• Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be in (or a customer of) the legal business?
I was born in a small third world country called Suriname. Growing up there taught me to live with constraints and to be creative with resources. I later came to study law in Amsterdam and received a law degree from the University of Amsterdam and specialized in Intellectual Property Law. I’m also certified as a Legal Knowledge System Engineer. I built my first legal tech product (1) in 2000 to support my Pro Bono Legal Assistant work and I haven’t stop building ever since.
• What do you do for a living right now?
I’m employed by a large information provider to help build products for primarily legal professionals. I also started an independent project called Legalcomplex (2) and co-founded the @Legalpioneer (3) community. Both initiatives stem from a passion to support fairness in our society.
• What has been your greatest triumph and your greatest success in the legal services field and what did you learn from each?
I’m working towards my big successes by way of a few small victories. One is that I’m a co-inventor of a patent for doing legal research in different screen formats like mobile, tablet or TV (4). The latest triumph was when the largest newspaper in The Netherlands reported (5) on investments in legal tech by using the Legalpioneer Where dataset. The goal for Legalpioneer Where (6) is to create an algorithm to predict the evolution of legal on a global scale. To achieve this, we’ve build a training dataset of 4500+ private companies which have an impact on the legal industry.
After 17 years I’ve learned that the legal profession is a tough place to innovate in for one simple reason: they have insulated themselves from disruption by way of legislation. Therefore the need to change or improve is not as prevalent as it suppose to be in normal market conditions. It also instills a false confidence that the legal work they do can’t be replace.
• Do you think the legal industry is headed in the right direction, the wrong direction – or which direction?
Yes and no. Yes in the sense that legal professionals are truly passionate about their work and, contrary to popular belief, they are willing to change. However, their first instinct is to write laws or file suits rather than design and engineer solutions that fit the new realities in business and society.
Last time I checked (7) Uber actively employed over 1. 1 million drivers with an app not an employment contract.
A better solution may be a start-up called Arcade City (8). They created a blockchain powered platform to enable drivers to set and negotiate their own rates. They could easily extend this technology to negotiate smart employment agreements with Uber.
Likewise, Spotify acquired startup Mediachain to help it manage copyright of creators with blockchain.
So instead of using traditional legal means of litigation or legislation, we can engineer better solutions.
• Who – or what – inspires you – and why?
I have many heroes past and present:
Past: Baron de Montesquieu who invented the Trias Politica in 1748 AD and the idea to check and balance powers to ensure a fair society.
Or Bartolo da Sassoferrato, Italian jurist from 1353 AD who used drawings, geometry and math to settle real estate ownership issues. Nowadays we are still hesitant to let Artificial Intelligence replace law and lawyers.
Present: The current Nobel winners for Economy and equally the legal scholars before them for proving that the 2009 global financial crisis ultimately was faulty contract designs.
And finally Elon Musk, for showing us the good one person is capable of doing while running multiple businesses.
• What advice would you give to the younger generation contemplating law as a career?
We are entering interesting times where one can hear and share the world’s knowledge instantly. The biggest challenge the younger generation will face is finding the truth and honing their ability to know right from wrong. Have the same levels of privacy that previous generations enjoyed. Unfortunately, law & regulations will not be their best guide. But neither will these news feeds created by algorithms. Ultimately, if you want to live in a sustainable society, it needs to be balanced and fair. If you like to contribute to this lofty goal, come join the legal industry.
• How ready for change do you think the legal industry is?
In the future most legal knowledge will be derived from data and math so the legal industry will morph into something else. Legal will be something abstract and invisible to human reasoning and be hidden in code not law.
If you think this is far-fetched, the reality is that we have a startup working on Futarchy Governments (9): one which doesn’t need legislation just policies as smart contracts on Blockchain.
The only way to prepare is to help build those systems and write these algorithms. I wouldn’t bet on any top down regulation to stifle this trend. It’s up to the legal professionals to get ready to roll up their sleeves and join engineers in solving the problems of justice.
• Is more – or different – leadership required? In what ways?
We have enough legal thought leaders preaching to the converted. What legal lacks are the captains of industries and platforms to acknowledge the need to balance their powers.
The take-down by Cloudflare of an Alt-Right site is a clear example of how powerful and unchecked online platforms have become. Cloudflare’s CEO rightfully admitted (10) to not even desiring to be judge and jury in such matters.
More recently, Twitter struggled with their verified accounts and their impact on Free Speech (11).
However, a survey showed that technocrats are generously liberal except on the topic of regulation (12). So while they feel uncomfortable wielding such authority, they rather not yield it to governments or legislators.
In short, we should stop preaching to the choir and shift focus on finding support in the industries that need us.
• How deep do you think will be the inroads of technology in the industry?
It’s rather the other way around: if software is eating the world, the legal industry was the appetizer. The Legalpioneer dataset has many exotic examples of how technology is used to solve regulatory and ethical issues.
Moreover, traditional legal tech isn’t driving these changes, rather it’s outsiders wary of bad customer experience from traditional legal service providers.
Stripe, a fintech unicorn, is replacing a traditional legal service (13) by helping businesses incorporate their company.
In short, legal work will be gobbled up by newcomers. This is reflected in how markets have reacted to when non traditional legal providers have offered legal solutions. Their reaction is lavishly funding these initiatives.
• In ten years, do you see an industry much as it is – or do you see new players, new technology and an altered state?
Check out Legalpioneer Where (14) and here’s what you’ll see: in the past 7 years we’ve tracked $2. 2 billion in legal innovation investments. Marketplaces, eDiscovery and Case Management launched between 2010 and 2013 captured in total $1. 8 billion or 81%. These investments were all in technologies which assisted lawyers in mundane or non-legal work. However, investment in legal startups after 2013 dropped to just 20%. This signals the waning interest in saving legal as-is.
