Photo by Geoff Greenwood via Unsplash.  Rot Fai Train Night Market, Thailand / The legal market is just as fragmented and complicated, and more painful to navigate.

Legal markets are chaotic.  For innovators, that chaos can be a pit or a ladder – depending on how quickly they can find a market to serve.

We get it.  Legal innovation feels slow.  Very, very slow.

Popular theories for the seemingly glacial pace of change include lawyer personalities, legacy compensation structures, or the lack of access to innovation capital.  In past posts, I’ve criticized over-reliance on narratives that hinge on “because lawyers” generally (051) and vilifying Big Law partners specifically (054).  In Part I (062) of this series, I summarized recent trends in capital flow into the legal vertical.

Click to enlarge / A market-based view of legal innovation adoption should consider two separate groups.

In Part II, the aim is to take a deeper dive into the concrete implications of the structural features that make the legal industry a particularly inhospitable environment for innovation.  See Post 051 (legal markets are balkanized and opaque).  Both buyers and users are unusually difficult to identify and access due to the widespread opacity of legal markets.  Access to users is necessary to validate and iterate new offerings toward a complete “whole product” solution. See Post 024 (discussing need of whole product to “cross the chasm”). Meanwhile, inefficient access to buyers lengthens an already-long sales cycle, increasing cost, time and difficulty of taking new offerings to market.

What does such a market look and feel like for innovators and change agents?  What barriers stand in the way of their efforts to develop and socialize new ideas toward broad market adoption?

Innovators Must Answer Two Critical Questions

I read a lot of business books.  For fun.  (Because 🤓🤓🤓).

My two favorite business books are both authored by Roger Martin, longtime outside strategist to Procter & Gamble and the leading pioneer who actually spread business design across corporate America.  Playing to Win (co-authored with A.G. Lafley of P&G) is the best book ever written on strategic decision-making: how to frame choices and then decide on the best path forward.  The second is The Design of Business, which is the seminal work on why and how to integrate design principles into business strategy.  (I 💖 Roger Martin.)

Martin’s approach to strategic choices is both accessible and tractable.  They comprise five essential questions that must be answered coherently and cohesively, in a manner that is evidence-based and customized to the current competitive position of each market participant:

Of these, the second and third questions are of paramount value to legal innovators of all stripes.  Whether incumbent or new entrant, all innovators must make these two choices fairly early, and both have wide- and long-ranging implications on eventual success or failure.  Hence, answering these questions logically and rigorously is a task that is both urgent and important: which market segments to serve and how to offer those segments a value proposition that is superior to current market alternatives.

There are several reasons that where to play and how to win choices are uniquely and deeply related.  Of Martin’s five questions, these two knit together to form the underpinning logic of a company’s strategy and its chief hypotheses about what the market needs, wants, and is likely to buy.  (The other three questions are more internally focused on the company.)

(Sustainable, Intentional) Success Takes a Lot of Work 😮😰😩

Answering these two questions, particularly in the legal services segment, is a ridiculous amount of difficult and taxing work: both brain work (lots and lots of desk research, analysis, thinking and thinking and more thinking) and legwork (literally hitting the bricks to have messy and often uncomfortable conversations with really busy people who don’t care about your questions).  In our prior lives at Seyfarth Shaw, Josh Kubicki and I often did this work together.  One of his (my?) favorite sayings is particularly relevant today:  “Nobody sets out to fail, and many play just to play, but too few play to win.”  (Josh 💖s Roger Martin as well).

The chief reason I think that too few play to win is because it’s difficult to formulate good theories or plans in a vacuum.  Innovators tend to be smart, but a lot of smart people have what Paul Graham of Y Combinator calls “schlep blindness.”  Schlep is Yiddish for “a tedious, unpleasant task.”  Graham says that schleps are inevitable for startups (and I’d say that applies to legal innovation), but he also says that we dislike schlep so much that sometimes our unconscious will block out any idea that includes a lot of painful schlep.

There is a lot of hype around legal innovation, and there is a lot of backlash and fatigue emanating from that hype.  I think the prevalence of hype at least in part arises from our subconscious or unconscious avoidance of contact with reality.

Unfortunately, I can’t make the schlep go away by publishing (even something so very long) online, and I can’t force individual innovation teams venture into the wild to test their thinking while I’m sitting at my desk.

What I can do today is try my best to dissipate our collective schlep blindness.

Where to Play: What Are You Innovating, for Whom and How? 

Where to play choices sound as though they are purely about our target markets, but the best options usually blend a deep understanding of both markets and offerings, as well as the dynamic interplay between the two.

