Be careful what you wish for. Be even more careful what you buy. Or polish your resume and check the bus schedule – the one for “outta here” or “any town but this town”.

I’m old enough (and comfortable enough) to say that I recall the great divide – and the great war – between VHS and Betamax. Each promised untold galaxies of media delight and entertainment to a world starved of anything to watch on the TV other than the standard TV Guide fare dished up every night.

So, yes, for my daughter and the many millennials reading this – this was before computers, before floppies, before CDs, before DVDs, before the internet (kinda) and before streaming. Wow, that’s old. But the issues of this era remain as relevant today as they did then – and they apply directly in the legal industry.

The legal industry is embarked on a period of change – at least a decade of rigorous change – in which the number of tech options will multiply for “doing legal work”. This is a wonderful thing. The number of legaltech startups today far exceeds that of, say, ten years ago – and the level of interest and investment in legaltech is much greater now than then. As a former legaltech co-founder, I can attest to this.

With proliferation of options, however, come choices. And with choices, inevitably, come consequences. When things are busy and there’s a lot of frothy excitement about tech, as there was in the first dotcom period (for another article), it’s easy to make one of the following big mistakes:

  1. Do nothing. Pretend it’s all noise – and risk getting left behind entirely.
  2. Pull a “Vegas” and roll the dice like a high-roller. Example: what are the fiscal vitals of the solution or provider in which you’re placing your company’s trust (and your career)?
  3. Pick the wrong standard / pick the wrong one.

It’s the third item I’m picking at on this occasion. I’ll get to the others later. If you went Betamax when the market went VHS, the chances are it didn’t work out so well. It’s a bit like traders calling the direction of a market and you finding youself the wrong side of the trade – unless you specifically planned to be. It’s just a sad, bad, nasty place you don’t want to be.

You can’t miss the acceleration and proliferation of tech in the legal space – addressing all sorts of issues and problematic areas with shiny promises of a better world. Like the latest detergent there are wild promises about how this or that will take the pain away. It’s the future, baby. Take automation and the adoption of AI – about which so much is spoken – there are already many options – and there will be many more.

We’ve seen this movie before, folks. Sad moment alert: not all of them will make it. It’s often more circumstantial than qualitative – but sadness happens. Great things fail. Like almost any Disney movie I think I’ve ever watched with my daughter – someone doesn’t make it. Not everyone gets to fly the rocket ship away from the burning sun. It’s the circle of life. You get the picture.

So.. as this next chapter opens up, we simply suggest taking a moment in the legal procurement process to consult available sources and resources including peers – and to carefully think through which solutions and providers will be the surviving, dominant industry players with the resources to survive and invest in your success – and what will be the industry standards that result from this. To pick anything else – to bet against the market – is not fatal but it is, clearly, risky.

You may be the best picker of stocks or Fantasy Football but, for example, when your contract review platform doesn’t interact with the new General Ledger, or, for example, your case management system springs a Cybersecurity leak and sprays your customer data around the dark web like a crop-duster, your company may not like you any more.

Data is becoming all digital and all-interactional – truly fluid in nature – and there will be an expectation of legal systems being able to talk with other IT and Financial systems easily and automatically. Cybersecurity is required and will be expected. No quirks. No one-offs. No fluff. No sticky fixes with tape and bubble gum.

The race toward better, faster cheaper is on. It’s happening. It’s genuinely exciting. There are new worlds of opportunity out there for the taking. As such, legal buyers will be faced with many options and many important choices to make. Just be sure the one you make doesn’t turn out to be the Betamax of the legal industry – or the next great Cybersecurity headline.

Or start polishing your resume and check the bus schedule.

DK