The good news, this year we’re rebounding and seeing record investments. In 2017 a total of $80 million was invested in AI, Analytics, Blockchain and other practical applications. All geared towards avoiding legal hassles or replacing higher levels of legal work. This signals an increasing interest in disrupting legal as-is.
Now comes the big picture: we found a total of $16 billion invested in Regulatory Tech (RegTech) and related startups impacting legal in the past 7 years and $300 million in 2017 alone. For me this is a clear sign: there’s interest in optimizing businesses, not legal.
So in 10 years, the question will be how much influence traditional legal service providers and their professionals still have?
Imagine this: if AI technologies like Alexa and Siri become the ‘new Internet’’, what are the ‘new websites’? More importantly, are legal professionals equipped to handle these new realities?
• Are consultants and lawyers looking increasingly similar? Should the distinction continue?
Both are endangered professions so the distinction doesn’t really matter. The real question is who will Entrepreneurs and Governments consult when it really matters, AI or Attorneys?
• What are your thoughts on the increasing availability of data to guide client-side procurement of legal services?
This is a very positive trend for our industry. A key factor for good customer experience is price predictability and transparency. Not being able to set a fixed price for a legal service doesn’t make us look good compared to other industries.
• Lawyers have typically regulated to keep nonlawyer investors out but that’s a two-edged sword these days. What are your thoughts?
Here’s the conundrum: Law Firms are clamoring to partner or invest in new entrants and technology. Those new entrants actually do not need their funds nor support since they can raise from outsiders and work for them directly.
Examples: This year, outsider Justin Kan broke records by raising over 10 million seed funding from over 100 investors and future customers (15).
Better yet, startups don’t even need traditional VC funding since they can raise real money from an Initial Coin Offering (ICO) such as legal tech startup Agrello (16).
Meanwhile, non-legal industries get more adept at solving their own legal issues in house and may decide to start selling it as a service. So it should come as no surprise if Amazon will soon offer to be your lawyer.
In this reality, how much sense does it make to protect the principle of being non-partisan?
• What’s the one most significant factor that will drive change in your view?
The most significant factor is mindset. The news and music industry always operated under the impression the need for their products would never disappear and they felt safe under the protection of the law.
It did not save them and worse: it set off the most terrifying displays of how not to treat your most loyal customers by suing them in mass. Now we are witnessing the movie industry repeating history.
I know lawyers and lawmakers have their finger on the trigger: calls for legislating AI, dragging marketplaces to court or blanket banning Initial Coin Offerings (ICO) and Net Neutrality. I urge them to not make the same mistake but rather adapt.
• Are we seeing the demise of the “profession” and the real emergence of the “business” of law?
See my answer as (9)
• What do you consider is the greatest challenge facing the industry?
See my answer as (14)
• What do you see as the greatest opportunity for the sector looking forward?
Thinking in terms of first principles: at its core legal provides society the ability to balance power.
In the “Legal Industry Roadmap” post (17) I identified one area where legal lost influence and may regain it: eCommerce.
The legal protections in eCommerce still aren’t up to par as compared to physical commerce e. g. the power to negotiate. The legal industry can provide the knowledge and libraries to reinstate the concept of negotiating a deal in every digital transaction of any size.
Similarly, conflict resolution is another area in which legal innovation can be more prominent. The FBI-Apple incident was a watershed moment for me. While I did not want Apple to provide law enforcement the ability to break the iPhone encryption. I do want a backdoor for police if my daughter’s life is in danger and her iPhone is the only lead way have. I conceived Lawkit (18) as a way to enable any platform to resolve any conflict by delegating these decisions to a vetted crowd.
In short, fairness and trust is just good business. The legal industry is best position to provide these frameworks of assurances.
• Do you think law can improve its track record on diversity and inclusion? How?
This issue hits close to home as well. I come from a diverse background as do my daughters. I would like to think conditions will improve in the future.
Legalpioneer did a report on Women in LegaTech for The Netherlands (19). Of the 86 startups impacting Legal, 20 have a total of 21 women executives. 11 Startups were founded by 10 women. And one major legal tech startup has an executive woman of color.
Maybe if we all see diversity and inclusion as commercially more beneficial, will we be able to look past our differences and embrace it more positively.
• Will the current regulatory framework around law help or hinder it in the future?
See my answer (6), (7), and (13)
• Who do you think are the greatest influencers on the industry these days?
I’ll chicken out of this one and say it is not a person but rather a device: your smartphone.
• If you had to do it all over again, would you? Or what would you do differently?
I would have liked to become an industrial designer.
• If a law firm was a startup pitching for investors, would you be an investor?
I would politely decline and burn my money myself.
• If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
• What would you like to be known for?
Creating beautiful services that made people smarter
• What would surprise everyone if they knew (they may now).
• What’s your favorite hobby or activity outside of law?
I hate jogging, but the tech and the ability to set, measure and achieve literal milestones is accelerating. I wrote about it here: 5 Confessions of a Trackaholic
• What’s your favorite sports team?
I love beautiful soccer so I usually support players not teams: Neymar Jr (Genuine Genius) and Mario Ballotelli (Controversial Genius)
• What’s your favorite city?
On my bucket list is to visit Tokyo
• What’s your favorite food?
Sebiyari, a rare traditional dish from Suriname
• What’s your nickname – and why?
My friends used to call me Caro which is translation for Corn since my hair was as frizzy as that of a freshly picked corn cob.
Disclaimer: Views expressed by Raymond Blijd are his own and unique to him and do not reflect the views of his employer or any of its subsidiaries or partners. Legalcomplex and its products is an independent initiative owned by Raymond Blijd.