#LegalTechLives with Robert Ambrogi, lawyer and legal journalist
Robert has started the year off with a bang, announcing a new partnership with LexBlog, but he’s been speaking and writing about legal tech for more than 20 years. What does he think the number one revolution in law is…? Keep reading.
Lawyer Robert Ambrogi writes the award-winning blog LawSites, is a columnist for Above the Law, and cohosts the longest-running legal podcast, Lawyer2Lawyer, as well as the podcast Law Technology Now. In 2011, Bob was named to the inaugural Fastcase 50, honoring “the law’s smartest, most courageous innovators, techies, visionaries and leaders.” In 2017, he received the Yankee Quill award for journalism from the Academy of New England Journalists.
Ava Chisling: We have to begin with your big announcement on December 21st. Tell me how your involvement with LexBlog came about and what you hope to accomplish?
Robert Ambrogi: I’ve known Kevin O’Keefe, LexBlog founder, for many years. He and I often talk about the state of the legal media. We’ve watched as traditional publications have closed down, reduced their news staffs, or locked their content behind paywalls. The traditional sources on which lawyers have relied for news and commentary are disappearing.
At the same time, blogs have been growing in influence and importance in the legal industry. LexBlog, alone, hosts some 15,000 active bloggers writing about a range of legal and practical topics. In many ways, bloggers are filling the void created by disappearing news sources. Even so, it remains difficult for legal professionals to find and keep up with the blogs that are relevant to their practices, and few legal professionals have time to sort through the universe of blog posts to find the ones that they should or must read.
Our goal is to create a new kind of legal news and information network. It will be built around blogs and social media, and provide both aggregation and curation to help legal professionals find and track not just the blogs that matter most, but the posts, videos and other information. We will focus on making blog content more easily found, intelligently aggregated and professionally curated.
AC: You have been writing about the Internet since 1993, a time when our entire team at Air Canada’s enRoute magazine shared one internet-capable computer. Can you name the top three ways the net has revolutionized the legal profession?
RA: The Internet has turned the practice of law upside down. The changes are so many, it is difficult to even begin to discuss them. But if I had to pick the top three, I’d say:
Leveled the playing field for solo and small firm lawyers by giving them access to the same level of resources and information as their larger firm counterparts.
Made law practice mobile, allowing lawyers to practice from wherever and whenever they want.
Made geographic borders virtually irrelevant, allowing lawyers to reach and work with clients well beyond their physical locations.
AC: Is there a downside to us lawyers being ultra-connected, professionally speaking?
RA: The downside to being ultra-connected is that we have lost some of the deliberative aspects of law practice. In the pre-Internet days, lawyers were not so rushed to provide answers. A client would come in, discuss a problem, and the lawyer would take a few days to research and think about the issue. Now everyone expects everything to be done instantly. Law practice is higher pressure than ever before, to the detriment of lawyers’ lifestyles and perhaps to the detriment of clients.
AC: Which of your many published articles has caused the most stir?
RA: That’s hard to say, Perhaps the articles that caused the most stir were a series of posts I did exposing the questionable activity of the CEO of a much-ballyhooed legal startup, including fraud, forgery and impersonating a lawyer. My stories ultimately led to the demise of his company.
AC: Is there one particular event (or person or thing) that marked the rise in legaltech? If so, what was it?
RA: You pegged it with your earlier question. The advent of the Web marked a true turning point in the rise and adoption of legaltech. Even since then, however, it’s been a slow evolution. The biggest change in recent years has been cloud technology, which has made it possible for virtually anyone, even with limited funds, to launch a startup. Recent years have brought a snowballing of the numbers and diversity of legal tech companies.
AC: Tell me about one trend in legaltech that completely surprised you.
RA: What has most surprised me is the slow pace of adoption. I thought lawyers would immediately see the myriad benefits of tech and the internet and jump on board. Instead, many lawyers remain either dubious or frightened of legaltech.
AC: There is always talk of “robo-lawyers” and the demise of the big firm, etc. What do you see moving forward in regards to legaltech? What will the firm look like in 10–15 years?
RA: It will be a long, long time before robots will ever fully replace lawyers, if ever. They will, however, increasingly handle more of the low-level, routine work, while only supplementing or enhancing higher-end work. That means that larger firms are likely to become leaner in the future, retaining their experienced and specialized lawyers while losing some of the less-experienced legal staff.
“AI promises to greatly streamline and enhance all aspects of law practice and law firm management. The promise of AI is not in replacing lawyers or eliminating legal work, but in enhancing the work of lawyers and in enabling them to better and more efficiently represent their clients.
AC: How significant has AI been on the legal profession, especially ROSS — both in its current form and its potential?
RA: The significance of AI on the profession so far has not been earth-shattering. Its practical applications remain limited in scope and many lawyers remain fearful or distrustful of it. However, I fully believe that is already beginning to change. Going forward, AI promises to greatly streamline and enhance all aspects of law practice and law firm management. The promise of AI is not in replacing lawyers or eliminating legal work, but in enhancing the work of lawyers and in enabling them to better and more efficiently represent their clients.
AC: As you say, it can take a while for lawyers to realize the great potential of tech like AI. But when they do…
AC: As someone who was raised in traditional media, do you worry that sources like blogs and podcasts do not adhere to high enough standards? Just playing devil’s advocate here.
RA: I do worry about that. For most lawyer blogs, it is not an issue, because they are writing about developments in their areas of law. Where it concerns me is blogs that purport to do reporting or, in the legal tech space, blogs that do product reviews. I’m seeing an increase in circumstances where bloggers or reviewers do not disclose facts such as that they are being paid for reviews or that they have some financial or professional relationship with what/who they’re writing about.
AC: And in a related question, why are you so passionate about keeping traditional media (and traditional reporting) alive?
RA: My entire career has been in and around journalism. I strongly believe in the value of fair and objective reporting.
AC: What do you think the key to success is in legaltech? What is your very best advice for someone thinking about giving it a go?
RA: The key to success in legaltech is knowing your customer and solving a problem that is real for that customer. Just because you can do something with tech doesn’t mean you should. Technology should fill a need or solve a problem. If it doesn’t, don’t bother putting it on the market. You’ll be out of business before anyone even notices. In my experience, the most successful legaltech companies are ones that are aggressive about knowing their customers. You see their CEOs and top execs at trade shows and legal events, not just talking to their customers, but listening to them.
AC: And finally, we ask this one question of all our interviewees: What is the one thing not yet invented that you’d want in your hands RIGHT NOW?
RA: A self-writing blog.
AC: Ha! Anything else you’d like to add as we wind up our chat?
RA: In the United States, the legal system is severely broken. We fail to address the legal needs of as much as 80 percent of poor and middle-income people. Wealthy clients and corporations have all the “justice” they can buy, but those with lower incomes are largely shut out of the system. The only way we will ever be able to address this is through broader adoption of technology to drive efficiency and lower costs. To me, this is the most important reason for lawyers to adopt and embrace technology — so that we can fulfill our mission to provide justice for all.
This article first appeared on the ROSS Intelligence blog — February 15th, 2017.