The Legal Influencer Series Part 4: Gabe Teninbaum

  • 2 February 2018
  • Expert Insights

This post is part of our Legal Influencer series where we interview the world's leading legal experts to get their take on the state of the legal industry, the top trends to watch for, and what the future holds.

The following is an interview we recently had with Gabe Teninbaum, legal technologist, professor and faculty member at Suffolk University Law School.

1. How has the legal industry evolved in the past 5 years?

GT: There have been lots of recent changes, though perhaps none more emblematic than the growth of legal ops. The idea that corporate law departments would organize themselves as a business unit – working not just to solve legal problems, but to design and develop the business aspects of their work outside of their silo – is a big deal.  Add to that the creation of an organization around its legal ops (CLOC  – the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium), and now members of legal ops departments can now share advice and information. As a result, the chief consumers of BigLaw's services have a network to make sure that they're being represented efficiently and cost-effectively by outside counsel, all the while being able to consider implementation of tools to bring work back in-house. This changing dynamic is forcing law firms to embrace adapt to remain competitive.

2. What are the top legal technology trends you're seeing?

GT: Rather than focus on a specific technology, I want to call attention to a change in the growth of legal tech startups.  New companies – several hundred of them – are now offering services that solve specific legal industry problems that were either unaddressed, or being done at too high a cost by law firms. Silicon Valley is noticing, and in the past few years, something like a billion dollars of venture capital funding has flowed into legal tech. Some has gone in big chunks to companies like Relativity and Avvo, but there have been dozens and dozens of smaller investments in hundreds of new legal tech companies looking to change or improve some part of the legal industry.

3. How will AI change the legal industry?

GT: To take a step back here: I've been influenced by Michael Mills, of Neota Logic, who has pointed out that AI has many different branches and isn't a monolithic thing. You've got the machine learning branch, the natural language processing branch, the expert systems branch, and so on. With his definition in mind, AI has already been changing the legal industry for more than a decade. Old standbys Westlaw and Lexis have been using natural language processing to help with search results for a long time (and newer entrants like CaseText and FastCase have used still other forms of AI to improve legal research).  Neota Logic and Hot Docs have been using expert systems with huge success. Kira Systems and Exari and companies like them have been using AI to help with contracts extraction. A number of great AI tools exist to help make eDiscovery work in ways unimaginable not long ago.

So, AI is here – and we use it daily in law.  The implicit question, I think, is when will the big, show-stopping, sci-fi type of AI arrive in law.  I don't know. It may be around the corner, it may just be a myth.

4. How will blockchain change the legal industry?

GT: It's too early to tell.  However, there's huge potential. If you look at an example like the country of Estonia, you can see how implementing blockchain can totally change things. There, almost all public services are accessed through secure digital identities given to every citizen and resident.  It's all built around blockchain.  So far, few use cases have arisen in law. One company I'm excited about is Integra Ledger. They're working on creating a new foundation for security, integrity, and interoperability of the global legal industry, based on blockchain technology. At the heart of Integra Ledger is a new concept of universal, blockchain-based identities for legal information – matters, documents, clients, contracts, etc. If it works (and they seem to be going in the right direction), it's going to change everything.

5. What's the future of Law?

GT: For consumers: If we do it right, it's a future where non-rich clients will leverage new tools to get improved access to good legal advice, to negotiate deals themselves for which they once needed a lawyer, and to succeed on their own in court when they need to go. If we do it wrong, it'll just be an increasing rift between those who can afford to pay for justice and those who can't – with predictable results following.

For those that work in the legal industry:  there's an anecdote in the terrific new book, Whiplash, by Joi Ito and Jeff Howe (both of MIT).  They point out that for millions of years, dinosaurs reigned supreme. They were huge, had giant teeth, and were fearsome.  No one could mess with them.  Then, something happened, and within as little a few hours, they were gone. Their reign ended.  Know what survived, though?  Frogs.  You can guess who are the dinosaurs in this story. And they're out there competing with other dinosaurs to survive, not realizing that the meteor is about to end their world  And soon enough, they may be extinct, never having realized that they missed their chance to pivot, try to get leaner, and compete with the frogs.

At Suffolk Law, we've tried to be responsive to that. Until recently, there were only a handful of law schools where people could learn how not to be dinosaurs and no place for people out of law school to do it.  We're just launching an online legal tech certificate program for people in the working world.  I think we'll have to make our mascot a frog.

About Gabe Teninbaum

Gabe Teninbaum is a professor and legal technologist. Since 2007, he has been a faculty member at Suffolk University Law School, where he serves as director of the Institute on Legal Innovation & Technology. He is also an educational technology startup founder (, a former trial attorney, and, before law school, protected dozens of dignitaries – including two sitting U.S. presidents—while serving as an Operations Support Technician in the U.S. Secret Service.  Gabe also currently holds appointments as a Faculty Associate at the Berkman-Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, as a Visiting Professor at the MIT Media Lab, and as a Visiting Fellow at the Yale Law School Information Society Project.

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