By Anand Ablack, vice president, business development, legal, Medchart
I recently had the privilege of participating in an insightful Canadian Legal Innovation Forum (CANLIF) roundtable on innovation within the class action space in Canada. It was an incredibly informative discussion, given the participants’ depth and breadth of knowledge on class action and mass tort trends, litigation finance and legal technology. My colleagues on the panel included:
- Jesse Hoerman, founder/CEO, SimplyConvert
- Kevin McLaren, partner, Hammerco
- Paul Rand, chief investment officer, Omni Bridgeway
- Aaron Wenner, founder/CEO, CiteRight
While we touched on several areas, one of the most interesting discussion topics was the use of technology. The discussion boiled down to this: The most successful class action and mass tort firms are adopting technology at a faster rate than the legal industry at large because they rely more heavily on scale and efficiency than other practice areas. And, on the other side of the value equation, law firm clients are increasingly demanding such technology adoption.
As those who work in the legal space know, the industry traditionally lags behind other sectors in technology adoption. However, the pandemic and new service delivery expectations from clients are changing this picture rapidly. The 2021 Wolters Kluwer Future Ready Lawyer Survey found that over three-quarters of lawyers believe technology will have the most significant impact on their business over the next three years. Still, only 33% say they’re ready for this change or are able to move forward with tech adoption. Lawyers know they need technology but aren’t moving forward with it. Why is that?
“Lawyers are good at evaluating risk and finding the things that can go wrong—that’s what they’re paid to do,” Aaron Wenner told the participants. His company, CiteRight, provides tools to help litigators drive efficiencies in legal research, drafting and the creation of litigation work products. “New technology is frequently risky. The natural inclination for lawyers is to determine the ways in which it won’t deliver on its promises.”
Wenner’s words crystalize why the adoption gap exists—it’s not in the nature of most lawyers to jump into something new, let alone drive business process reengineering. If they have a method that reduces risk, they stick with it, even if it’s outdated and inefficient.
So how can they be swayed? Paul Rand, chief investment officer for Omni Bridgeway, a leading global litigation financing company, believes lawyers are open to new ideas if hard data and demonstrable bottom-line efficiencies are involved. “Lawyers are quick and happy to embrace change when they see the benefits as real and tangible,” he said. “And when they can understand the benefits, it becomes an easy sell at that point.”
The class action and mass tort sector across North America has seen a remarkable technology adoption rate in a relatively short amount of time. Workflow process automation, reliance on digital data sources for medical and other records, and artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML) review capabilities are gaining traction rapidly because they cut down on lengthy processes that require a significant number of hours to complete by humans.
One such task is initial client intake, a challenge Jesse Hoerman’s company SimplyConvert solves through automated technology from first conversation to signed contract. “The amount of data that you need to acquire from individuals to make sure that they meet the criteria to move forward in your litigation requires a lot of humans in terms of call centers or intake staffers, paralegals or young lawyers. Or it requires outsourcing the process, which is also very expensive,” Hoerman said during the roundtable.
Another area where technology is making a material impact is with respect to record review. For injury-based torts, firms routinely review thousands of pages of claimant medical, pharmacy, billing and other records. Medchart has been able to help firms prequalify claimants through the novel use of prescription and other data sets, and to apply AI and natural language processing technologies to tag key conditions, impairments and other qualifying criteria at scale and at lower cost.
“I think there are always market factors that demand a billable-hour lawyer be efficient, because you’ll get pushback from the client if there’s billing for things that aren’t warranted,” Kevin McLaren, partner and civil litigator at Hammerco, mentioned. “The lawyers who move into the contingency fee space will be the people who adopt technology quickly and drive efficiency.”
If the efficiency argument isn’t compelling enough, there’s another reason for law firms to consider more aggressive tech adoption: Clients are demanding it. Increasingly, people want every aspect of their lives to integrate with the ways in which they use technology—especially younger clients, who’ve only known a connected world.
In its 2020 Legal Trends Report, legal practice management company Clio published results that highlight the changing nature of client expectations for legal services. Among legal consumers surveyed, the report showed that:
● 52% of consumers believe they should be able to deal with most legal matters remotely, without meeting anyone in person;
● 56% of consumers prefer videoconferencing over a phone call; and
● 69% of consumers prefer working with a lawyer who can share documents electronically through a web page, app or online portal.
The emerging trend is clear. To be successful in the coming years, law firms will need to adapt their service delivery models and technology approach to meet the changing preferences of the consumers of legal services.
For class actions and mass torts, there is a compelling argument to be made that technology may benefit claimants given the nature of the actions themselves. For example, at initial intake, some claimants may feel more comfortable at first sharing extremely sensitive details through an automated interface than in a live conversation. Through online portals, claimants may also keep track of the status of their individual case and maintain ongoing connection with their retained law firm for litigation that often takes years to resolve. As Hoerman noted, law firms are at a crossroads:
"Simply put, technology adoption is no longer a differentiator in the class action and mass tort space but is increasingly becoming an expected component of every consumer-facing service.
“If lawyers remain in a pre-technology mode, then there’s a mismatch. Lawyers have to ask, ‘Who are we serving? How are we serving them?’ And lawyers have to adapt.”
McLaren’s observation was more direct, “It’s just absolutely clear that technology is going to be key for anybody who wants to remain competitive in the class action space.”
Watch the full roundtable here.