AI & Law: Tech-Hype Curves

Tech-hype curve is a handy means to assess AI & Law trends of AI-based LegalTech

by Dr. Lance B. Eliot

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Key briefing points about this article:

  • Tech-Hype curves showcase which tech is being over-hyped and which tech is settling in


To get any media attention these days, it seems that sometimes being egregiously overboard and making nearly laughably exaggerated claims is the only way to rise above the fray.

This especially happens in the tech field and particularly in the realm of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Ostensibly, each new AI system is proclaimed as the absolute incarnation of human cognition and heralded as the final arrival of computer-based sentience. Though at first glance this might seem innocent and able to be simply shrugged off as obvious hyperbole, the reality is that distorting reality is not a laughing matter and continues to promulgate falsehoods about what is capable in AI and what is still science fiction.

The realm of AI & Law is equally vulnerable to these same hyperbolic woes.

Advances in legal technology are oftentimes accompanied by a dollop of hype and bombastic overstatements. Headlines will from time-to-time tout that some new LegalTech offering is going to revolutionize the legal industry, and, via the added whiff of including AI, suggest that lawyers are going to be out of work due to a robotic legal reasoner that can do what human barristers are being paid to do.

This tomfoolery is so frequent that there are so-called tech-hype curves that have been devised and promulgated to help in separating the wheat from the chaff. One such curve by the analyst group Gartner recently was released and starkly indicated which segments of LegalTech they believe to be headed upward and which are heading downward. Having been updated for 2020, the curve includes such notable segments as legal chatbots, advanced contract analytics, e-discovery, Natural Language Processing (NLP), and the like.

I’ll momentarily walk you through the indication about the segments and their status, and provide some brief commentary.

Crucial Caveats

First, let’s consider some overarching insights.

The segmentations and their positioning on these tech-hype curves need to be taken with a grain of salt. It is easy to slap an entire segment into the up or down categories, yet meanwhile, there can be some individual players within the segment that are either especially promising or that have regrettably entirely struck out.

Thus, do not let a broad paintbrush unduly blot or mar specific LegalTech and AI products and offerings.

There is also the matter of inadvertently assuming that those analysts devising the curves are all-knowing and are infallible in terms of how they rate or assess a given segment. LegalTech soothsayers have been wrong, many a time, and misjudged based on personal biases and preferences.

Do not necessarily worship any such curve as a final soothsayer.

Finally, consider the entire exercise as more of a means to try and grasp generally what seems to be taking hold, along with catching your breath when seeing that a favored LegalTech segment is in the doghouse. Perhaps there are facets about the segment that you are not noticing and that are aiming toward an eventual collapse.

In short, the LegalTech tech-hype curves are a handy wake-up call to keep us all from falling for too much of the shine and sparkle that accompanies those publicity-seeking LegalTech and AI purveyors.

With that discerning preamble, let’s consider the nature of this particular tech-hype curve on LegalTech.

Digging Into The Curve

Divided into stages, the curve starts in an upward trend known as “on the rise” and ultimately reaches a peek at what is considered the topmost set of inflated expectations, after which the curve then falls into the dreaded and euphemistically coined “trough of disillusionment.” If a technology segment is lucky, it will climb out of the trough and enter into a slope of enlightenment, meaning that the hype has subsided and the tech is being put to everyday use, even though it might not be able to leap tall buildings and go faster than a speeding bullet.

Eventually, a LegalTech that has made it into the slope of enlightenment will likely reach a plateau. This can be okay in that the tech might have become part-and-parcel of legal practices and thus no longer is a standout per se yet continues to provide substantive value.

These are the proposed stages and their intended trending slopes:

· Stage 1: On the rise (going up)

· Stage 2: Peak of inflated expectations (at the top and on the verge of heading down)

· Stage 3: Trough of disillusionment (sliding down into the abyss)

· Stage 4: Slope of enlightenment (climbing out of the ditch)

Here are then are various existing LegalTech segments as analyst-ordained to fall within each of those aforementioned stages:

Stage 1: On the Rise

Includes: Subject rights requests, Legal chatbots, Third-party risk management, AI in corporate legal practice, AI governance, Blockchain for data security

Here are a few quick insights about some of the more notable segments that are labeled as on the rise:

  • Legal Chatbots. Legal chatbots are virtual agents that enter into a dialogue using Natural Language Processing (NLP) and try to offer suggestions or guidance when performing a legal related task. Such chatbots can be aimed at lawyers and legal professionals and might also be targeted at non-lawyer end-users seeking legal advice or insights. When these legal chatbots first appeared a few years ago, there was some handwringing that these AI-based agents might end-up replacing lawyers, which has decidedly not been the case and the actual capabilities have been relatively simplistic and routine. Though legal chatbots have been placed into the on the rise stage, already there is a widespread realization of their limitations and perhaps ought to be placed already into the peak of inflated expectations.

