Israel, a country known throughout the world as the "start-up nation", prides itself on the enormous number of inventions and innovations that it has produced over 69 years since its founding – despite challenges of geography, size and diplomacy. Israeli ingenuity has brought the world drip irrigation, cherry tomato, electric car grid, Disk-on-Key, PillCam, solar windows, space camera and much more.
Israel is also the land of lawyers, with the ratio of lawyers per population reaching world record level of 1:138, compared to 1:246 in the US. Ironically, a well-known phrase, according to which "the cobbler's shoes are never fixed", would be the most appropriate to describe the state of the Israeli legal industry's involvement in innovative legal technology, at least until recently.
While Israel rightly positions itself as a technological innovation powerhouse, many Israeli lawyers seem oblivious to the disruptive forces of the new wave of advanced legal technology, such as artificial intelligence, automation, data analytics, blockchain and the like.
However, there are signs that this state of "vocational irony" is starting to unwind, and there is hope that the "cobblers" are finally going to have their "shoes" repaired, or even better – get a decent pair of new "shoes" altogether.
A great example of the rising awareness recently emerging in the local legal sphere as to the benefits of technology assistance in legal practice was Israel's 2nd legaltech conference that took place in Tel Aviv last week. In fact, "to be or not to be" wasn't the question that more than 300 participants that attended the conference asked themselves.
Sixteen of Israel's promising legaltech start-ups have displayed their products at the event, from a contract analysis tool using artificial intelligence and machine learning technology, to document management and document creation systems, to e-discovery and online dispute resolution platforms. Eight major local and international marketing, media and tech organizations, including the European Legal Technology Association (ELTA), have sponsored the event.
The conference was kick-started by Adv. Zohar Fisher, founder of Robus, one of Israel's leading legal marketing and business development consulting firms that organized the event. Zohar reminisced about how a little over two years ago, at a London legaltech conference, he first became aware of the proliferation of the legaltech field worldwide, and how he stepped into this fascinating world rather like Alice in Wonderland, thereby prompting the launch of Tech&Law Israel – the first online platform to bring legaltech news to the Israeli reader in Hebrew. Although Israel's legal industry has been relatively slow to adopt innovative legal technology compared to other countries, Zohar assured the audience, that "Legaltech is here to stay", thus setting the tone for the entire conference.
Next up was Ido Goldberg, head of Tech&Law Israel, who spoke about Tech&Law's initiatives over the past year, including launching a database of Israeli legaltech companies and promoting the development of Israel's legaltech community both locally and abroad. Ido finished off by stating that the present of legaltech in many developed countries worldwide will soon become the future of Israeli legaltech industry and encouraged the representatives of the local legal market to take a more active role in the development of this field.
The first keynote speaker, Mike Sims, president of BARBRI, an international company widely regarded as a leading provider of legal education and bar exam preparation services, came to Tel Aviv all the way from the US to discuss the incorporation of legal technology into the education of lawyers. Mike illustrated how little has changed over the past decades in the way lawyers are educated, with casebooks and written words on chalkboards still being the main sources of legal knowledge, and PowerPoint presentations being passed off as "technology" in the classrooms of many legal education institutions. Instead, he proposed approaching legal education in a different way by providing students with more interactive technological tools, beyond online learning, that would create a truly engaging and transformative method of learning meeting students' needs of not just knowing what the law is, but also when and how to apply it.
Next was my turn to explore the development of knowledge management and legal technology in law firms in Israel and worldwide. As a Legal Knowledge Manager at Fischer Behar Chen Well Orion & Co., one of Israel’s leading law firms regarded one of the pioneers in the field of knowledge management in the Israeli legal arena, I shared my view on some of the main challenges currently occupying Israeli law firms, such as data structuring and information retrieval, and how knowledge management and legaltech can help in overcoming them. While seeking to provide practical advice to local legaltech entrepreneurs, I encouraged them to start daring and building the new wave of Israeli legal technology, as I believe in the power of the saying that "if you build it, they will come". As John Kennedy declared that "a rising tide lifts all ships", I concluded by envisioning positive future developments in the fields of knowledge management and legal technology in the local legal scene.
Last but not least, it was Zach Abramowitz, cofounder of ReplyAll, a platform used by websites to host dynamic conversations among multiple experts, and one of the leading international writers on legal technology and innovation, who took the stage and explained the difference between legal innovation and legal technology. Zach pointed out, that innovation is not necessarily related to "sexy" new technology, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, and illustrated several examples of successful companies changing the legal landscape, that are blending technology along with innovation. For instance, Axiom, who initially focused on providing in-house legal departments with secondments as a less expensive alternative to law firms or to full-time hires, hasn't offered any technology assistance until recently. As Zack emphasized, the value of technology without innovation is questionable, urging the audience to first start being innovative or risk being left behind by the industry's changes.
To sum up, the 2nd legaltech conference was the biggest Israeli legal technology event yet. Lawyers, entrepreneurs, legaltech vendors, media and academia representatives and many tech enthusiasts took part in this memorable occasion. This conference has hopefully marked a new chapter in the history of Israel's legaltech industry. And who knows, in a country celebrated as the "start-up nation", with innovation and entrepreneurship as its native languages and the highest number of lawyers per capita in the world, perhaps we might soon see Israel becoming a "legaltech nation" as well.
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