Markets are comprised of customers, and customers are defined by both demographic and psychographic attributes that inform needs and wants.  This is where design principles and the focus on human-centered innovation pay dividends in developing new offerings with market viability.  Design-driven firms are able to more consistently and effectively generate insights about unmet needs that are as-yet unknown by the customers themselves.

As covered in several past posts, the legal industry is a highly chaotic space that is difficult to understand. See, e.g., Post 051 graphic.  Much like a endless bazaar of hundreds of vendors hawking their respective wares, legal markets feature extreme variation in both buyer and seller groups.

Refresher: Extreme Balkanization & Fractal Opacity

The below graphic (reproduced from 051)  visualizes the evolving landscape of legal service providers, along the two-hemisphere model advanced by Heinz and Laumann (buyers) and Susskind’s bespoke-to-commoditized continuum (sellers). See Henderson, What is more important for lawyers: where you go to law school or what you learned? (Part II), Legal Whiteboard (July 19, 2015).

Click to enlarge

And this complexity is fractal.  For corporate legal functions, the size, shape and configuration has material implications on their needs/wants as well as the organizational capacity and slack to try new things.  The below graphic (reproduced from 005) takes a more granular approach relative to the Heinz-Laumann model: it categorizes the universe of clients into six broad types based on size and organizational structure.

The next graphic (reproduced from 048) overlays Rogers’ adopter types onto the client typology to explain why we continually talk past each other in confusing conversations about what clients need and want.  In the below graphic, the orange zones represent some continuation of the legacy model of legal service delivery: one-to-one consultative legal advice.  Meanwhile, the blue zones represent market segments where at least some one-to-many legal solutions are gaining traction, and light blue borders represent growing innovation awareness.   See Susskind, The End of Lawyers? (2010) (introducing one-to-one and one-to-many terminology).


Lawyers who play in different subsegments face difficulty sharing knowledge and insights.


Market Segments Gravitate Toward Specific Innovation Plays

Now, let’s look at the broad range of innovation offerings being developed in the legal space.  The below graphic attempts to categorize the most prevalent legal innovation plays into five broad categories.

Click to enlarge

Three quick points of interest on these five categories follow.

1. Hard Ceiling on Pure-Play Legal Tech   

Post 062 cited a CB Insights estimate that nearly $1bn of capital was invested in legal tech between 2013 and 2017.  In that post, I posited that a disproportionate amount of capital was funding efforts with insufficient upside for the end-user of services.  The reason is because pure-play tech innovations generally sell into incumbent service providers (e.g. law firms and some law departments riding the insourcing wave).  In that sense, these technology startups are geared to serving law firms or law departments (platform enhancement) and individual practitioners and legal professionals (lawyer enablement).

All five categories of innovation plays can and do include technology components.  However, in 2018 the legal industry largely remains a service-focused vertical.  Absent a sci-fi scenario of singularity and sentient AI brought to life overnight (not likely), there is a firm ceiling on pure-play tech startups to transform the legal buy or service consumption experience of end-users, if only for the reason that many pure-play tech startups aren’t even thinking about end-user clients.  They are thinking about lawyers and law firms.

If the legal industry is to continue its march along Susskind’s predictions (from a one-to-one consultative model to a one-to-many solutions model), then existing service models, revenue models and business models must be innovated wholesale or new ones designed from the ground up.  At least in the corporate segment, most pure-play legal tech will be limited to driving incremental gains for existing service providers.

2. “Whole Product” Substitutes Share Disruptor Attributes (and Favor New Entrants) 

The word “disruption” (much like its close cousin “innovation”) has been overused and misused to the point of meaninglessness — not just in legal, but everywhere.  And yet, the term “disruptive innovation” has always and still does encompass specific and precise features of market conditions and participant choices.

The dangers of overly broad usage is best described in the words of the originator himself:

The problem with conflating a disruptive innovation with any breakthrough that changes an industry’s competitive patterns is that different types of innovation require different strategic approaches. To put it another way, the lessons we’ve learned about succeeding as a disruptive innovator (or defending against a disruptive challenger) will not apply to every company in a shifting market. If we get sloppy with our labels or fail to integrate insights from subsequent research and experience into the original theory, then managers may end up using the wrong tools for their context, reducing their chances of success. Over time, the theory’s usefulness will be undermined.

