Reflections on 2018 Legal Tech Predictions

Reflections on 2018 Legal Tech PredictionsIn January 2018 I made some legal technology predictions for that coming year. I’ll now look back and see how those predictions fared.

Artificial Intelligence

I predicted:-

that in 2018 AI will continue to be a de rigueur slot in legal technology conferences. But delegates will continue to leave none the wiser as to what they are actually supposed to do with AI in their own legal practices or how much it might cost them.

Despite this more law firms will be boasting in 2018 that they have adopted AI but the reality will be that their actual adoption will be no better than what they have done to date with document automation (see more on that below).

Early in 2018 this was accurate with Legal AI being hyped at conferences with tales of law firms spending £200,000 on consultancy just to see what AI they actually needed to employ. Probably zero!

There were also conferences where it was suggested the shiny new toys were the saviour of lawyers who had never really had technology before!

However, as the year progressed a realisation that it was all mostly smoke and mirrors started to sink in.

The Wizard of Oz Behind the Curtain

At GlenLegal in March there was talk on Hype Hurts: Steering Clear of Dangerous AI myths.

On April 1st there was news of the launch of a new legal tech start up with no AI involved.

In May Janders Dean at their JDHorizons Conference avoided the topic in favour of #bringbackboring. I dressed up as Willy Wonka. Other Conferences later in the year such as Source by Symphony Legal, Legal Sector Client Experience and Legal Futures also simply took AI off the agenda.

In October I blogged about the Seven Deadly Sins of Legal AI Predictions.

Also in October reality overtook AI hype at Legal Geek. Noah Waisberg of Kira Systems threw sequins from the stage with one real diamond amongst them to illustrate the preponderance of hype in legal tech. He also called out legal tech journalists who promote hyped up legal tech PR fluff without doing proper diligence and told them to “do real journalism”. This had the legal AI hypesters choking on their croissants and spluttering out their coffee. One innovation head told the Legal IT Insider that they had the popcorn out all week during a war of words on Twitter over this.

In December I provided a reality check on a day in the life of the future lawyer. I will be doing more of that live and in person at Lexpo in April of this year.

AI Coffee Maker


I predicted:-

Another new kid on the block is Blockchain. It will continue to be mentioned in passing at legal technology conferences in 2018 but again clarity on what your average lawyer will be able to do with it will be scant.

Again this rung true in 2018. Although Blockchain took on a more significant role at the Global Legal Hackathon where a team from Pinsent Masons won the London competition for ‘creating’ a Blockchain platform for partner voting on internally developed project ideas. I doubt they have developed it further but would be interested to learn if I am wrong on that front. This was a clear example of using Blockchain for the sake of it and where it simply was not necessary or sensible to do so.

At the London event they also, in my view, steered competitors towards Blockchain (and AI, Machine Learning, Chatbots or the Internet of Things) contrary to the Global Legal Hackathon rules and possibly broke a few of the other competition rules along the way.

Later in the year Blockchain was simply being mentioned in passing and with little reverence as “the B word” at the Legal Geek Conference.

Hopefully the Global Legal Hackathon in 2019 will see less teams feeling the need to Blockchain their ideas. It is always a good idea to run such ideas through doyouneedablockchain.com first or just follow this flow chart:-

Blockchain Flow ChartAlthough, disappointingly but perhaps not surprising, Blockchain hype in law continues to be spread by some as this headline from the turn of the year confirms: Hate lawyers? Can’t afford one? Blockchain smart contracts are here to help.

Then, to crown it all, the blockwashers tried to claim that 1.7 million people had read an eBook on Blockchain for Lawyers when the reality might have been 500 if they were lucky.

Document Automation

I predicted:-

Some lawyers will wake up in 2018 to the fact that they could and should be utilising the document automation system that they purchased at vast cost many years ago to a far greater extent than they currently do before spending even more money on AI and blockchain.

However, the majority of lawyers will think that they must invest in these shiny new toys just to then do exactly the same with those as they did with the old ones!

With the bashing of Legal AI Hype in 2018 and the #bringbackboring movement gaining momentum less of those shiny new toys might be purchased in 2019 and beyond.


I predicted:-

The big thing in 2018 will be for law firms to start introducing chatbots onto their websites never mind getting actual content on there first for the chatbot to reference.

The fact that introducing a basic search function to their website might be more effective and useful than a chatbot that gets confused with most queries put to it (unless there is a human being operating it) will be lost on most lawyers.

However, if it has not been done already, a legal chatbot will in 2018 be able to order your Uber for you. This will be major news in legal publications but not really a giant leap for the legal profession.

I was correct. But the failure in 2018 of legal chatbots to order pizzas was hugely disappointing especially for legal hackers.

I started a series on this blog of Chats with Legal Chatbots. The first two episodes released in 2018 speak for themselves:-

  1. The Global Legal Hackathon and LawDroid
  2. Billy Bot

Expect more episodes and to hold your heads in despair in 2019.

The Chatbot Parker is apparently held up as a beacon of legal innovation by the LawTech Delivery Panel. I’ll debunk that myth in a future episode.

