In this installment of Contract Heroes, we had a chat with a long-term legal tech expert Roland Vogl. Roland is the executive director of CodeX, the Stanford Center for Legal Informatics. Throughout our conversation with Roland, we discussed: - The foundation of CodeX and what the program has meant to him as well as the students of Standford - How the legal-tech space has changed since Roland started working with technology - What it takes to create a legal-tech start-up - Tips for those looking to branch out to other forms of work in legal other than law firms
In this installment of Contract Heroes, we had a chat with a long-term partner in the legal tech space, Roland Vogl. Roland is the executive director of CodeX, the Stanford Center for Legal Informatics, which is a joint center between the law school and the computer science department at Stanford University in California. The mission of CodeX is to bring information technology to the legal system in order to make work more efficient for all kinds of stakeholders.
Born and raised in the Austrian mountains, Roland grew up with the intention of practicing law in Austria. However, once he was introduced to the international climate while studying abroad in the UK, he quickly decided to seek out global work, eventually partnering with European institutions in Brussels. There, he became interested in privacy law and data protection, a major point of contention in the late 90s, and ended up attending Stanford University for his Masters program. After working at a tech law firm, he found an opportunity to rejoin Stanford as a teaching fellow in a new program focused on law science and technology. During his time at Stanford in the past 20 years, he helped co-found CodeX and has been involved in the overall growth and development of legal technology and computational law.
Throughout our conversation with Roland, we learned all about the foundation of CodeX while also gaining some insight into how legal tech has changed over the years from his perspective working intimately in the space. Read on to hear more about some of Roland’s unique experiences as well as some tips he shared for lawyers and law students looking to involve themselves in a less traditional career path.
To kick things off, we wanted to know a little more about how CodeX came to be and how it has evolved over time. Roland began by explaining that about 15 years ago, they held a workshop at Stanford in which his former boss co-taught a course on computers and law. At the time, the internet was starting to take off which meant there were more data available as well as new legal modeling and knowledge representation techniques. They decided that it would be an excellent time to devote attention to these topics and came up with the idea to create CodeX.
The name CodeX itself stems from the intersection of legal code and computer code (and the fact that several other centers at Stanford also used “X” in their titles). The second part of the name, “Stanford Center for Legal Informatics,” was a bit of a toss-up at first, as they had trouble choosing between the phrases “legal informatics” and “computational law.” While the center's main focus involves the automation of legal reasoning (which is essentially computational law), they wanted to be inclusive of other techniques as well, landing on the phrase “legal informatics” instead.
The center experienced a swell of interest in new approaches from around 2008 to 2010, and they began holding weekly group meetings for more and more people to pitch their ideas. Over time, CodeX became not just about research, but also about building a community in which people could discuss their ideas with like-minded individuals. It showcased the power of making a network. This eventually led to the establishment of the Future Law Conference about 10 years ago, which is a flagship program that seeks out important trends to pay attention to in the legal innovation community. It offers a platform for people to showcase their work and share their expertise while meeting others involved in similar spaces. April 2022 was the first time the conference was held in person since the start of the pandemic, and Roland encourages everyone to check out recently released videos documenting the conference.
Since Roland has been involved in the legal tech realm for a while, we asked him to tell us about how the space has evolved over the years from his perspective. He explained that it is difficult to pinpoint one exact area that has changed because the space as a whole has exploded with growth. We have provided a list of the innovations that he described across a huge variety of divisions all located within the legal tech space:
- Law schools: Awareness has exploded for law schools, which have begun figuring out how to teach legal tech and computational law to their students and properly integrate it into the curriculum.
- Law firms: Looking to change the way they deliver services to their clients as a result of more pressure from clients to be efficient and deliver services in a tech-enabled way. Creating new services for clients like predicting legal outcomes and computational law systems that allow them to navigate through a workflow and receive legal answers via machine.
- In-house departments: Using legal tech to improve how they serve their internal clients and keep costs at bay while not having to reinvent the wheel over and over with each newly drafted document.
- Courts: Looking for innovation in providing a better user experience for litigants.
- Government: Employing AI systems across various agencies.
Roland also mentioned a research project being conducted that focused on using computational law and computational contracts in the insurance space in order to generate a better experience for consumers. Clearly, legal tech can reach into any number of different places and will continue to extend into new communities. In fact, Roland stated that it is an exciting time to be a lawyer who knows how to integrate technology.
To wrap up this amazing conversation, Roland shared his knowledge about founding a startup and a few unique career paths available to those looking for something a little different from the traditional legal paths. Here are a few of his valuable entrepreneurial tips:
- Startups bring out the best and worst in people, so find teammates who share your values.
- Listen closely to the customer. Do not operate in a bubble and come up with big theoretical ideas without checking back with customers first to make sure it caters to what they really want.
- Build both your dedication and your ability to overcome adversity.
- Fail fast and fail often because oftentimes the best way to learn is through trial and error.
- Match up a legal expert who knows the shortcomings of their area with a technologist who has the right skills to engineer a solution to those problems.
In terms of exciting and innovative career paths outside of the typical law firms, in-house counsel, and academia, Roland recommended looking at areas like contract lifecycle management (CLM) and e-Discovery. Even if you are not interested in going the competitive startup route, there are plenty of jobs available at existing companies as a legal technologist.
For more exclusive chats with expert guests in the contract lifecycle management sphere along with valuable legal tech advice, check out past installments of Contract Heroes, and be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss an episode! If you have any questions for our guest, Roland Vogl, you can check out the CodeX website or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a time to discuss any and all things legal tech-related.