Simple Document Problems Require Simple Technological Solutions

Our journey through Legal began with a simple idea

We started Woodpecker because we believed that we had a revolutionary way to make it easier to create & draft documents, especially routine, repetitive documents.  We decided to focus our efforts on the legal industry for a few simple reasons. When we asked lawyers about the difficulties that they had with document generation, they told us things like

“With even a single-page document it can take a ton of time”

and even though many of their routine documents were simple, we learned that

“There’s a huge difference between simple and easy.” 

These are all actual quotes.

We assumed that we’d be one of many new disruptive innovations for lawyers, whether in “BigLaw,” “SmallLaw,” solos, corporate legal departments or government.  So, since our inception we’ve been going to the various legal tech conferences to try to understand just where things stand.  We wanted to see where Woodpecker would fit in within these simple, innovative ideas.

Why are there so many complicated solutions to simple problems in Legal?

What we found were an awful lot of big, complicated solutions to what seemed to be simple problems.  For the aspects of document assembly that Woodpecker is focused on, we’ve only seen systems that are big and even bigger: big installations, big integrations and even bigger costs as a result. These monolithic systems seem that they are available only to big companies and big firms, after all, who else could afford them.

These big and bigger systems are less like disruptive innovations prevalent in other industries and more like sustaining ones, aimed solely at BigLaw and the biggest corporate legal departments.  What do we mean by that?  As one Danish technology CEO and author did a great job of summarizing from Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma”:

A disruptive technology or disruptive innovation is an innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually goes on to disrupt an existing market and value network. . . .

In contrast to disruptive innovation, a sustaining innovation does not create new markets or value networks but only develops existing ones with better value, allowing the companies to compete against each other's sustaining improvements

To focus this more on legal technology, we have an even better example, from the author of the Legal Tech Blog, asking the critical question “Is Legal Tech disruptive? And why does it matter?”:

Christensen, however, only considers a new competitor as “disruptive” if they successfully target segments which have been overlooked by the existing incumbents. . . . a disruptive innovator needs to originate in low-end or new-market footholds; disruptors start by appealing to low-end or unserved consumers.

Who our “unserved customers” are here should be pretty obvious: the mid-sized firms, the small firms, the solos, the small or even one-person legal department and seemingly every level of government.  Yet even the individual lawyers within BigLaw seem somewhat unserved when it comes to the seemingly simple, yet necessary skills of creating documents faster and more reliably.

We absolutely do mean “necessary” with no irony intended; a 2014 Harvard Law study of 1,700 BigLaw recent grads found that out of 15 listed associate skills, “Using Office Technologies (e.g. email and word processing)” came in at number six.  That puts using Office ahead of such “classic” lawyering skills such as “legal reasoning” and “issue spotting” and even far ahead of “interpersonal skills.”  Leaving aside what that must say about the BigLaw associate review process, it certainly shows just how critical the ability to create and work with documents truly is.

Some may think that creating and working in Word is really just work for administrative personnel, not lawyers.  But another study, this one by legal technology pioneer Casey Flaherty, shows how lawyers are expected to work in Word, to do the work that used to be typically done by administrative assistants:

. . . one progressive firm decided to pull the usage data from their document management system. They found that over the course of the last decade, the share of Microsoft Word keystrokes attributable to their lawyers (compared to staff) had grown from 39% to 80%.

Now, one might expect that these younger lawyers, whether in BigLaw or otherwise, would naturally as “digital natives” have the technology skills needed to rise to the seemingly simple challenge of using Word well.  If you did, you would be wrong.  As Casey Flaherty’s continuing studies have shown, only about 1/3 of law students can do such simple Word tasks such as cut and paste and finding and replace words.

Great news!  Help is on the way (and it’s not just us)

What we found within the Legal market made us more and more convinced that we were on the right track, even if at times it seemed like somewhat of a lonely track.  Fortunately, as we’ve attended more events and reached out to more people in this space, we’ve found more and more of the types of innovative, simple solutions for lawyers we hoped were out there.

We’ve highlighted some of these innovations in our blog, including our post “The Five Best Word Add-Ins For Law Firms, Plus One “Surprise” (spoiler alert: the “surprise” is actually . . . Woodpecker).  We’ve gotten a huge response from lawyers about this list, as it seems that, yes indeed, they do want innovative, disruptively-simple solutions.

So, we’ll continue working on making our own innovative, disruptively-simple solution for you even better.

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