(Marin Independent Journal (CA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Aug. 23--Twenty-five years ago Bob Battaglia, co-founder of Novato's One Legal court document filing service, pioneered filing by fax in California. Now, he has launched a legal technology incubator as part of his continuing efforts to drag the legal system into the 21st century.
The incubator -- a kind of think tank -- is designed to develop new and innovative tools.
"Our software engineers and developers will work with law students and young entrepreneurs who have ideas but don't know how to turn them into products," Battaglia said as he sat in front of a whiteboard at One Legal's corporate office on Redwood Boulevard on Friday. The lab was launched this week.
One Legal, founded in 1990 as Fax and File Legal Services Inc., employs 145 people, mostly in California. The company has 5,000 active accounts, including "just about every major U.S. law firm -- Morrison & Foerster; Sedgwick; Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati," Battaglia said. About 80 percent of the business is filing court documents and 20 percent is process serving, Battaglia said.
"There was a hack-a-thon at the LegalTech Startup Weekend ... in downtown San Francisco," said Noah Aron, One Legal's general manager, who is in charge of the incubator. "The participants had 48 hours to come up with a prototype.
"The winners were rewarded with one month at our incubator, OneLegal Labs, working with our software engineers and our developers." The incubator office is on Mission Street in San Francisco.
The first digital tool produced by the incubator might be an interactive guide for tenants facing eviction, named CloudL. This was the idea developed by the winning team, according to Aron. The tool would provide a list of resources for the tenants and steps to take depending on their individual situations, Aron said. After the month is up, One Legal's alpha geeks will continue innovating on their own.
The LegalTech Startup Weekend was itself an innovation, the first legal technology conference in a series of events known as Startup Weekend. Startup Weekends are events focused on developing ideas for new products and technologies. The fact that it has taken so long to have such a conference gives an idea of the glacial pace of change in the field.
"Historically, law firms and the courts have been relatively slow and cautious in their adoption of new technologies," said Rohit Talwar, chief executive of Fast Future Research. Talwar recently led a study on the future of legal technology for the International Legal Technology Association.
"The vast majority of documents are still filed physically," Battaglia said. In many cases, he said, a law firm will email the information to One Legal, which then assembles it into a properly formatted hard copy legal document and walks it to the court.
"That's why many of our offices are next to the courthouse," he said.
It would be far more efficient for the law firm to simply email, or e-file, the documents directly with the court. This is just one example of the kind of inefficiencies the incubator is seeking to address.
"The federal court system had the funds to standardize their platform. It is mandatory to file federal court documents electronically," said Robert DeFilippis, One Legal's president and chief operating officer.
"The budgets at the state level have not been there. You have a disparate group of courts with different systems, some electronic, some not," DeFilippis said.
The process serving part of the legal industry also could use some innovation, DeFilippis said.
"We're thinking about using drones," Battaglia quipped. Growing serious again, he said, "Driving around knocking on doors is inefficient and dangerous. One way to get around that is to leverage social media."
Posting a message to someone's LinkedIn account or emailing them can be a faster, safer way to serve a document, though it has its own problems. "Email isn't always reliable, so someone could say they didn't get it, or that they didn't see it," Aron said.
"We have used LinkedIn and text messaging" to serve documents, backing it up with conventional methods, DeFilippis said. "If you look at it from the consumer perspective, would you rather have someone knocking on your door at home?" Battaglia said. "Most people would rather be served discreetly via social media."
The road to innovation hasn't always been smooth for the firm. In December 2013, One Legal won a contract to act as an electronic filing service provider for San Francisco Superior Court. In order for mandatory e-filing to be implemented, as opposed to voluntary e-filing, it is necessary for the court to have more than one provider.
However, the court issued a press release at the end of January saying the new vendor was "not ready to e-file in San Francisco," and hence e-filing would continue to be voluntary.
"We told them how long it would take to develop the product once we had the contract. We never got the information we needed to do so. They did not answer our phone calls or emails (seeking the information)," Battaglia said.
He said, "We're working with them now and getting the information we need."
Meanwhile, the incubator may be launching at just the right time.
"The legal industry is changing with the times. More and more courts are looking at the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of e-filing. Firms are dismantling their paper files and cataloging case files online," One Legal blogger Broke Greene said on the company's blog.
The slow pace of technology adoption "is beginning to change," Talwar said. "A combination of client demands, security concerns, cost pressures and a growing understanding of the strategic potential of information technology is encouraging many law firms to be more adventurous.
"Some are positively embracing technology in their quest to differentiate themselves," the futurist said. "Technology can create new products and services, enhance the support provided to lawyers and serve client needs globally in a consistent manner."
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