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Most of Legalweek’s conference attendees would likely agree that the future is bright for technology in legal services delivery, but there seems to be far more variability on where exactly technology is likely to expand the most.

Panelists at Legalweek’s last panel of the conference, “Predictions on the Future of e-Discovery Law, Business, and Practice,” were asked to cast predictions about the future of the practice. Moderator David Horrigan, e-discovery counsel and legal content director at kCura, armed panelists with loud buzzers to approve or reject fellow panelists’ ideas.

The panel and crowd had a lively debate over these proposed ideas:

Judge James Francis IV, U.S. magistrate judge: “E-discovery costs are headed up.”

With the vast expanse of data streams available, Francis predicted that attorneys will be likely to start bringing new kinds of data to the table in litigation. That said, without the sophistication to do cost-effective e-discovery tools to new kinds of data, the average cost of getting through relevant data is likely to trend upward.

Although courts call for proportionality of data in litigation, Francis said this standard is still today mostly a pipe dream. “Proportionality unfortunately, at least for the near term, is mostly a buzzword. I think it’s a great aspiration, but I’ve seen so many lawyers who simply include it in their list of objections,” he said of his experience on the bench.

“The volume is simply going to outstrip out ability to apply principles like proportionality,” he added.

Dan Katz, professor of law at Chicago-Kent College of Law: “Law will become an applied branch of finance.”

Katz proposed to the audience that legal technology’s future will be rife with overlap with “fintech,” technology designed for the financial services industry. “I think that legal tech and fintech are kind of on a collision course with one another,” he said.

But Katz’ proposal broadened out even further. “Law will become an applied branch of finance,” he said. Katz explained that so much of law hinges today on its financing, and thus the statistical models needed to account for the business of law will start to guide law practice itself.

The audience gasped. Panelists appreciated Katz’ logic, but disagreed with his conclusion. “There’s a lot to learn from financial services,” Dennis Garcia said. “But I don’t see for the foreseeable future the legal profession being subsumed by the financial services industry.”

“I see finance and law becoming more like branches of mathematics,” Francis countered.

Monica Bay, Stanford CodeX fellow: “The end of the billable hour is near.”

Bay’s prediction spoke to the power of the consumer and outside market pressures from legal service startups, bar associations, consultants and other legal support arenas. She noted there tends to be a lot of “protectionism” from lawyers about the unique value they offer as attorneys, but ultimately “lawyers’ entire jobs are going to dramatically change because they need these other people to be able to participate.”

Panelists had mixed feelings, but generally agreed that the pressure consumers exert on the legal market is pushing attorneys from their singular reliance on the billable hour. Garcia and Andy Jimenez noted that companies such as Microsoft and FRONTEO are generally interested in more creative fee arrangements.

Katz added that these new payment strategies may encourage attorneys away from the billable hour, noting that “the billable hour goes away in a world where you can actually get more money by not doing it.” Francis, in contrast, thought the billable hour might have more staying power than it gets credit for.

Dennis Garcia, assistant general counsel at Microsoft: “Big Law will be in the cloud within the year.”

Garcia’s prediction was among the most accepted by other panelists and audience members. Big data loss in breaches, he said, would encourage Big Law firms and executives to continue their trajectory into public cloud space. This prediction is not entirely a neutral one from Garcia: Microsoft’s Azure is among the biggest public cloud providers, and its Office 365 suite is hosted in the cloud.

Regardless, the panel provided resounding agreement to Garcia’s prediction, even given the strict timeline. Francis and Jimenez both agreed that the prediction was likely a safe bet, especially given the added pressure to secure data effectively.

The audience was also largely in agreement about the likelihood of a full-scale move to the cloud. When Horrigan polled the room, only one person said that she had enough security concerns about cloud hosting, especially with private cloud servers, to avoid it.

Andy Jimenez, CEO of FRONTEO: “E-discovery will drastically change because of advances in AI.”

Though e-discovery remains one of the hottest areas for legal technology, Jimenez said that the industry has to keep looking for ways to innovate and cut out unnecessary processes. “We have to evolve,” he said.

Jimenez predicted that advances in artificial intelligence technology, predictive coding and machine learning are likely to cut out up to “80 percent of what we consider e-discovery today.” As a result, Jimenez said that work around e-discovery is likely to shift as well. “We’re going to be closer to becoming consultants,” he added.

Panelists generally agreed that e-discovery is likely to see major shifts, but varied on how much legal leaders really need to understand the mechanics of e-discovery. “I’m so not under the hood,” Bay conceded on e-discovery work, but said that she didn’t really need to be. “It’s a matter of being knowledgeable about what you know and what you don’t know,” she said, quoting Judge Andrew Peck’s famed call to “bring your geek to court.” 

Contact Gabrielle Orum Hernández at ghernández@alm.com.