Although I am quite capable of sourcing and writing up my own original material, that is not always the practical nor the best service I can offer you. If someone else has written an interesting article, it makes more sense to point you to that rather than add to your reading burden (to say nothing of my writing burden) by trying to find a different way of saying the same thing.
The current issue of Charles Christian’s Legal IT Insider – the Orange Rag – has two stories which are worth passing on. On the face of it, they are very different – one is about Casey Flaherty, corporate counsel at Kia Motors America, and his exposure of law firm ineptitude at basic computer tasks; the other is about Neota Logic and its applications designed to solve problems in law, compliance, risk management and other fields of expertise. They are both indicators of the way the world is going. In a sense, this post is not really about either spreadsheets or Neota; these are merely opposite poles in the range of tools which exist to help lawyers provide a higher, quicker, and more consistent level of service to clients. My real interest, of course lies between these extremes, with the wide range of eDiscovery support tools for collection, analysis and review, from keyword searches to predictive coding.
The lead article in the current Legal IT Insider is headed Kia tells law firms to teach lawyers IT. It retells the by now well-known story of how Casey Flaherty challenged law firms to teach their lawyers some basic IT competence. At a simple level, Casey Flaherty believes that clients are being overcharged because lawyers are taking too long to perform basic functions and then recording the time to the client. Here is one of the many articles about the technology competency audit.
There is a direct and obvious point here for litigation lawyers. One of his or her basic functions is to estimate the timescales, the required resources and the costs of the matters in their charge. That requires the ability to use a spreadsheet application like Excel at the least, in order to collate information about hours and rates, to make comparisons between different approaches (another Casey Flaherty mission) and to present the results in a way which is both meaningful and capable of change as things develop. Can there be any serious argument about the need for lawyers to be skilled in the use of Excel for this purpose?
Charles Christian’s article includes a link to his video interview with Casey Flaherty at Cicayda’s RELEvent un-conference in Nashville. I also interviewed Casey there, my focus being on his campaign to persuade vendors to agree on an apples-to-apples way of providing eDiscovery estimates in a form which the lawyers can easily compare, using those same spreadsheet skills.
The point is a very simple one – there is not much time to produce the basic components of a cost, benefit and risk assessment in litigation. If we can make it easier for lawyers to understand the information provided by eDiscovery providers and give them the skills to correlate the results in a standardised format, we abbreviate the time, as well as the cost, of doing so. We also increase the chance that they will get it right, particularly if their spreadsheet includes checklists, calculation formulae and the ability to show their workings.
Neota Logic, covered in the same edition of Legal IT Insider, carries all this several steps further. The nature of a lawyer’s work is that the answer – the client’s objective, the benefit to be gained, the risk to be avoided, the problem to be solved, the thing they are willing to pay for – depends on inspiration built on much perspiration. The inventive and pragmatic solution to a business need depends on many core facts – what is the relevant law, what issues must be considered, what are the risk factors, what steps are required and in what order?
These underlying elements often recur, the same factors arising in every case of this kind. Some are objective (What data protection issues arise in Brazil?). Some depend on procedures developed by the law firm (You do this, then that, but if this factor is present you must first do the other, unless this arises when you must do that first). Litigation has a lot of this, whether it involves pure law, procedural rules, early case assessment, probability calculations or just making sure that nothing is overlooked. Compliance – with external regulation, with HR procedures, with almost anything you can think of – brings the same sequence of fact-gathering, what-ifs and choices.
A spreadsheet represents the foothills here. Neota Logic is the pinnacle. You can get the flavour of it from the Solutions page, and in particular the example questions – Is this permitted? What is our risk exposure? What do we need to do? Do we have all the facts? Have we considered all the options?
Charles Christian describes Neota Logic as “the next big thing in document-assembly-meets-knowledge-management-meets-legal-process-management. Its function, briefly, is to provide a platform on which lawyers can build their own applications for solving problems and delivering answers. Charles quotes Justin North of Janders Dean Consultancy, who describes Neota Logic as an “advanced reasoning engine” which allows the creation and deployment of “complex applications that embed the firm’s legal expertise internally” and as a tool which “requires intelligent and independent thought on the part of the firm as to how and where the firm will decline and utilise it”.
Justin North concludes that Neota Logic is a tool for lawyers and their clients, rather than IT, to evaluate. “In the right hands the tool has the ability to be used across a wide variety of practice areas and disciplines. The opportunities for its use appear only restricted by the imagination of the firm and its clients. Neota Logic is one of our major success predictions of 2014.”
I have been asked about Neota Logic twice in the last three weeks by big players in the legal consultancy field, who sense an opportunity to work with legal clients to develop applications and processes designed to reduce the time and the risk of decision-making, and to capture the thinking of a firm’s best minds and make it available to everyone in the firm who covers the same ground.
Now, if yours is the sort of firm whose lawyers struggle to prepare a litigation budget in a spreadsheet or to do any of the other things in Casey Flaherty’s tests, you may think that the sophistication of Neota Logic is not for you, and you may be right. You may well say that your clients don’t show much interest in technology or any other aspect of how the work is done and, again, you may be right (though Flaherty seems to be gaining the attention of his peers in other companies). What they are all interested in, however, is the cross-over of cost and quality which Professor Richard Susskind calls the “more for less” problem, where “more” connotes quality as well as volume. It makes sense, does it not, at least to be aware of what these tools – from Excel, through the wide range of eDiscovery support tools, and on to the sophistication of Neota Logic – can bring to the practice of law?