Dr. Roland Vogl is a lawyer, scholar and media entrepreneur and outstanding legal tech pioneer. He is Executive Director of the Stanford Program in Law, Science and Technology and Co-Founder of the famous Center for Legal Informatics (CodeX) at Stanford. I was thrilled to conduct this interview which touches upon various aspects of legal tech and its recent and future developments:
Micha-Manuel Bues: Dear Roland, thanks for joining me. How did an Austrian lawyer end up in the Bay Area teaching at one of the most prestigious universities in the U.S.?
Roland Vogl: Thank you, Micha. It’s a pleasure to speak with you. I came to Stanford in 1999 as a Masters student in the Stanford Program in International Legal Studies. It was not my initial intention to remain in the U.S. However, I fell in love with California and the energy and enthusiasm of Silicon Valley and I found myself looking for ways to stay. I found work as an intellectual property lawyer at a high-tech law firm (Fenwick & West). When an opening for a teaching fellow position for the new LLM Program in Law, Science and Technology became available at Stanford Law School, I applied and got the job. I subsequently became Executive Director of the Stanford Program in Law, Science and Technology, an academic umbrella program at the law school that has a number of constituent centers that work on different aspects of law and technology.
Why did you co-found CodeX almost eight years ago and what was your involvement in the establishment of the center?
The short answer is because I am passionate about technology and the law. I find building technology to solve legal information problems is exciting and rewarding, and also a creative effort.
The long story is that my former boss at Stanford Law School, Professor Margaret Jane Radin, knew Computer Science Professor Michael Genesereth, and had been a guest lecturer in his class to explain legal concepts to CS students. Radin, Genesereth, and others with a strong interest in legal technology (including Josh Walker, now general counsel at Airbus Silicon Valley, and Harry Surden, now a Professor at University of Colorado) and I decided to organize a workshop to start thinking about how technology can help improve the way our legal system operates.
Most of the other work conducted under the Law, Science and Technology umbrella at Stanford to that date was focused on the law of technology. We saw an opportunity to bring technology to the law. In the 1980s, Genesereth had worked with the artificial intelligence and law research community. But he saw new opportunities to apply advanced information technology in legal settings because of the Internet—the vast amount of data about people that had become available through the Internet and the new progress in expressing legal concepts and logic in computable form.
We brainstormed for a weekend about how to best advance work in this area and concurred that the best route would be to create an interdisciplinary center with the mission of bringing information technology to the legal system. We tossed around a few different names; I proposed “CodeX” as a name that would best encapsulate our excitement about work at the intersection of legal and computer code. Of course, there are many other useful metaphors with regard to the name CodeX. We believe that this new era of computable law pushes our legal system into a fundamentally new era, much as the CodeX Hammurabi did as the first set of rules that were written down/set in stone.
In your own words, what is CodeX about? How would you describe the main activities of CodeX?
CodeX is in my mind a collective of people enthusiastic and passionate about bringing technology to the legal system.
What would you perceive as the greatest successes of CodeX so far? Which developments and activities would you like to see expanded in the future?
We have had significant successes in terms of creating research projects that–in the typical Stanford fashion—became start-ups that are now bringing exciting new technologies to legal professionals as well as consumers. Lex Machina (recently acquired by LexisNexis), SIPX (recently acquired by Proquest), Ravel, Casetext, Judicata, LawGives/Legal.io, all have Stanford and CodeX people as their founders. They are changing the way we find and process legal information and connect with people with legal expertise. These are all important successes for CodeX.
Almost equally important is that we were able to create a place where anyone with an interesting idea for bringing technology to the legal system can feel welcome and comfortable to share his or her ideas and get feedback and help from other legal technologists. We have workshops, weekly sessions where legal tech entrepreneurs or academics share their projects, we have a large conference every year (CodeX FutureLaw, this year on May 20th. (Come join us for that event!!) We also have legal innovation “lightning rounds” at the Legaltech tradeshows organized by ALM and held in New York and San Francisco.
It’s been our goal to bridge the scholarly world of legal technology, AI and law, with the world of “lawntrepreneurialism.” I think we’re making inroads there. It’s also our goal to bring legal technology closer to the members of the more traditional legal profession, and I think we’re also making progress there.
Our research agenda is focused on advancing computable law, i.e., the subfield of legal informatics that is based on the explicit representation of laws in computable form. This allows us to automate and mechanize legal analysis. A number of affiliated projects advance the state of the art in big data law, and legal research technologies.
I would like us to do more on access to justice (A2J). In the U.S., legal services are unaffordable to a large portion of the population. Legal technology can really help there. I would also like to see us do more on making the government more accessible and transparent through use of technology.
In my view, CodeX does some amazing pioneering work in the field of Legal Tech and successfully promotes the idea that technology can help lawyers to render better services for their clients. However, lawyers and law firms seem to be slow to adopt Legal Tech. In your view, what needs to change in terms of legal education to strengthen the technological expertise of law students and lawyers?
I feel that the digital natives—who are now in law school or just out and entering the legal profession—are driving much of the innovation we are seeing in legal technology today. They don’t accept that the clunky legacy systems frequently used in law firms are an unavoidable, necessary evil. They understand how technology makes their lives easier in various areas of their lives and see no reason why it should not do the same in legal practice.
Law schools should offer legal technology courses. There is a debate as to whether these should be standalone courses or integrated with the core subjects. For example in a contracts class, the teacher would also teach about contract management technologies, all the way to the more cutting-edge smart contracts and computable contracts that are now being developed for the blockchain (i.e., the technology behind BitCoin).
Not all law teachers will feel comfortable with that and every law faculty will have to find its own approach. But it is clear that a law school that ignores legal technology will fail to adequately prepare its students for the world of legal practice—and that’s the whole point of law school.
