Law Firms Must Adapt to Remain Relative

By: Stephen Anderson

Law and Tech

Much like oil and water, the legal industry and technology have never seemed to be very compatible.  Whether it is the outdated filing systems in many courts around the nation or the hesitation to make use of new technology, our country’s legal framework has failed to utilize the significant leaps in technology that have taken place over the past few decades. Regardless of the reason, this is cause for concern. However, slowly but surely, technology has started to become integrated into the law and its administrative framework in recent years. Specifically, some legal technology startups have made some serious inroads into these law firm silos.

Overall, legal tech startups are growing in prominence and sheer size.  Arguably, the most impressive aspect of tech startups is the multitude of ways they are affecting the legal industry.  Online service providers, such as Rocket Lawyer, have become mainstream, alternative options for straightforward legal aid.  Legal markets such as Intellectual Property software and practice management software have all seen a large increase in the presence of startups.  Additionally, new markets such as eDiscovery can attribute their rise (and, to a certain extent, their existence) to legal tech startups.  This is only the beginning.  The legal industry is in a dire need of a technological disruption, by which, legal tech startups may improve on a variety of aspects of the industry.  A great example of such potential is Relativity, formerly known as kCura. [1]

The Potential of Relativity

At a basic level, Relativity helps law firms and corporations organize data through their eDiscovery software platform, which subsequently cuts their costs and saves them significant time.  Although that may sound simple enough, the ability to comb through data in a much more efficient manner is priceless for law firms.  While Relativity’s current business plan is exciting, it may be just the tip of the iceberg. 

The eDiscovery market is primed to take off.  The market is estimated to become a $20 billion-dollar business within the next 5 years, and many eDiscovery companies are not going to stop at legal.  They believe there is opportunity for growth into a number of different industries. [2] If that is not exciting enough, the real potential lies within Relativity’s platform. Simply put, their platform has the ability to play a large part in the continued growth of legal tech startups.  

To better appreciate the potential that Relativity’s platform provides, it is first necessary to understand Relativity, and its many capabilities, itself.  The company and its suite of products revolve around data, and their ability to quickly utilize that data in a number of different ways that are useful to law firms and companies alike.  To give a frame of reference on the amount of data that Relativity manages, here are a few statistics.  They have 95 billion files under management, over 160,000 active users, and over 13,000 unique organizations that use the Relativity platform.  Additionally, 75 of the Fortune 100 companies and 195 of the Am Law 200 use Relativity. [3].  Whether a law firm needs to prepare evidence for litigation or work through corporate data pertaining to a merger, Relativity’s eDiscovery software is key to their tasks.  Needless to say, Relativity is already having a significant impact on the legal industry.  Now, their platform could make that impact even larger by supporting not only their own product, but those of other tech startups, as well.

The Hub: Relativity’s Playground

The platform allows third parties, such as legal support professionals, independent consultants, and software providers, to extend Relativity’s functionality by integrating applications into the platform.  They do this under an umbrella they call the Relativity App Hub (the “Hub”).  The goal of the Hub is to allow Relativity’s users to have options regarding solutions to a number of problems they may face across the various stages of eDiscovery.  The possibilities do not end there.  While the platform is used for eDiscovery, the Hub also fosters applications aimed at solving data challenges outside this service.  All of these applications are prime examples of innovative solutions to the traditional legal framework.  The process is relatively simple.  Once you are a Relativity client, you have access to the Hub, which integrates the applications made by separate tech startups onto the Relativity platform.

A brief look at Relativity’s website shows applications that can be utilized on their platform, with a variety of potential uses ranging from contract analysis to project management. [4] Take for example Heretik, an application for contract review utilizing machine-learning capabilities. [5] As such, Heretik expands the scope of Relativity by allowing consumers to have more efficient and cost effective contract review across a number of teams by eliminating tedious tasks that are essential to contract review.  Although this may sound simple, the heart of its accomplishment should not be overlooked.  Eliminating time-consuming tasks through machine learning allows law firms to allocate human capital and financial resources to much more important and useful tasks.

At the end of the day, the biggest challenge for Relativity and its competitors is educating its consumers.  As previously discussed, law firms are notoriously resistant to change.  As a result, Relativity and its Hub represent an innovative solution to the steep learning curve that accompanies much of new technology nowadays. Law firms will not have to spend time (and money) to teach their lawyers and professional staff how to use any unfamiliar software that is built on the Relativity platform.  The staff will be familiar with Relativity and, therefore, should learn how to operate any new applications on the Hub seamlessly.  Most of the applications on the Hub will include another paywall, but the decision regarding whether or not to pay additional fees is one for Relativity’s clients to make.  For savvier clients, the Hub also gives them the ability to create their own custom Relativity applications.  The fact that law firms now have these options is an achievement in and of itself that should be celebrated.

Future Aspirations

Lets face it - a lawyer learning new technology can be a recipe for disaster.  Generally speaking, it is in our nature to become accustom to a certain way of accomplishing certain things, especially in regards to technology (look no further than Apple dependency and many peoples reluctance to use and fully utilize Excel).  Lawyers and the law industry are no different.  Although a platform such as Relativity has not been utilized (or scaled) in the legal industry before, Relativity and its supporters should look to Salesforce as inspiration.  Salesforce is clearly much bigger than Relativity, but, nevertheless, it has had a number of successful companies built on top of its platform.  They may not reach the same heights, but at the very least there is a successful blueprint readily available.

At the end of the day, the benefits provided by legal innovations improve the services provided to the client.  Law firms save time and money, Relativity cultivates innovation in the legal tech startup space, and lawyers themselves are able to purse through and utilize data that in a more efficient manner than ever before. Simply put, law firms, big and small alike, will (eventually) use technology reflective of the time we live in.  In order to improve client service, the standard in the legal industry should be to remain abreast of available technological services. Tech startups are at the heart of that aspiration and Relativity is an early example of a company providing a means for them to reach the legal world.