Joshua Lenon at Clio says Canadian lawyers are slow to adopt tech, but big changes are coming soon

He spoke to the CL Talk podcast about how Clio usage data shows improvements in law firm operations

Joshua Lenon at Clio says Canadian lawyers are slow to adopt tech, but big changes are coming soon
Joshua Lenon, Clio

Joshua Lenon is the lawyer in residence and data protection officer at Clio. For our CL Talk podcast, he spoke to us about his role at the legal tech company, legal ethics, innovation, access to justice, privacy, data protection, artificial intelligence, and the Canadian legal market.

Listen to our full podcast episode here:

You can also find this episode on our CL Talk podcast homepage with links to follow CL Talk in all the major podcast providers.

Below is a summary of the conversation, edited for length and clarity:

Tell me about your role as the lawyer in residence and data protection officer at Clio

The lawyer in residence is an interesting role. And to be perfectly honest, Clio and I created this role together.

I was a Clio customer before joining the organization, and I was trying to get a small law firm up and running after graduating from law school, leaving a position with the Missouri Attorney General in the United States. I rapidly realized that I did not know enough about the business of running a law firm and that I needed support. So, I turned to software to help me with that.

Clio was an excellent solution for organizing your cases and contact information, creating bills, and getting those bills out into clients' hands, which was exactly what I needed then. I also needed it to be mobile because I was spending time in the United States, where I'm licensed, and visiting a significant other in Canada. So, I needed my law firm to be mobile, and using Clio’s cloud-based software helped.

I then began building relationships with many of this early startup’s employees. We met at conferences and got coffee in the same towns. My questions led them to ask me: “How are you using this feature? We were thinking about this as an idea. How would that work for you? How would we communicate the value of our software to lawyers?”

Eventually, those conversations led to a day-long interview with Jack Newton, the company's founder, and an invitation to move out to Vancouver. I've been doing that for over a decade now.

I often describe my role as translating the needs of lawyers and law firms to a technology company and vice versa, i.e., how technology has benefits and risks for lawyers and law firms.

My job is more academic than legal. I'm researching what's changing in technology and professional services outside of the practice of law and then trying to bring those together into the unique space of legal professionals.

Since then, I've combined this with my role as the data protection officer. And that's because of the rising number of data privacy laws we see, starting in 2016.

With the launch of the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, in the EU, companies need a watchdog, an internal person who looks at the operations of the business and ensures that the data privacy of employees, customers, and even information contained in the customer accounts, are being thought of and prioritized.

Because of my work with legal ethics, especially around confidentiality for law firm clients and attorney-client privilege, it was a complementary role to the lawyer in residence to bring that kind of watchdog status forward.

I've always been representing law firms to Clio and translating their needs. So, I'm able to do both at once. Very uniquely for Clio, we have somebody in-house who advocates for the customers and demonstrates the incredible value legal professionals bring to their clients and our society through the rule of law.

One of my proudest accomplishments is that we've built this respect for our customers and continue to put them forward. It's one of our foundational values. Customer success comes first.

Tell me about your work at the intersection of legal ethics, innovation, and access to justice.

We publish blog posts, podcast interviews, and CLE and CPD webinars on legal ethics and technology. For example, I recently did a webinar on virtual law firms, examining legal ethics and some statutory and regulatory concerns.

As professionals, we have ethical obligations and stakeholders that don't exist in any other industry. Accountants are professionals but don't have the same professional duty to clients. They aren't an officer of the court or regulated in the same way lawyers are. Lawyers must balance all the regulations of running a business and having employees and these complex and weighty legal ethics concerns.

So, when we come to innovation and access to justice, legal professionals must drive the idea of the rule of law, including access to justice. In part, that gives us a legal, ethical obligation to be innovative. How are we making our services more affordable and accessible? How are we seizing the best technology, business management, and communications?

All these things are rapidly advancing, and we need to be investigating them almost daily. Lawyers don't have time, so I'm excited to have time to research these things and bring my knowledge to your audience and listeners.

What are the most significant data protection and privacy trends affecting your cloud-based legal practice management solution and its customers?

Data protection and privacy are two distinct areas but are twin sides of a coin.

