Next month, I will be meeting with a group of state bar officials to discuss what steps they can take to promote legal services innovation and access to justice. In preparation for that, I have been trying to outline the barriers to innovation in law. I figure that the first step to overcoming these barriers is to identify them.

I’ve developed a list of what I see as the principle obstacles and I am seeking your input on it. What have I missed? What do I have wrong. I’ve published the list as my column today at Above the Law.

Above the Law does not allow comments. But you can comment here, or send me your thoughts via Twitter (@bobambrogi) or by email (my last name

What other obstacles do you see? What needs to change for the legal profession to better deliver services to all who need them? Please check out the column and let me know your thoughts.

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Photo of Bob Ambrogi Bob Ambrogi

Bob is a lawyer, veteran legal journalist, and award-winning blogger and podcaster. In 2011, he was named to the inaugural Fastcase 50, honoring “the law’s smartest, most courageous innovators, techies, visionaries and leaders.” Earlier in his career, he was editor-in-chief of several legal publications, including The National Law Journal, and editorial director of ALM’s Litigation Services Division. At LexBlog, he oversees, the global legal news and commentary network.

  • I think one barrier is a failure to partner with gatekeepers like public libraries. We make different A2J apps, but when the patron who needs it ultimately comes to the public library reference desk, if the librarian doesn’t know it exists, neither will the patron. There is no shortage of ‘learned about it too late’ stories.

  • Rob Hatton

    Even as a Business Intelligence practitioner who is new to the Legal community, some problems seem obvious to me. First among them is the partnership structure of American law firms. The existing compensation approach for equity partners doesn’t seem as though it would encourage the large capital commitment often needed to create a technology solution. Even if a law firm did create successful legal software solution where the licensing revenue exceeds the fee income, it would wreak havoc on the existing compensation process. It seems to me that law firms should be allowed to be regular corporations. As you pointed out in your blog, this appears to be one of many issues arising from state bar associations.
    I’d also like to push back against the notion that the lack of technology adoption isn’t a technical problem. As a technology guy, I can tell you that we are comfortable with structured data but the legal industry is awash with unstructured data. To give you an idea of how fundamental an issue this is, the vast majority of databases are ‘relational databases’. The underlying theory for relational databases is based on structured data, unstructured data wasn’t covered by the theory. Many of these database engines have been extended to accommodate unstructured data, but it’s an unwieldy kludge. The bottom line here is that the vast majority of experienced software developers don’t have any experience at all dealing with large unstructured data sets. When dealing with hours and dollars, we’re good. When dealing with documents and concepts, there’s a huge skills shortage. We’ll need to develop more people with AI skills (which is surprisingly approachable). We’ll not only need AI based applications to do a lot of the tasks that folks want to automate, the AI applications look like they’ll need to be on the sophisticated side. Simpler approaches like machine learning (which I’ve done) don’t appear to be of much use given the complexity of the tasks in this environment.
    I don’t think it’s all doom and gloom, though. There are opportunities to provide value with technology. Given time, more and more firms will adopt a technology culture to some degree.
    Dramatic changes, however, will need to wait for changes in how law firms are owned and regulated.

  • Talya Faigenbaum

    Bob, really enjoyed your article highlighting some of the barriers to innovation in the legal industry. Here are my two cents, for what they’re worth.

    It seems that much of what underpins the socioeconomic & regulatory obstacles is legal culture.

    From education to instruction to practice, lawyers are trained to think laterally.
    The practice of law is grounded in precedent, not innovation, and this has obvious flow on effects to legal service delivery.

    I would imagine then that real reform requires a cultural shift.

    Starting with legal education.

    As you point out, law schools (or not enough of them) are failing to equip students with the skills to be innovative or entrepreneurial.
    But even for those students who embrace innovation, when they step into a BigLaw firm, their enthusiasm is often snuffed out by managing partners who are quite content with the traditional practice model and the profit it delivers.

    So how can we generate cultural change?

    Introducing legal tech or similar courses into law schools is a start.

    Internal reverse mentoring programs (pairing junior lawyers with senior partners) can stimulate the upward flow of innovative ideas within an organisation.

    Ongoing professional development programs can support a cultural shift at the top end by increasing or expanding their offerings focussing on NewLaw practice and Legaltech.

    One final observation I would make is that greater collaboration or partnerships between the private and community justice sectors can go a long way to making legal services accessible to the most vulnerable in our communities.

    Best wishes for your meeting with the state bar

    Keep us updated

    Talya Faigenbaum