Lessons learned from my transfer to Silicon Valley

Katie Cook

ContractRoom

by Katie Cook

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Transferring from law to a software startup - what I’ve learned about LegalTech

I have now been working in the San Francisco Bay Area in LegalTech company for almost a year.  I’m a transplant, like many people here, being from a different country.  However, I am also a transplant of a different kind - coming from a different - the legal profession.   In fact, before coming here and working in marketing and communications for a startup,  I practised as a lawyer in Australia.  A confluence of unanticipated life events merged to lead me to this new location, industry and profession. Despite the fact that I have acclimated quite well (as the yanks say), every now and then I find myself a little disorientated and wonder how I came to be here.  

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I had one of those moments recently at a tech conference while sitting down listening to the first person to spend a year in space, Scott Kelly.  In the lead up to this keynote the bright lights and music introducing various speakers and the use of Uber as a verb had me amused. But, as I sat listening to Kelly talk about the things he missed most from earth while away and looked at the pictures he took from 250 miles above the earth’s surface, I couldn’t help but think how many miles away my life was now from my the world of law.

Dressing carefully with a different dress each day partnered with my trusty trench coat and heels has been replaced with jeans, casual shirt and TOMS and optional make-up.  ROI has a different meaning.  No longer does it stand for Record of Interview but rather Return on Investment.  Everything is constantly changing and moving quickly around me rather than moving with the steady methodical ordered tick of a law office.  Everything is being “disrupted”.  We must learn how to operate in “perpetual beta”.  I’m surrounded by potential “unicorns” and possible “decacorns” that are learning to “pivot”, offering “freemiums” and perhaps being run by executives suffering from “founder syndrome”.  Yes, my life is more like HBO’s “Silicon Valley” than the ABC’s “Janet King”.   But the biggest difference of all between the legal sphere and that of technology is, as I see it, the attitude towards, well, technology.

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I used to (and perhaps still do a bit) find the whole technology thing a distraction. All I wanted to get done in my role at work was the substance of my job and found every time I had to learn the ins and outs of a new IT system a real drag. What I have learned during my short time in the tech space is that tech can actually make the practice of doing law much less frustrating if we, as lawyers, engage with it properly.  

For example I didn’t know that legaltech has the capacity to simplify a lot of the extremely tedious tasks that exasperated me so much while I was practising law. Some of these tasks include document review and evidence compilation, research synthesis and case development and streamlining multi-party drafting.  In a recent article which you can read here I examined the options for these in more detail.  I have only learnt about these tools because of the time I have now spent working in the legaltech space. I think there are many lawyers who are unaware that this sort of technology is available and also I think there are a few other factors that are making adoption of technology in law slower than in other professions.  I believe some of these factors include:

  • A disbelief that technology can be helpful in assisting with things so complex as legal reasoning;
  • The fact that lawyers are often not the most tech savvy people perhaps due to them often coming from arts and humanities backgrounds rather than those which are more scientifically based;
  • The fact that law trains you to spot risks and see in any new thing the potential for liability rather than the positive gains that may result from innovation;
  • Perhaps even simply a fear of technology possibly transforming a field which they know and understand; and
  • The fact that so few lawyers and people coming from legal backgrounds work in legaltech. It’s very difficult for those people working in tech to understand what lawyers require when so few of them have legal backgrounds and lawyers don’t spend the time with them to explain their needs. It is also difficult for those in legaltech to communicate to lawyers what they have created for them and convince them it’s worth adopting when they don’t have legal backgrounds.

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In order to engage with legaltech properly, I believe we, as lawyers, may have to spend time properly communicating with IT and learning how certain technologies could benefit ourselves.  IT professionals could also perhaps better assist us by listening carefully to our real pain points and understanding what we are trying to achieve with any specific technology system. This communication could also disable some of the factors noted above that are contributing to the under utilisation of technology in the legal space.  I’m sure most lawyers would agree that it would be great to have systems which suggest options rather than ones with which we struggle and seem to create more work - this is achievable if IT and legal work together.    

It’s easy to say this needs to be done but hard to find a way to make this happen in practice. This is because lawyers often work on a billable hour basis and there is often no reward for engaging in this deep communication exchange. To really address this communication problem private practices as well as in-house practices need to create and adopt a proactive strategy for doing so.  This may mean your practice creates a team dedicated to addressing the relationships between technology and the law or it may simply mean carving out some allocated time for individual lawyers that gets rewarded.  As far as I see it, only a small shift is needed to enable lawyers and those working in legaltech to build much more constructive relationships and work together towards building better and more useful products.

ContractRoom is a contract management software system that streamlines the contracting process. ContractRoom looks forward to working with lawyers to make its product even more effective.  To find out more about ContractRoom or book a free demo please visit www.contractroom.com .  

About the author

Katie Cook

Katie Cook

Katie Cook is the Director of Marketing, Communications and Legal Standards at ContractRoom. Originally from the east coast of Australia, she has a background as an Attorney having practiced in both public and private practice in Brisbane and Melbourne. While working as an Attorney Katie completed studies in journalism and is now combining her legal and writing skill sets in her role at ContractRoom.

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