Friday, March 13, 2009

Law Department Operations - Plato and Socrates Wrestle with Legal Technology

I just finished Anathem, the latest novel by Neal Stephenson. Even by Stephenson’s wildly creative standards, the book itself is pretty “out there”. Set in the future, Stephenson speculates about religion, war, technology, and believe it or not, multiple universe theory.

To me, one of the most interesting parts of the book was Stephenson’s attempts to disguise a discussion of classical philosophy in the clothes of a sci-fi novel. He does this by creating a battle between two monastic sects: one clearly adherent to Platonic idealism, the other to the dialectics of Socrates. Although he never mentions either philosopher by name, Stephenson runs through their dialogues in a way that highlights the differences –- and points of intersection -– between the two. Moreover, by couching classical philosophy in unfamiliar garb, Stephenson gives himself free reign to expand on the ideas -- and warp them -- as he sees fit.

But what the heck does this have to do with law department management and legal spend management? In short, Anathem got me to thinking about how Socratic dialectic could help solve what I view as one of the biggest impediments to the future of legal technology. Essentially, the problem is this: we have two different, and seemingly incompatible, types of legal systems. One on hand, you have the structured, “backbone” systems like ERP systems that are essential to the efficient operations of an enterprise and have the clear benefit of demonstrable ROI. In legal tech, both basic matter management and spend management fall into this category. These solutions are platonic in that they assume perfect input will result in perfect output. In other words, if you create a perfect matter, you can attain a perfect understanding of that matter. If each of the matters in a portfolio were equally perfect, the combination would also be perfect, or to Plato, ideal.

Unfortunately, as Socrates tells us, you can't really know anything except through semantics and context. The same goes for systems. I do not need to tell anyone who has worked with data that neither the data that goes into a system, nor the data that comes out, is ever perfect. For this reason, we need context. In Socratic terms, we need semantics to create meaning from an insoluble problem. In my terms, we need metadata, both structured and unstructured, to add context to a matter. Currently,
T360 enables users to use collaboration tools to supplement matter and financial data with a variety of critical meta-data. In addition, there are other excellent point solutions that can be used to supplement basic matter information. A couple of the best examples include data hosting providers like CT Summation’s CaseVault and sites that rely on Web 2.0 tools like Legal OnRamp.

Fortunately, it looks like we may have reached an historic moment where structured and unstructured data can be correlated in ways that optimize law department and claims operations. Much in the same way CT TyMetrix 360° was first to integrate the point solutions of matter management, e-billing, and document management into a single platform for the management of law department operations, we are on the cusp of integrating T360 with the industry leaders in document hosting and Web 2.0 for the legal profession. By complementing our enterprise legal management platform with on-demand solutions for handling unstructured data, we will synthesize the formerly incompatible systems to optimize law department productivity. The combination will result in a more perfect understanding of all aspects of law department operations.

There’s no way to know but I’m guessing that that's an outcome that even classical philosophers would consider “ideal”.

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