commission’s website documents this information.

Finally, the Commission culled expertise from leaders in legal technology and innovation by hosting webinars and compiling a special issue of whitepapers for the South Carolina Law Review. Webinar contributors included Michael Mills, founder and CSO of Neota Logic as well as John Mayer, executive director of Computer Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI). Whitepaper topics include Legal Startups by Dan Linna, founder of LegalRnD at Michigan State University College of Law; Watson, Esq. by Paul Lippe, CEO of LegalOnRamp; Online Dispute Resolution by Ethan Katsh, director of the National Center for Technology and Dispute Resolution at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and Colin Rule; Gamification and Online Engagement by Stephanie Kimbro; and Disruptive Innovation by Raymond Brescia, professor at Albany Law School and founder of the blog The Future of Change.

The contributions of this collective body of knowledge led the Commission to make several significant recommendations related to technology and innovation:

  1. All members of the legal profession, including lawyers, should keep abreast of relevant technologies.
  2. The recommendations contained in the Legal Services Corporation’s Report of the Summit on the Use of Technology to Expand Access to Justice should be implemented.
  3. Online legal checkups should be made available to the public.
  4. Virtual (online) access to courts should be expanded.
  5. Court-annexed online dispute resolution should be piloted and expanded, as appropriate.
  6. The legal profession should partner with other disciplines for insights about innovating the delivery of legal services.
  7. The ABA should create a Center for Innovation.

Three of these recommendations are already underway. The Commission received ABA Enterprise Grants to advance online legal checkups and to pilot a court-annexed online dispute resolution program, and the ABA Board of Governors approved the creation of the ABA Center for Innovation.

Technology innovators, entrepreneurs, and leaders—from within the legal profession and beyond—actively contributed to the Commission’s Report. The newly-approved ABA Center on Innovation will continue to work with these and other experts to further the Commission’s recommendations.

  • No matter who was on this panel, its recommendations could not be lamer. I literally chuckled reading the one suggesting online access to courts should be expanded. The writer of the rebuke mentions how some saw the report as “not sufficiently bold”? This has got to qualify of the understatement of 2106 so far. Their 7 part list reads like 150 people got together on it and nothing could be included in it unless at least 149 of them agreed to it. What a colossal waste of human capital.

    • Agree, Dan. There were no startup tech entrepreneurs on the commission roster and I think it shows. There may have been advisors, liaisons and people who testified who had such tech backgrounds, but the report itself feels pretty shallow. I tend to agree with the co-founder of LegalZoom, Eddie Hartman, that the report was spineless and without substance.
      Also telling on the innovation side is that the commission and its members have no real presence on the Internet to engage in the discussion of their report. Bob Ambrogi and I each were requested to publish letters from commission representatives so that the commission’s voice could be heard in response to what we each write. Media and Internet discussion has moved beyond PR professionals and letters to the editor. A commission focused on the future ought to realize that.