Cf. Clayton Christensen, Michael Raynor, and Rory McDonald, “What Is Disruptive Innovation?“, Harv Bus Rev (Dec. 2015).  And the specific features of disruptive innovations is also best recapped by the authors in the below graphic:

Many new entrants posing a remote yet real existential threat to Big Law exhibit a key feature of the disruptor playbook: narrow focus to gain a foothold in a lower-margin segment.  This is a sharp contrast to law firms (e.g., established incumbents who currently serve  more profitable customers in mainstream markets and the high end); by and large, the Am Law 200 have been on an extended trajectory toward consolidation to establish full-service capabilities in more markets.

In effect, the Am Law 200 are behaving and competing like incumbents on a sustaining trajectory to gain wallet and market share in more profitable segments of the market.  Meanwhile, new entrant players offering “whole product” substitutes to one-to-one legal advice are taking market share one niche at a time.

This is a critical where to play choice for two reasons: (a) positioning and (b) validation.

(a) Positioning.  Firstly, it enables them to take full advantage of Moore’s lessons on positioning.  See Post 024 (summarizing how to position/describe a new offering).

  • For instance, Atrium‘s positioning is admirably narrow and admirably clear.  (Note: the positioning statement is my formulation based on Atrium’s marketing and PR).  For leading-edge technology startups who need legal representation from business-minded lawyers focused on making (not blocking) deals, Atrium is a new law firm uniting high-caliber lawyers with best-in-class technology and operations.  Unlike traditional firms like Wilson Sonsini, Cooley, or Gunderson Dettmer, Atrium understands the stress and demands of startup founders because we are founded, designed and led by serial entrepreneurs who have founded and grown companies to exit, raised capital, and invested in other startups.
  • In contrast, LegalZoom and RocketLawyer are both substitution plays that target a different zone in the legal market: individual and small business owner segments.  To the extent they aim for scale by leveraging extensive content assets (legal documents), they utilize a time/labor displacement lever.  That said, both LegalZoom and RocketLawyer are backed by access to legal advice from lawyers on a subscription-based revenue model (a legal buy innovation).  In other words, a whole product solution not only requires a service component, but a cohesive packaging of production, delivery, and revenue models that all work together for a specific customer segment that shares clearly defined needs and wants.

(b) Validation.  Secondly, a narrow focus better positions startups to validate their where to play choice very quickly.  If they fail to do so, startups recognize the urgent need to pivot.  In the parlance of Eric RiesLean Startup methodology (widely used across Silicon Valley), new ventures must test and iterate quickly toward two types of fit: (i) Problem-Solution Fit; and (ii) Product-Market Fit.

Problem-Solution Fit (PSF) requires open access to users in the target segment to formulate and refine.  PSF is an early-stage milestone that is critical to user research and product/service/solution design, but it is more akin to a prototyping and R&D exercise than a commercial one:

  • Problem: Identify a problem customers care about, understand why they care and what’s at stake in terms of pains experienced and gains desired
  • Solution: Design an offering that addresses the problem, prevents or relieves the articulated pain, and delivers the desired gain

Product-Market Fit (PMF) generally requires repeated and fluid access to both users and buyers to iterate and refine.  PMF is not a one-time threshold, but an overall success factor that is derived from measures of traction (active use), referrals (customers recommend independently), growth (pace and rate of increase in number of customers and total sales closed) and customer churn (how many customers leave?).  Performance on typical PMF indicators suggests that the current product configuration is includes all must-have features that deliver on the intended value proposition for both user and buyer.

Whenever startups falter with PMF, experienced VCs expect them to pivot, sometimes drastically — redesigning their core offering or trying a completely new market segment.  Startups, particularly before they are cash flow positive, work with urgency because they are burning a finite amount of cash at a faster pace than they’re generating revenue.  Like the nobles of Westeros, startups must win or die.

Of course, many startups fail to find a market to serve — but the focus and urgency of the effort delivers enviable clarity of mission.

3. Incumbents Will Try Varied Innovation Plays (but Face Serious Challenges)

In the past decade, we’ve heard many times that law firms are under serious pressure to “disrupt themselves” or manage wholesale transformations to their service and business models.  Sometimes we hear pretty much the same about corporate legal functions.  But the natural affinity for incumbents is to gravitate toward sustaining innovations that drive incremental improvements to performance of existing offerings, or incremental gains to revenue growth via wallet or market share. Cf. Post 025 (quoting Geoffrey Moore, “the more you spend time with mainstream customers, the more you see how relentlessly they pursue this conspiracy to sustain market leaders”).

