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IT: think before you buy

15 July 19

How will IT shape the future of the profession? Four contributions offer some predictions, while also advising us to make the most of what we already have

Time to raise our skill levels

Innovation manager Sam Moore, and trainee solicitor Giuseppe Pia, both of Burness Paull, consider the next technological changes likely to impact on the solicitors’ profession, and their likely effect.

Moore: I think we’re about to see a major shift in how we approach client data, based on the impact the Open Banking Regulations have had on consumer finance. 

I think clients will start to demand better access to their data, and we’ll start to see more third party providers come to the market with innovative products and insights. The profession will need to refresh its thinking, and technological understanding, to put clients in charge of their own data. We will shift from being custodians of their data, to gatekeepers controlling access to it.

Pia: We are witnessing the rollout of an ever-increasing number of digital solutions, all aimed at improving efficiency. For example, advanced file management systems have been introduced to support a paperless, or at least “paper light”, workplace. This is encouraging even the most technophobic solicitors to adapt their approach. I suspect it won’t be long until you need an above average grasp of digital systems in order to thrive in the industry. 

Moore: I also think insurers are starting to look at the connection between risk-mitigating technology and claims records, and I predict our professional premiums will start to be more significantly affected by a firm’s understanding and appropriate use of technology.

Looking at future delivery of legal services, I think we’ll see more demand for “self serve” solutions in certain cases – typically simple issues requiring very standardised documents. Right now these kind of solutions are fairly rare, and still quite expensive, but I expect that to change quickly over the next couple of years. I also think we’ll see more client demand for consultancy services in various ancillary areas, as well as purely legal services. 

Pia: Like most other aspects of society, I think we’re very much heading in the direction of “on demand” service to clients. This is becoming increasingly feasible with tech developments, and there are relatively few issues that can’t be addressed instantaneously if the right solution is in place.  

Moore: It’s definitely not the case that in order to remain competitive, firms will need to buy every new piece of software on the shelf; rather firms should spend time on self-reflection and not be afraid to take things back to basics. The best technology cannot rescue an inefficient process, so firms will need to review objectively how they provide their services and not be afraid to totally redesign processes if need be.

People and process first

Sarah Blair, director of IT at Thorntons, knows how technology can be transformative, but cautions that practices need to understand what they want it to do.

Firms often look for a magic bullet in technology. However tech in itself has no inherent value – benefits only arise when technology enables people to do things differently. 

Currently, it’s easy to be swayed by the hype surrounding legal tech. Beyond the hype and the press releases, though, technologies are being used which are genuinely transformative. Machine learning and natural language processing algorithms, applied to contract review and due diligence, allow volumes of documents to be collected and assessed in a fraction of the time a human would take. When applied in specific cases, these systems augment rather than replace the human effort. Therein lies some of the challenge – unrealistic expectations mean many pilots fall at the first hurdle. Quite often the data required are either not available or incorrect, and training is required before any level of accuracy should be expected.

Before starting to talk about technology, firms need to understand the problem they are trying to solve. Start with the old adage of people, process, then technology. Talk to clients and colleagues, think about the process of delivering legal services, and map out processes for different types of transactions in order to identify areas where technology can be used to augment the human effort and remove some of the repetitive work. 

The Society’s LawScotTech initiative is a great opportunity for firms of all sizes to come together to collaborate in problem solving.

Most firms have invested in core line of business products with capabilities which are underused, or not widely adopted “shelfware”. Quite often these systems in themselves offer massive opportunities for document automation or collection of data or risk management. 

Legal teams of the future are likely to look very different. While I do not consider there is value in getting lawyers to write code, I do believe that teams may comprise a combination of skilled experts – data scientists and legal technologists working alongside subject matter experts, using a variety of tools and platforms to deliver legal services. 

