West, Lexis CEOs square off on the future

At ABA TechShow, the keynote had Louis Andreozzi, president and chief executive officer of LexisNexis North American Legal Markets, and Mike Wilens, president of West, square off in a joint presentation in which they were slated to share their visions of the future role of legal technology. I’d met both men before, but seeing them together was a study in contrasts — contrasts reflective of the two companies. Andreozzi is a fast-talking former lawyer who boasts of his ability to bench press 385 pounds and readily admits that he is not a technologist or a visionary. He stepped down from the lectern and delivered a salesman-like spiel that appeared to be off the cuff, even though he admitted to having prepared in advance. The slower-paced, softer spoken Wilens is a technologist and a visionary. He stood at the lectern and delivered a PowerPoint presentation that he clearly had put some work into.

As to the future, the more compelling comments came from Wilens. He predicted that certain “disruptive technologies” will play ever more central roles in law practice over the next few years. He expressly mentioned blogs and instant messaging as two of the most important. Ironically, when I asked him just before his presentation which blogs he follows, he said that he does not really follow any, although he had looked at some to become more acquainted with the phenomenon.

Turning to the current emphasis on CRM — client relationship management — in law firms, Wilens predicted that it will fail. CRM goes against the grain of lawyers’ personalities, requiring them to share client information that they prefer to hold close to the chest and requiring them to enter detailed notes on matters where just getting them to log time is difficult.

Instead, he predicted, firms will come to make greater use of personalized pages for clients on their Web sites. Ever since West gave customers the ability to manage their accounts through personal “my account” pages, customer satisfaction has soared, Wilens said. He suggested that law firms will follow suit, creating pages for clients where they will be able to log in and check on the status of their legal matters and their accounts. “People want to do things for themselves, without going through an intermediary,” Wilens said.

Andreozzi somewhat provocatively suggested that the future of legal technology may lie somewhere in the middle between his self-described non-visionary focus on law practice and Wilens’ more academic focus on technology. Is there a merger in the making? I doubt it.