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Technology does not always drive innovation

Technology does not always drive innovation. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is also taking place in the legal sector and it is the time to stop to ponder and consider the true innovation that technology brings into our lives as legal professionals. In this article I expose the different pillars that comprise effective innovation, which are not always technological. 

Professor Klaus Schwab, founder and CEO of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in English), explains that we are at the beginning of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a revolution that will change the way we live, work and relate to each other. 

Without doubt this revolution is also taking place in the legal sector, we just have to look at the proliferation of technological solutions for both businesses and legal professionals. In Spain, 2020 is seen as the year of the consolidation of Legaltech in Spain, according to María Jesús González-Espejo (expert in LegalTech and one of the most influential women in the Legaltech world in 2020). 

This would be the time to stop to ponder and consider the true innovation that technology brings to our lives as legal professionals, since undoubtedly it has already changed most of the interactions in our personal lives. 

For this purpose, we have to differentiate technology from innovation – although these often go hand in hand, not all technology is innovation, nor all innovation is technological. 

“Not all technology is innovation, nor all innovation is technological.” 

Not all technology is innovation 

Technology does not always drive innovation, or more specifically for our case, not all legal technology (or LegalTech) drives innovation. 

When I speak of LegalTech I am referring to the use of technology and software in the legal sector in its broad sense, without limiting it to the commercialization and provision of legal services. Including therefore solutions for businesses such as contract management and automation platforms for SMEs. 

Based on my years of experience as a Legal Engineer on these platforms, and in particular in the area of blockchain and smart contracts, the ease of use of a product is the first part of the equation for a technology to be truly considered an innovation. 

Ease of use of the product

Usability (…) is the extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction in a specified context of use. Effectiveness is fundamental as it is about achieving the intended goal (s). ” 

(ISO 9241-11)

In the legal sector, professionals cannot afford to waste more time than necessary trying to make a software work. In fact, a product that is not easy to use, not only does not increase the efficiency of the user but, on the contrary, it may reduce it, all despite the wonderful technology that drives it. 

The American startup Monax serves as an example, the user interface of its contract management platform was not adapted for the average user, despite having a powerful technological infrastructure (including blockchain and smart contracts). Taking for granted that technology was going to “sell itself” because it was innovative, and neglecting the usability of the software, is what has slowed the growth of the platform. 

To make a product easy to use, Legal Design would be essential. 

Talking about Legal Design is talking about the user experience, it is to focus on the user’s needs and make the products not only useful but also attractive for the end user. 

“Legal Design is an innovation approach – that means focusing on the humans within the legal system to understand where the crucial breakdowns in the system right now exist – and to make the creative leap to define what a better system might be.”

Margaret Hagan, Director of the Legal Design Lab at Stanford Law School

In that sense, technology is not as relevant as the positive change it can bring to those who use it in the legal sector. One example that I love to mention, though it’s not LegalTech, is the GPS technology. GPS is a very complex system, but it is a concept easily assimilated by an average user: with a couple of clicks, anyone can know their exact location, as well as the best routes to their destination. After all, the end user does not need to know how the GPS technology works. 

At the end of the day, the end user does not need to know how the blockchain/smart contracts/artificial intelligence/[insert innovative technology] works either. What really concerns the user is that the technology they are purchasing, really provides the innovation they are looking for. 

Once these two components (ease of use and legal design) are present in the product, we have to go on to analyze the other part of the equation: the user. 

The user

“The technology is only as good as the user”, said León Fernando Del Canto, the first Spanish Barrister in the United Kingdom, with whom I am currently working on some international legal technology projects. And he is right. 

Since my first professional experience, I have been promoting the implementation of known tools (eg: Microsoft Office) or existing firm management software (task and project management software, online file hosting services, etc.). And from my own experience, I have seen how, even after giving training to my colleagues, not everyone was able to implement the tools in their day-to-day life. 

Many times a considerable economic investment is made to implement legal technologies with the intention of providing innovation in the company, but, unfortunately, those who use them do not make a correct use of them, either due to lack of promotion from the company itself, due to ignorance of its use, or even reluctance. 

Only when we have the two parts of the equation, product and user, in the aforementioned conditions, technology can really mean innovation. If the numbers do not add up, we should invest in innovation, although this does not always imply investing in an “innovative” technology. 

In fact, a technological tool can only be implemented effectively if a prior analysis and reorganization of the existing resources and processes have been carried out. These are what we call non-technological innovation, a concept that we discuss in the next section. 

“Technology is only as good as whoever uses it.”

Not all innovation is technology 

Innovating is using knowledge, and generating it if necessary, to create products, services or processes that are new for the company, or improve existing ones, thereby achieving success in the market.” 

(Oslo Manual 1997)

To be clear, I am devoted to new technologies and I am the first one hoping to see them implemented on the day-to-day business operations. But if there are barriers in such implementation, whether in the product or in the user, I would always prioritize innovation over the implementation of these technologies. 

When I speak of innovation, from the Latin in- (“to be in”) and novus (“new”), I speak of generating novelties for the sake of utility (ability to serve a specific purpose), efficiency (ability to fulfill a function), usability (ease of use) and progress (improvements and advances). Only when these four ingredients are presented we will find ourselves in front of an effective innovation. 

In this sense, before embarking on the search or contracting of a tool with an innovative technology, it would be advisable to analyze which processes and existing tools could be optimized. New policies and improvement procedures should always be designed only after identifying the existing processes and analyzing the needs to be covered. 

These are the non-technological innovations we mentioned. There are two types of non-technological innovation that The Oslo Manual differentiates: 1) Commercial or marketing innovation, through the introduction of new marketing methods, and 2) Organizational innovation, through the introduction of new methodologies in the operation of the business. 

In any case, non-technological innovation is not exclusive of technological innovation. And for this reason, I hope that during the next few years technological innovation will be consolidated in the legal sector through products that are easy to use by end users, and that users will cooperate in their correct implementation, also relying on non-technological innovations. Only this way, technology and innovation will go hand in hand. Only this way, the Fourth Industrial Revolution will bring a true revolution to the antiquated legal sector.

This is a translation of the article “No toda tecnología es innovación” published by Chenxiao Hu Wu in A Definitivas – Portal Jurídico. To read the original version (available only in Spanish) please click here

By Chenxiao Hu Wu. Legal Technologies Counsel & Spanish Abogada at Del Canto Chambers

Article published on A Definitivas

Publication date: August 18, 2020