Legal Tech And Greater Access To Legal Services – A Match Made in Heaven

I attended the ABA Legal Tech Show recently, and it renewed my excitement about the breadth and scope of legal tech products and implications for the industry. There are multiple reasons why I get such a charge from looking at new products, but one in particular has come to consistently dominate my thoughts. Many of the entrepreneurs, technologists, and lawyers at the forefront of change in legal are motivated in part by access to justice issues. Innovative thinking and creativity in legal tech, plus an underlying concern for the public good leads to a winning combination in my book. Legal tech can offer solutions that not only advance the business of law but that provide greater and more affordable access to legal services.

There is a huge gap between numbers of people represented and those who cannot afford to get help with legal issues and simply do without. If you think traditionally about access to justice, you might focus on pro bono representation, legal clinics and other non-profits devoted to serving unrepresented people. While all are important modalities to help people, the beauty of today’s new crop of legal tech entrepreneurs is that many of them think expansively about how to provide greater access to legal resources. Legal tech encompasses a wide range of tools, everything from lawyer referral services and affordable legal advice online to complex software designed to manage corporate legal spend on a grand scale. Legal technologies appeal to individuals and all types of businesses, large and small. This may be another reason legal tech startups continue to proliferate at a rapid rate, with no end to the ways in which they can transform the landscape.

Some legal tech startups create products that are capable of profiting from those who are most able to pay, while in effect subsidizing those same resources for those who might not be in the same position.  This is the Freemium model which is common in today’s marketplace. Mail chimp, Pandora, Hulu, Dropbox and so many more are out there for the taking. The legal tech space is no exception. One such company providing legal resources at no cost to users is Casetext, a legal research site whose service has been completely free since its launch in 2013. And despite the fact that the company has generated no revenue, Casetext hasn’t had a problem getting two rounds of funding from investors in legal and tech. The company’s mission is “to make all the world’s laws free and understandable” and Casetext is taking market share on a daily basis from Thomson Reuters and Lexis Nexis. The company will launch a premium service before the end of 2016.

Casetext’s founders have a simple philosophy. Case law, statutes and regulations should be free and accessible, and lawyers should collaborate and share their knowledge much more than they traditionally do. Who can argue with this premise?  Except that it sounds antithetical to the way legal services delivery has been structured over the last 30 years. Clients pay huge sums of money for research (only recently have many pushed back or refused to pay directly for it) and lawyers only really collaborate if they work in the same firm (and even then there’s a startling lack of it). The larger the firm, the greater the resources, and the higher the rates.

Casetext recognized the finite utility of what other legal research companies do. Taking old materials, putting them online and having attorney researchers analyze them has its limits. The company’s business relies on an old-world publishing model, but takes a different approach, coupling huge amounts of data and smart technology. Casetext provides access to more than 6 million federal and state cases, statutes and regulations. The advent of Casetext means that solo and small firm attorneys now have greater access to those resources traditionally available only to those who were able to pay the high prices vendors charge. Attorneys have a tool to provide more competent representation and the divide between law firms with greater resources versus smaller shops gets smaller.

But that’s only the beginning of what the product offers. Casetext has created an online community of attorneys that has never existed before. Writing and analysis on legal topics is integrated into the legal research process, and combined with the power of its search engine becomes an invaluable resource for attorneys. Lawyers can also publish original content directly on the Casetext site through its online publishing platform, LegalPad. So in addition to original legal sources, Casetext integrates a wealth of practical analysis by attorneys in practice. And when marketing for lawyers is more important than ever, attorneys have another way to build a reputation rather than limiting articles and posts to their firm’s website (which no one reads anyway).

Casetext is constantly working to improve its already incredibly powerful search engine. Attorneys and law firms have happily contributed high-quality content, and there’s no reason they would hesitate to do so. Not surprisingly, law students have also flocked to Casetext. I can only imagine how useful such a tool would have been when I was in law school for learning the more practical aspects of law. It seems likely that Casetext will continue to attract law students and young lawyers for its utility but also because today’s generation seems to have more of a philosophical issue with paying for public information that they feel should be free. Just as we were quickly acculturated in law school by Lexis and Westlaw, law students may come to know Casetext as the go-to resource above all others.

While I was unsuccessful in prying more details out of Laura Safdie, Casetext’s COO and General Counsel, about the premium service, I was excited by the thought of the next iteration of the product. There are many reasons to adopt more technology at all levels in legal. To me, products like Casetext offer so many virtues, it’s hard not to think of the future possibilities and the good that can come from this type of legal tech.

Do you have an amazing new legal tech product? Reach out and tell me about it.

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