Stage 2: Peak of inflated expectations

Includes: Legal spend management, Data breach response, Consent, and preference management, Smart contracts, Digital ethics, Explainable AI, Alternative legal service providers, Legal and compliance analytics, Advanced contract analytics, Prescriptive analytics, Privacy impact assessments

Here are a few quick insights about some of the more notable segments that are labeled as being at the peak of inflated expectations:

  • Legal Spend Management. Many law practices were initially hopeful that the adoption of legal spend management software would enable their offices to be better tuned to where their costs were and ultimately lead to a significant reduction in unnecessary spending. Unfortunately, in a launch-and-forget mode, some law firms set up such systems blindly, without reimagining how they run their legal services efforts. The use of these kinds of cost-cutting applications must be done judiciously, involving informed leaders and partners that don’t merely impose automated spending handcuffs. These systems are not a mindless silver bullet and require concerted attention to get properly established.

· Explainable AI. With AI being embedded into numerous LegalTech applications, a significant concern that arose involved the inscrutable nature of what the AI was doing under-the-hood. For example, an AI LegalTech app that predicts whether you will likely prevail in your court case is bound to have all kinds of underlying assumptions based solely on precedents, and fail to consider factors that might be beyond the prior corpus of cases. Indeed, there might even be key cases that were not included in the legal database being used to train the AI. It was hoped that by including an explainability component into these AI packages it would resolve these qualms, but the result so far has been that Explainable AI (abbreviated as XAI) has yet to live up to its potential. It is going to be a while before this tech constrained situation dramatically improves.

Stage 3: Trough of disillusionment

Includes: Integrated risk management, Natural language query, Data and analytics governance, Digital business transformation, Blockchain, Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Privacy management tools

Here are a few quick insights about some of the more notable segments that are labeled as being in the dreaded trough of disillusionment:

  • Natural Language Query. Natural Language Query is more popularly known as Natural Language Processing (NLP), of which there was an earlier hope that law professionals could directly interact with or query legal systems via using a conversational mode akin to talking with a human that is versed in the legal domain. Unfortunately, most of the NLP to-date is not versed in the legal realm per se, and oftentimes is nothing more than a knock-off of a generic kind of Alexa or Siri overlay that tries to proffer some semblance of dialoguing, but has no legal awareness chops. The good news is that gradually these NLP are getting better, along with being trained for the specifics of the legal field, so keep your eye on this segment as it bootstraps itself out of the downtrodden trough of disillusionment.

Stage 4: Slope of enlightenment

Includes: Corporate legal matter management, e-Discovery software, Contract life cycle management, Enterprise legal management, Predictive Analytics, Text Analytics, Ethics, and compliance management

Here are a few quick insights about some of the more notable segments that are labeled as being in the revered slope of enlightenment:

  • e-Discovery Software. Enlightened attorneys would likely applaud the advent of e-Discovery software, providing an at-the-fingertips electronic means of undertaking discovery and averting the traditional painstaking paper-based hunt for those crucial needles in a haystack to try and win a case. You might remember that earlier it was touted that e-Discovery would do the work for you, and this led to the segment at one point getting tossed into the trough of disillusionment since it was an outstretched expectation. Today, now that there is a pervasive balanced perspective about what e-Discovery can do, it is heading up the slope of enlightenment.

So, how you do feel about the segment category assignments.

Do they surprise you, does it seem ho-hum, or do they perhaps irk you?

You might be pleased to see some segments in stages that you wholeheartedly agree as to where they belong, and at the same time be disgruntled to observe some other segments in stages that it seems unfair or outright inappropriate to place them.

That’s the typical reaction to these tech-hype curves by anyone that already is familiar with the legal tech realm. I long ago decided to not let my blood boil on such matters and take the whole ritual in stride. Please know, if the placement of certain segments has gotten under your skin, do not let it ruin your day.

Of course, there is an unfortunate danger that those uninformed might bet the farm on these curves, doing so without realizing the questionable nature involved, and find themselves either missing out on great opportunities or getting sunk in an ill-advised LegalTech investment.


Bottom-line is to keep informed and get sufficiently up-to-speed to know which twist and which turn will most likely impact your favored LegalTech and AI segment.

That’s the right curve to be on.

For the latest trends about AI & Law, visit our website

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Copyright © 2020 Dr. Lance Eliot. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lance B. Eliot is a renowned global expert on AI, Stanford Fellow at Stanford University, was a professor at USC, headed an AI Lab, top exec at a major VC.

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