The below graphic is reproduced from 062, conceptualizing broad strategic objectives for law firm innovation:

Click to enlarge

To remain competitive, most law firms do need to drive toward (and many are working on) improved lawyer enablement and platform enhancement plays.  To put it bluntly, such measures basically consist of purchasing the right tools, hiring the right talent, and managing the partnership through the adoption process.  (Today’s post will touch upon the purchasing process; the other two points will be addressed in Post 064).

Some law firms have certainly gone further than others in experimenting with their service delivery and revenue models, including technology + process + staffing plays that materially displace lawyer time and labor.  On the business of law / revenue model side, more and more firms are pressured by corporate clients to explore legal buy innovations: reconfiguring services into portfolios and pricing services at different resolutions than the billable hour or the open-ended matter.  And a few of the most sophisticated law departments are experimenting with internal initiatives, e.g. service model innovations to create one-to-many solutions built on self-service, business user enablement, or centers of excellence.

But most law firms will be seriously challenged to spin up wholly new business models that follow the disruption playbook (e.g. move downmarket with a low-priced, one-to-many solution offering as a preemptive defense of lower-margin segments).

One reason is that innovation often doesn’t pay dividends for law firms unless they balance and manage progress concurrently across an entire portfolio of interdependent innovation plays.  Lawyer enablement is a no-brainer for law firms who want to equip their lawyers to work better, faster and smarter: but sufficiently advanced and effective initiatives here will likely lead to some displacement of lawyer tasks and lawyer time.  Without attendant legal buy innovations, the billable hour creates direct and active disincentives for individual attorneys to take any action that impedes their progress toward billable hour targets.  However, pricing innovations are hard to deliver at scale without the supporting infrastructure from platform enhancements.  And the vicious cycle continues.

For these reasons, most law firms are better off foregoing ambitious programs to “disrupt themselves,” and instead focusing on a tightly edited and coherent set of initiatives to drive measurable improvements to their core business.

In contrast, corporate legal functions have a broad range of innovation plays to choose from, whether on the production side (structural changes service delivery models) or procurement side (legal supply chain redesign and management).  Of course, work will likely continue to drive sustaining innovations forward as well — but law departments have more options than ever to think creatively about shifting from one-to-one legal advice to one-to-many solution configurations.

How to Win: Winning Means Leveraging Advantages to Beat the Competition (and Incumbents DO Have a Key Advantage) 

The best how to win choices consider both the (a) current market positioning and (b) unique competitive and comparative advantages of each company — within the context of the competitive market landscape.  Both factors determine whether the company will be able to reliably and profitably produce a value proposition in the market that the chosen market segment will prefer to available marketplace alternatives.

The trickiest question around how to win choices might be — how do you know you’re winning?  Here again, money helps.  For legal tech companies or law firms, revenue and profit are pretty straightforward indicators of whether the business is doing well or not so hot. (For law departments, defining success measures is more subtle and requires ongoing dialogue with both company leadership and business unit stakeholders.)

I return now to the initial premise of this post: inefficient access to markets as a barrier to innovation. The key advantage that law firms and law departments have largely failed to leverage is superior access to their markets.  By superior, I mean relative to new entrants who have no established sales and distribution channels.  However, these distribution channels turn out to be relatively inefficient when applied to innovation efforts with disruption potential.

A Tale of (At Least) Two Customers: Buy Decision and Adoption Decisions Are Uncoupled in Organizations

One widely discussed pain point in the legal vertical is the (🤯stunningly, 😠 maddeningly) long sales cycle (for literally anything on offer to law firms or law departments).  Vendors both new and old all seem to have excruciating 😵 tales to tell, which suggests that the sales barrier isn’t limited to innovation offerings.

What is it about legal organizations that makes them so slow to make purchasing decisions?  This is a simple and direct question, but the answer turns out to be fairly complex.  It is, however, a question well worth exploring.

One limitation of diffusion theory is that it does not directly address the mechanics of sales efforts or buying decisions, particularly within the context of collective innovation-decisions that inform the majority of complex B2B (business-to-business) procurement. See Post 008 (discussing types of adoption decisions in diffusion theory).  Rather, Rogers tends to gravitate toward the material factors influencing individual adoption decisions and the systemic impacts of social proof.

Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm framework provides more practical guidance for companies to take new offerings to market, with emphasis on the psychographics and social dynamics of establishing reference customers via go-to-market sequencing.  See Post 024 (summarizing Technology Adoption Life Cycle and chasm framework); Post 025 (applying chasm framework to legal industry examples).