I teach a Legal Informatics class at Stanford Law School with Professor Genesereth that is largely project-driven. Students can pick projects that are based on real-world business problems from some of the legal tech companies that are friends of CodeX, or they develop a project based on their own idea. They work in interdisciplinary groups. We are fortunate to get smart, enthusiastic students from Stanford Law School, the Stanford Graduate School of Business, the Computer Science Department and the School of Engineering.
I know that you are very well connected in the worldwide Legal Tech community? What are the main differences between the US and European market when it comes to Legal Tech and its usage? What are the reasons for that?
There is exciting innovation in legal technology happening all around the world. Of course, there is a very large number of legal tech players in the U.S. and Silicon Valley. The companies here are—at least at the beginning—focused primarily on the U.S. legal market, which is the largest legal services market in the world. It’s a very competitive market and for almost every arena within legal tech—be it e-discovery, contract management, research technology, practice management, legal databases etc.—there are numerous competitors offering legal tech options. The European market is more fragmented due to the different languages and legal systems, and the various national markets may be still a bit less competitive than the U.S. market. That’s great news for aspiring legal tech entrepreneurs in those countries.
There also is a different culture in Europe in terms of funding start-ups in general. Venture capital funding is not as common in Europe as it is in Silicon Valley. That said, VC funding also is not so readily available for companies operating in the U.S. legal tech arena, compared to other industries that are currently more attractive to VCs.
More generally speaking, the U.S. legal market has faced a constant rhetoric of a crisis in the industry, at least since the recession. Certainly, we have seen the collapse of “Big Law” firms, as well as the termination of senior partners at major firms, and associate lay-offs.
We have also seen a significant dip in law school applications. After the dip in law firm revenue during the 2008/09 recession, there has been much slower growth in revenue compared to the years before. According to the “2016 Georgetown Report on the State of the Legal Market,” demand for law firm services is flat. Law firms are now facing competition from a variety of new players including Alternative Business Structures, Legal Process Outsourcers, non-law-firm providers of legal and quasi-legal services—and also from their corporate clients whose legal departments are insourcing much legal work that previously was handled by the external law firm. The good news is—as the Georgetown Report highlights—that firms that have responded proactively to changing client expectations by making strategic changes to their lawyer staffing, service delivery, and pricing models are outperforming their peers in terms of financial results.
Overall, in the U.S. market, which really is the market that I know the best, tech innovation is growing in importance. We see innovation across different areas in legal technology, including document retrieval, “Big Data law,”computational law (computable contracts), infrastructure management (client and case management, legal process engineering), online dispute resolution (ODR). The rate of adoption varies of course across law firms.
In your view, what are the main trends for Legal Tech in the next years? What is the “hottest” market for legal entrepreneurs to be in at the moment?
There are many interesting developments and much has been written in recent years about AI and law; IBM’s Watson in the legal setting; Big Data law; legal prediction; smart contracts… I think those are currently the hot fields. It’s usually best to start from a place of a real business case/use case that solves a problem for certain stakeholders.
A lot of legal information is still in natural language form that computers have difficulty to comprehend. The more we structure legal information (be it in legislation, court rulings or contracts, etc.) in a way that computers can more easily access and process the information, the more the workings of law will become analyzable and understandable to the people who are working with the law and those who are subject to it.
The legal entrepreneurs who understand where computers can be used to make legal expertise available, automate legal processes and embed legal information in the systems that we use every day, will find great commercial opportunities in the coming years. In particular, if they take a human-focused legal design thinking approach, they will be drivers of this exciting transformation of our legal system.
Dr. Roland Vogl is a lawyer, scholar and media entrepreneur who, after nearly fifteen years of professional and academic experience, has developed a strong expertise in intellectual property and media law, innovation, and legal informatics. Currently, he is Executive Director of the Stanford Program in Law, Science and Technology (LST) and a Lecturer in Law at Stanford Law School. He focuses his efforts on legal informatics work carried out in the Center for Legal Informatics (CodeX), which he co-founded and leads as Executive Director. Also, he researches international technology law through the Transatlantic Technology Law Forum (TTLF), a think-tank dedicated to transatlantic tech law and policy issues. Dr. Vogl initiated and spearheaded the development of the Stanford Intellectual Property Exchange, a Stanford research initiative focused on solving content licensing inefficiencies in higher education. The initiative was spun off from Stanford in Fall of 2012 as a privately held company, SIPX Inc., which was acquired by ProQuest LLC in 2015. Dr. Vogl is a co-founder of SIPX Inc. and served on its Board of Directors. Dr. Vogl is also a Visiting Professor at the University of Vienna, Austria where he teaches about United States intellectual property law; and a Senior Fellow (by courtesy) at the Berkeley Informatics Lab. In addition, Dr. Vogl serves as a member of the Editorial Advisory Board of Law Technology News, a publication of ALM (American Lawyer Media) and of the Legaltech West Coast Advisory Board. He is also a member of the Strategic Advisory Boards of AdviseHub, Inc, IPNexus, Inc., LegalForce, Inc., and.LiTIQ, Inc.
Previously, he co-founded and served as CFOO of Vator.tv, a next-generation business social media company, leveraging community-generated content to create data services and news. His experience also includes working as the first teaching fellow of Stanford Law School’s international LLM degree program in Law, Science and Technology, as an IP associate at Fenwick & West LLP, as a press associate at the European Parliament and as a law clerk at the European Commission’s Directorate General for Audiovisual Media, Information and Communication.
Vogl holds both a Dr.iur. (JSD) and a Mag.iur. (JD) from Leopold-Franzens University of Innsbruck, Austria as well as a JSM from Stanford Law School.