I’d recommend you invest in a Swearbot from Small Robots as an antidote to any chats you might ever have with a Legal Chatbot:-

Swearbot - Small RobotsLegal Engineer

I predicted:-

In 2018 the term ‘Legal Engineer’ is likely to be trademarked in the UK to Glasgow IP solicitor Philip Hannay, despite him not having coined the name, unless there is effective official opposition by those not happy with his trade mark application. I am sure Philip, being the nice guy that he is, will allow me to continue using the term ‘Legal Process Engineer’.

There was effective opposition and the result so far appears to be that Philip may be able to wear a T-Shirt with “Legal Engineer” on it but otherwise the term should be free for anyone in the legal profession to use.

The debate about whether lawyers should learn to code or not continued through 2018 and no doubt will not go away this year either. My view is a resounding oh no they don’t.

Social Media

I blogged:-

In 2011 and in 2014 I predicted that Twitter would remain the most effective social media channel for lawyers to spend their time on. I referred to LinkedIn as “deadly boring” in 2014. It was back then.

But that has changed. LinkedIn has evolved and come into its own. It is being used far more effectively as a networking/interaction tool than used to be the case. It will undoubtedly grow further in stature in 2018.

That panned out and I said more on the subject to Alex Heshmaty in his article for The Internet Newsletter for Lawyers on LinkedIn – the lawyer’s social media channel of choice. And more recently, in the same publication, I also gave my thoughts to Alex Heshmaty on The enigmatic Twitter.

Surface Phone

I predicted:-

The fabled Microsoft Surface Phone just might make an appearance in 2018 unless it is pushed back to 2019 or does not exist at all…

If the Surface Phone concept is all that it has been rumoured to be expect a dual screen, foldable device with Surface Pen that will truly be a PC in your pocket.

This will be the mobile device for lawyers as the Blackberry once was.

A render of a possible Microsoft Surface Phone from designer David Breyer

Unfortunately, it didn’t appear in 2018 although the Surface Go did (I updated my Surface RT with one).

Whilst there have been less rumours about the Surface Phone of late it could still be in the Microsoft pipeline unless the project (apparently codenamed Andromeda) has been binned in favour of a larger dual screen digital journal device: Surface ‘Centaurus’. Let’s hope we get both in 2019.

Reactions on Social Media

There have been reactions to this post on LinkedIn and on Twitter.

On LinkedIn the following comments have been made:-

Michael Burne (Founder & Chief Exec at Carbon):

The voice of reason and a human one at that.

Brian Inkster:

Thanks Michael. I’m not expecting to be replaced by a robot any time soon 😉

Robotic Brian

Michael Burne:

That’s a relief – can’t see a robot or an avatar cutting the mustard!


Alex Heshmaty (Legal Writer): 

Your assessment of chatbots is spot on – currently they’re essentially search engines by another name. Re foldable phone/tablets this could be interesting.

Brian Inkster:

Thanks Alex. Although you would usually be better off using Google than the chatbot. A number of mobile phone providers are now getting in on the act of foldable phones although Microsoft have been in the picture for a long time with patents going back several years. As you say how this develops could indeed be interesting.


Alex Hutchinson (Helping LAW FIRMS increase Billable Hours & Profits. Experts in Paper-Lite, Document Management & Digital Workflow):

What a refreshing read. Totally agree. Hype can be harmful. It’s distracting and draining. So many firms could make use of their existing technology and systems to improve their document efficiency. Always worth exploring if you have already invested in a system but not realised the results (Happy to talk to any firms struggling with this at present). Great article and a refreshing read for Managing / Equity Partners.

Brian Inkster:

Thanks Alex Hutchinson. I think most (probably almost all) law firms will be under utilising the legal tech they already have. That is where they should concentrate their efforts in the first instance before buying anything new.

Alex Hutchison:

We seem to be putting a lot of time working with firms who are trying to make the right strategic decision, and investment in technology to help them move forward. Typically they have held off investing large amounts in a single system. Sounds like we need to extend our marketing efforts to helping firms realise a return on their previous / existing investments. Either way, nice to read an article from someone respresenting a potential user / client of these technologies instead of traditional marketing fodder being fed to the market.


Colin Levy (Corporate Lawyer and Legal Innovation Advocate):

Great article.


Suj Legha (Entrepreneur And Mentor):

I see AI emerging a fair bit this year. Fascinating stuff.


And on Twitter we had the following tweets:-

Alex G Smith‏ @alexgsmith:

2018 retrospective … avoid the hype. Common sense from @TheTimeBlawg with some call outs to diamonds @nwaisb and bringing back boring @jandersdean

Janders Dean @jandersdean:

Glad someone captured what happened across #LegalTech accurately in 2018. We weren’t sober for much of the year…

The Time Blawg @TheTimeBlawg:

I always make sure I note down what is happening in #LegalTech before the breakfast martinis come out 😉

Breakfast Martinis at JDHorizons


John Flood‏ @JohnAFlood:

Reflections on 2018 Legal Tech Predictions… controversial as they should be!


Janders Dean @jandersdean:

This rocks.


Legal Typist @LegalTypist:

This is a good read.


Totum @totumtalks:

Top work this.


BeeHBee‏ @bhamiltonbruce:

2019 the year of do more with what you’ve already got.


Chrissie Wolfe @CWolfe_LAB:

Mr @BrianInkster cutting through the innovation circus with some sound observations about the #Lawtech market as usual.


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