Both theories are foundational, but both need a bit of updating and adapting to skew closer to the confusing reality we occupy currently in the legal vertical.  Let’s take a more granular look at the sales process in the legal industry, with the buy decision as a distinct and separate step from the adoption decision.

The Sales Process Includes Functional Jobs

The uncoupling of the buy decision from the adoption decision is a common feature in all complex service and solution sales across most B2B environments. But selling to legal organizations is a special study in prolonged misery — one that often sinks startups under the clock to get to cash flow positive.

The below graphic adapts the Miller-Heiman Strategic Selling framework (broadly referenced and widely used in B2B customer development and sales training) to the features of interest in the legal vertical.

Click to enlarge / Overlaying the Strategic Selling Framework to the idiosyncrasies of legal markets helps to explain an unusually long sales cycle

The legal vertical exhibits several features that result in material departures from other B2B sales:

Economic buyer.  Typically, the “economic buyer” has the authority and organizational standing to fund the purchase — if and only if the sales team can articulate, in a short and sweet pitch, a clear path to ROI.  These exalted individuals retain bi-directional veto power: they can say “no” when everyone else says “yes” but more importantly, they can say “yes” when everyone else says “no.”  Moore’s Visionary executives / Rogers’ Early Adopters are usually economic buyers, and very new offerings gaining traction in early markets will generally work directly with an economic buyer.

In legal, one individual rarely holds sufficient authority to make unilateral decisions.  Even when a Visionary managing partner or general counsel does have the authority, it is still rare for them to exercise it.  This is because most law firms and law departments are bound to a collective decision-making process, by cultural norm if not by formal governance or policy.

Even when a willing economic buyer exists, it is extremely difficult for outside sales teams to discover and identify them.

Procedural buyers.  In B2B sales, the procedural buyer is often called the technical buyer.  Usually held accountable for the broader question of responsible stewardship over the company’s resources, procurement tends to comprise a significant, if not major, portion of their formal responsibilities.  This is rarely the case in the legal vertical.

  • On the in-house side:  Before the term “legal operations” entered the general vernacular, these responsibilities were often dispersed across line counsel as extracurricular assignments, or delegated to an associate or deputy GC who took on operational duties in addition to managing legal work.
  • On the law firm side:  Our industry’s propensity to neologize, coupled with the ongoing hype around innovation, the business side of the Am Law 200 is now littered with an endless variety of firm-specific titles.  Directors abound: they direct client value, client engagement, practice innovations, practice technology innovations, legal solutions, strategic solutions, strategic accounts, and a million other permutations.

In short, it is extremely difficult to identify the procedural buyers in legal organizations.  This is one reason that the rise of CLOC is likely to be a major accelerant of technology buy for law departments.  Legal operations directors, regardless of maturity or true influence/standing within the legal function, at least form a discoverable and addressable group of procedural buyers.

But it remains to be seen whether those tech buys will lead to meaningful adoption or advances in operational excellence.  Often, the procedural buyers in firms and legal functions are not specifically trained in purchasing technology.  This should be no surprise, since many in-house counsel aren’t even trained in purchasing legal services.  The fact remains, however, that many procedural buyers in corporate law departments and law firms are not well informed or sophisticated enough to grasp the proffered business value or the users’ true needs.

Users.  Most innovation teams in the legal vertical lack efficient access to users.  Law firms and law departments fare a little better than legal tech companies, but not by much.

Why?  Tech companies have a discovery and access problem, but many incumbent organizations have a fear of engaging their clients. For law firms, most users are revenue-generating personnel, and including a sufficient number of them in an open-ended innovation study represents revenue loss.  In a law department pursuing significant changes to service delivery models, a similar dynamic plays out to impede open access to internal clients.  Often, the end-users whose participation is needed are business stakeholders who generally have a day job that takes precedence.

As a result, legal innovation teams often design products, services and solutions without fact-based research to guide the development process.  This is getting more and more problematic as organization-specific workflows are getting more baked into software design, particularly because user groups in legal teams tend to be diverse in skills, incentives, and mix of responsibilities.  This means that a single task can be of varying importance or value to different user personas.

For instance, there are many enablement or business products for the Big Law market (legal research products, pitch & proposal software, experience database software, various doc auto plays, etc.) that really only work out if everyone in the workflow adopts the product — including senior partners.  In reality, this does not happen and so the product doesn’t function as intended.  Again, due to the high degree of variation across organizations in size, shape, innovation teams have a difficult time designing effective integrated solutions for the enterprise.