For data protection, we're considering whether we are taking reasonable measures to prevent unauthorized access. Especially for small and mid-sized law firms, there's no way to compete on a dollar-per-dollar basis with the amount of money the bigger law firms like the Seven Sisters can throw at security. So, instead, these firms should be looking at using the economy of scale that comes from pooling together all their spending on services that offer robust cybersecurity and enhanced protections with employees who are available 24/7 to deal with their problems. The employees have passed extensive background checks since they have the potential to access data, recognize the ethical duties of lawyers, and agree to be a vendor who lives up to those ethical duties. These are all things that are difficult to manage.

The Law Society of BC has a good checklist on how to turn towards vendors for technology and some of the questions you should ask. What we see right now is cloud computing is the best, most affordable security for these lawyers.

If we flip that coin to privacy, we see some interesting changes happening in Canada partly because of the renegotiated NAFTA treaty. Before that, we had PIPEDA, the federal privacy legislation, and provincial legislation, which may be deemed adequate under PIPEDA. So, you had FIPPA in BC, the Alberta Privacy Act, and the newly emerged Health Data Protection Act in Ontario. All these are asking lawyers and other businesses to look at their data and ensure that it has adequate protections.

What's changed is where that data can be stored. With the renegotiated NAFTA, there are no longer prohibitions about storing data outside of Canada, which I think is interesting because it's always been a struggle before this. But they still must have adequate protections.

So, understanding what's happening in Canadian privacy law and the US will become essential to Canadian lawyers.

Clio is a Canadian-based company with a global presence – how much does your Canadian customer base make up the total?

Not enough. However, for any jurisdiction, many lawyers have yet to fully realize technology's benefits. I'm not even talking about jumping into huge, expensive software packages, but just leveraging things like a central place to store documents you can access from your mobile phone or desktop computer.

In Canada, we see that while Canadians are very active online, we don't necessarily see the same activity for law firms. There are still a lot of law firms that just haven't embraced the 21st century yet. I'm looking forward to helping them with that.

However, Canadian lawyers, once they see the value of this technology, are quick to adopt it. One reason is Canada's expansive nature; lawyers realize it's hard to serve all the different communities because it involves a lot of travel. Now that we can leverage this technology, we can expand access to legal services to communities suffering without it.

What are your big-picture impressions of the Canadian legal market?

Since 2016, we've been publishing our legal trends report. It's an annual report that looks at Clio's usage data. That includes thousands of law firms in the US and Canada.

It is unique because it’s the first time we've ever had data-driven insight into law practice for solo small and mid-sized law firms. Before, we could maybe survey a handful and hope that was representative. But now we have this aggregated anonymized data. I want to stress that this report is usage data, not client files.

But even with that limited view, we can see an incredible lift in productivity for lawyers. Over the last eight years, we've seen that there's been a 25 percent increase in the number of matters and a 35 percent increase in the number of hours recorded by timekeepers. That has led to the rise in both billed and collected amounts of revenue in Clio by over 150 percent in the last eight years.

So, rising productivity and better leveraging of billing and collection tools drive these law firms to be more productive and sustainable.

How does artificial intelligence change the game, and how does Clio use AI?

I think artificial intelligence will change the game for the practice of law. Clio is actively researching and building our AI-powered tool alongside our practice management solution.

AI will dramatically increase client expectations. For response time, it will increase a lawyer's ability to get a first draft together. Corporate customers will also use it to scale back outside spending. So, if you are a lawyer serving business clients, you may need to look at building your own AI tools and offering them to prevent the loss of clients.

Finally, for many lawyers, artificial intelligence is about the inputs, not the outputs. When Clio surveyed about 1,500 lawyers as a part of our last legal trends report looking at artificial intelligence, only 8 percent said that AI usage would be difficult to learn. Lawyers are looking for a chat-based interface to access documents and data, extract information from their case files, turn it around, and leverage it quickly.

Between that expected increase in response time to get your first draft ready to edit, along with clients' expectations that AI will change the game, we're going to see some rapid adoption of these tools.

We will also see some rapid mistakes, like we just saw in British Columbia, where a lawyer didn't proofread a submission, and it contained hallucinations. But eventually, we're all going to find our feet, and AI will be a part of our day-to-day workflow.

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