Universities have introduced legal tech modules or electives, highlighting an appetite for such programmes from future lawyers. We are also seeing a rise in recruitment of legal technologists, and the introduction of accreditation by the Society. This helps to equip lawyers of the future with not only a depth of expertise in their field of law, but also a breadth of understanding of collaboration, process, technology, design thinking, and change. 

Whatever solution we adopt, a client-centric approach is key. The focus must be, what problem are we trying to solve for them?

A fuller article by Sarah Blair is available here.

The future is proactive

John McKinlay, partner at DLA Piper, believes technology will enable lawyers to be more proactive, leading to a healthier lawyer-client relationship

Today’s technology has made it much easier for lawyers to do the basics – access legal and business information, keep up to date with their clients’ areas of interest, and provide advice wherever and whenever. Lawyers are more efficient, flexible and relevant than ever. 

At the core however, the basic service has remained the same – lawyers are largely reactive in response to a client query. The technology coming down the track will allow lawyers to be more proactive. For example, we can imagine how changes to employment law or health and safety regulations could be automatically built into clients’ documents and processes so they are immediately compliant with changes. More and more, we will see lawyers using technology to anticipate client requirements, and tailoring advice so that it is directly relevant to the business.

Technology will also enable lawyers to use data much more smartly. At the moment data from legal advice isn’t generally captured in anything like a systematic way. Being able to utilise these data, especially if we can do this across the whole profession, will see a range of new services emerging. These could include predictive tools for litigation, or products which take the pain out of negotiations by suggesting compromise positions right from the start. Better data will also allow us to bring about the end of the billable hour and move towards value based pricing, which would be a major win-win for the client/lawyer relationship.

This technology will inevitably lead to lawyers and clients looking “end-to-end” as to how legal advice is obtained, since technology loves a standardised process. With the rise of concepts such as design thinking and legal process engineering, the future of legal advice will start to look much more like an integrated part of a client’s business, rather than an ad hoc, standalone service. 

So the future of legal services will be less like the current “question and answer” model. We will see lawyers, working with technology providers and other professionals as part of an integrated team, developing solutions which work seamlessly as part of the client’s own business process. Law in the future will be less about solving problems after the fact, and more about keeping clients compliant and legally sound. A much more healthy relationship!


Brian Inkster, founder of Inksters, advises making sure you are getting the most from your existing IT before buying fancy new products

It is often remarkable what legal futurists think the profession will look like in just five years’ time. For example:

“Artificial intelligence, machines, and quite possibly robots will come to dominate the legal world in the not too distant future. By 2020, I reckon. That’s a mere five years from now.”

“An avatar/robotic copy of yourself will be available in 2015 and mass produced by 2020 (we’re talking clones here!).”

This is where Amara’s law comes in: “We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.” So you should really take headlines like “Rise of the Robolawyers” with a pinch of salt.

A movement has been growing momentum on social media and at legal technology conferences, calling out the hype and using the hashtag #bringbackboring. This is about using the technology we already have in legal practices to best effect, before turning our attention to shiny new toys such as systems powered by artificial intelligence or blockchain.

Often, in any event, new technologies that make the claim to be AI powered are not so powered. This is known as AI washing: “A marketing effort designed to imply that a company’s brands and products involve artificial intelligence technologies, even though the connection may be tenuous or non-existent.”

Good, practical legal technology, such as case management systems incorporating document automation, has been around for a long time. But often law firms buy such technology and don’t properly implement it. Instead it becomes “shelfware”. It is likely such firms will see some new “AI powered” tool to be the answer to their technology needs, buy it and again allow it to become shelfware. Following the #bringbackboring mantra, they should be dusting off their existing shelfware and spending time and effort making that actually work for them.

Such systems are not necessarily old or out of date. The supplier has probably updated it over the years, just like you have seen Windows XP turn into Windows Vista then Windows 7, 8 and 10. 

At Inksters we have a dedicated legal process engineer making the technology we have work for us as best we can. We have no plans to buy any shiny new toys any time soon. There are many hard yards still to do and we are focused on that. 

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