Key Implications and Potential Opportunities

The obvious implications are bad.  Inefficient access to users mean that innovation teams expend a ton of extra time and effort just to “get off go” for meaningful progress toward Problem-Solution Fit.  Similarly, inefficient access to buyers (and the industry tendency to revert to compromise/consensus by committee) result in a untenably long sales cycles and a significant level of drag and noise for sales teams racing toward Product-Market Fit.

The impacts of access inefficiency notwithstanding, existing distribution channels are still high-value assets.  How can the legal industry better leverage these assets to move innovation forward?

The market positions of varying players in relation to each other do suggest a set of opportunities for legal innovators, as indicated in the below graphic.  The gray arrows denote existing sales and distribution channels that could potentially be leveraged in innovation efforts to improve access to the desired user and buyer groups in adjacent segments.

Click to enlarge

Two possible trends emerge as possibilities:

  1. Strategic M&A activity to bring together startups with high-potential offerings and incumbents with high-value distribution channels
  2. Open-ish innovation alliances across segments to take new offerings to market together
1. Strategic M&A 

Post 034 emphasized the importance of consultative sales to the diffusion of innovations.  Post-acquisition of the fabled Pangea3 business, Thomson Reuter’s existing network of distribution channels and bench strength of the parent organization added immense value to the growth trajectory of what is now TR’s Legal Managed Services.  Much the same story played out for Practical Law, and similar synergies were likely in play in the recent acquisitions of Ravel, Lex Machina and Intelligize by LexisNexis. See Press Release.

That’s not to say that legal startups can just focus on building innovative product in a vacuum without attention to sales and marketing.  Certainly, both Pangea3 and Practical Law teams exhibited attributes identified in diffusion theories as positively influencing rate of adoption: the founding teams of both companies brought to bear a high degree of homophily with target users as well as high-quality channels to identify, understand & reach buyers.  See Post 020 (change agent efforts and attributes that speed rate of adoption).

2. Alliances Across Segments 

In Crossing the ChasmMoore suggests “selling partnerships” as a means to accelerate access to target prospects.  In Post 025, Bill identified law firms as a potential and invaluable distribution channel for legal tech startups.

In recent months and years, that trend has taken hold across the various segments in legal markets.  Alliances for innovation take many forms, but three broad models of innovation alliances have gained traction in the past few years:

Law firm incubation: Allen & Overy’s A&O Fuse, Mishcon de Reya’s MDR Labs, Baker McKenzie’s Reinvent, and Denton’s NextLaw Labs all offer early-stage startups access to internal law firm as well as client teams; the startups get to conduct user research in real-world conditions, and the law firms can gain increased innovation awareness while offering a differentiated brand experience to participating clients.

Joint venture/bundled offering:

  • This generally describes Neota Logic‘s partnerships with Littler and with Foley & Lardner.  In both cases, Neota essentially took white-label solutions to market by layering law firms’ knowledge and content assets onto their expert systems technology.  See, e.g., Post 062; see also Press Release.
  • Over the past couple of years, law firms have indicated expanding willingness to partner with legal tech companies and new entrants to offer bundled products and service to law firm clients.

Platform-as-a-serviceIBM‘s extended efforts to monetize the legal segment by licensing the Watson platform to law firms is a prototypical example.  In this configuration, the expectation is that licensees will bring to bear domain knowledge of the legal vertical to put Watson’s suite of machine learning tools to work.  It took IBM a few years to work out the revenue and business model for the legal vertical, but with forward-thinking legal research platforms Ross Intelligence and Fastcase.  See “Ross and Watson Tackle the Law“; see also Fastcase AI Sandbox Q&A.  Of particular note is the fact that Fastcase has deployed Watson via its AI Sandbox, fulfilling IBM’s initial vision of licensing the toolbox platform to power R&D by law firms.  See Press Release.

Access to Markets: Needs to Be Better, but Will Likely Require Creative Thinking about Channels 

The above-cited examples are just a handful of bright spots in what is still an extremely messy marketplace.  The extent of fragmentation and the sheer number of market participants dictates that any pathway to market for any new offering is likely to be fraught with inefficiency and frustration.

To navigate a path full of obstacles, innovation teams need to think deeply about their strategic choices in a concrete and realistic way, always with laser-sharp focus on finding the right problem to solve for a market segment they can discover and access.  But the most successful teams may be those that think creatively about innovation offerings within the context of target markets and fluidly about competitors as potential cooperators.

In Part III (066), I will discuss how legal innovation is bottlenecked, at least in part, by lack of access to talent.

What’s next? See What signal are legal employers sending to legal education (064)