Update Note 7/19/2012: I had a chance to chat with Michael Mills of Neota two days ago. Neota is doing some really exciting work, and is definitely responsive and curious about opportunities in the solo/small firm market. Stay tuned…
Editor’s note: This is the first of a regular feature, Future of Law Fridays where we’ll comment on issues related to where the legal profession is headed, with a focus on the impact on solos and small firms, the legal profession and clients. We welcome commentary and posts from others who think about these issues, with a preference towards original thinkers who are both open minded but also skeptical and interested in provoking spirited debate. Please, no raving fans who think that anything tech is the greatest thing under the sun or raging traditionalists who want to turn back the clock on technologic advancements. Contact email@example.com if you’d like to contribute.
Over the past nine months, Neota Logic, a law technology tool that automates analysis of legal questions has been the darling of tech circles. My favorite legal futurist and commentator Jordan Furlong profiled Neota back in October and more recently, the company sponsored Ron Friedmann’s Prism Legal update on virtual firms, and earned a complimentary shout out from Steph Kimbro. But probably, Neota’s biggest moment in the sun came by way of serving as the engine for the innovative online legal question/answer systems developed as part of a Georgetown Law course, a project that received widespread press.
So, not to be left out, I finally made my way to the Neota Logic website. Immediately, I discovered the Independent Contractor (IC) Status Advisor, a system that poses a series of questions and churns out a report on whether a worker is an employee or a contractor. The IC Status Advisor is a great example of how Neota can convert a once complex and individualized legal analysis and without sacrificing sophistication (each question explains includes an explanation of its legal significance) convert it into a practical tool that lawyers and laypeople can use. In particular, the IC Analysis is especially useful for solo and small firm lawyers who frequently outsource – sometimes, so much so that the worker might actually be more appropriately characterized as an employee than IC (or alternatively, being risk averse, some lawyers might classify an IC as an employee when it’s not necessary). I asked the system to analyze whether a contract lawyer would be considered an employee or IC and here’s the cool report that it generated (the answer is no).
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After looking at some of the other Neota examples, I immediately came up with at least 30 different ways that I could use Neota in my regulatory practice. Or, how bar associations (or preferably, my website, MyShingle) could create tools to help solo and small firms analyze the ethics of a particular activity. (Big firms have in house counsel for this task, solo and small firms don’t) With regard to my energy practice, one of my biggest gripes about my field that there’s so much inaccurate information — even at some government websites which relied on work of inept contractors. I’m often shocked at the level of misunderstanding from many of the small green tech companies that approach me. Often, I wind up giving out a ton of free advice in the hopes that they’ll retain me later on (and many do). But that wouldn’t be necessary if I could use Neota to set up a Q&A process so that companies could help themselves, and then come to me later if needed. Plus, I could charge a small fee for use of the tool so I’d capture fees that I’m otherwise giving away.
Exhilerated, I combed the site for information on how to register. Nothing. I contacted the company. No response. I see that Neota is being used by large corporations and law schools, which is terrific. But why can’t the tool be made available to solo and small firm lawyers? (Am I missing something here?)
We solo and small firm lawyers are innovators, driven by ingenuity and a desire to serve our clients better (well, some are driven by greed and ego, but you find that everywhere). As I described here, we solo and small firm lawyers were first movers on advertising (think Bates, brought by a solo), use of the web to market a practice, social media and virtual law firms. Yet we’re often the last to be served by the new and more sophisticated generation of products either because it’s assumed that we won’t use them, or because the price points for these systems are just too high since they can’t be spread across multiple users (the Solo Tax problem) So instead, we solos are stuck with the crap – lead generators and online directories and SEO services and auction sites and “exposure” (give a few hours of legal advice for “exposure” to our traffic) and platforms that let us handle dozens of cases for $9.99 when what many of us want and need is access to the same tools that in-house counsel and cutting edge large firms are using to improve the quality of service and expand access to law without raising the price.
So how about Neota? Are you committed to changing the legal profession and helping real lawyers better serve real clients ethically and effectively? If so, where and how can we solo and small firm lawyers sign up?