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Standing Committee on Legal Technology
The newsletter of the ISBA's Standing Committee on Legal Technology

August 2016, vol. 24, no. 1

How legal tech exemplifies Chicago’s digital economy readiness

How prepared is Chicago to fully participate on the burgeoning digital economy?

The city’s thriving legal tech community is a microcosm of the scene and illustrates how many of the ingredients for success come together, as outlined in a recent study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, its Free Enterprise community; and 1776, the global incubator and seed fund.

The group’s 2016 study, “Innovation that Matters,” analyzed the readiness of 25 U.S. cities to fully participate in the unfolding digital economy and outlined the components necessary for creating the major digital commerce centers of the future. While Chicago ranked 12th overall, the foundation is expanding, and its legal tech community exemplifies what it takes to win.

Today, Chicago boasts at least 12 legal tech businesses in various stages of development – from kCura, a leading innovator in eDiscovery, to Smokeball, with its productivity and case management software, to our own Esquify, a tech-based assist for the document review process that was just launched last fall.

But the numbers are growing, thanks to the key building blocks that characterize Chicago’s tech community generally and its legal tech community specifically. Among those held out by the Innovation that Matters study:

Connectivity. The better connected the startup community – universities, investors and civic institutions all pulling together – the better equipped it is to lead the growth of the digital economy. And that connectivity is a hallmark of Chicago’s legal tech community. Six renowned law schools join forces with the Chicago-headquartered American Bar Association and the Illinois State Bar Association. Combine that with the city’s strong investment community (we ranked sixth in the study for “next wave capital” overall) and it’s clear how Chicago is poised to support and advance the tech innovations shaping the legal field.

Talent. The study’s talent score factored in a city’s population flux (new blood), educational attainment (young people to support tech startups and be early adopters) and workforce skills. While Chicago ranked low – 22d – in the study for its talent readiness, legal tech is a bright spot on this front. It’s home to over 30,000 legal professionals and its law schools attract a diverse group from the next generation. They’re tech savvy and likely leaders of the ongoing wave of tech businesses advancing the practice of law.

Industry specialization. Chicago ranks high – 7th – in this dimension of tech readiness, which considers cities’ ability to move beyond general IT into more specialized fields to establish competitive advantage. Moreover, the study also pointed to the importance of strong traditional business clusters that can be mobilized to support the next generation of startups. The strong base that’s being established in legal tech is something to be built on as the law field slowly begins its drive to realize the efficiencies of technology solutions.

Quality of life. The study parks this under the “culture” category, and while Chicago gets low marks on this front, those of us in Chicago’s tech community (legal and otherwise) would take exception. Despite our state’s well-publicized political/fiscal issues, the cost of living here in Chicago makes starting a tech firm here far more palatable than on either coast. It’s also easy to live and work here, with a rich environment for the arts and entertainment, an excellent transportation network, thriving tech incubators and generally supportive regulatory policies.

Legal tech has the potential to be a distinguishing cornerstone of Chicago’s emerging digital economy. While perhaps not as big a force as the burgeoning health tech or smart city sectors, its continuing cultivation still stands to be an important differentiator for our city and for the legal community itself.

The challenge will be how effectively our community of lawyers, legal educators, investors and, of course, legal tech entrepreneurs ourselves, embrace the possibilities and work together to solidify our continuing leadership as we move forward.

Scott Y. Stuart,, and Drew Stern,, are co-founders and co-chief executives of Esquify ( Esquify is an innovative document review platform that combines machine learning and advanced communication technologies to improve upon the age-old process for litigation document review.