The following is a part of a series of interviews with legal professionals and their experiences and interaction with innovation and technology in the legal sector. We hope you’ll get value from what others have learnt along the way and their recommendations.
What has been your experience or interaction with legal innovation and technology?
As a whole, I think the legal profession has been slow to adopt technology innovations. Part of my role is working with other lawyers on their legal technology needs. Many of our clients seem to have the impression that everyone else seems to have this technology stuff sorted, and it is just them that are struggling with information or practice management. But very few firms or in-house legal teams have really cracked the full potential of legal technology. I’ve also seen many lawyers underestimate the value of general business technologies too – very few legal practices use a CRM to its full potential, for example.
But it’s an incredibly dynamic space. I’ve certainly seen some lawyers doing some really innovative and amazing things with technology. And the huge number of legal start-ups alone shows shows that there is real demand among lawyers for better ways of working.
What changes have you seen in your firm, team or organisation recently?
I work a lot with in-house teams. The size and significance of in-house teams has been quietly growing over the last forty years or so, but the legal technology market has been slow to catch up. I’ve talked to technology vendors who have seemed to assume that an in-house legal team is just like a little law firm that doesn’t issue bills. But really the differences between in-house teams and law firms range from the subtle to the significant. I’ve therefore been really pleased to see that the market is starting to catch up with these developments. It’s great to see some vendors are offering excellent technology solutions that are squarely targeted at the needs of in-house lawyers.
What challenges or barriers do you face when innovating or looking to use new tech?
One of the greatest barriers I see for lawyers thinking about adopting new technologies is just deciding where to start. Lawyers grappling with decision paralysis should identify one or two issues where technology could have a positive impact. Modern software-as-a-service solutions can be deployed quickly, cheaply, and easily. If you try a solution and it doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to discard it and move to the next one. If you don’t have the time or expertise to try it yourself, find the most technology-enthusiastic person in your firm or team, give them a modest budget, and let them get to work.
What opportunities do you see with legal innovation?
Short of a singularity event occurring, I don’t see AI as replacing lawyers any time soon. I prefer to focus on IA (“intelligent assistance” – and I will freely admit this is a backronym). Intelligent assistance technology will massively leverage the power of lawyers to get more done, in less time, with increased effectiveness, and perhaps even more enjoyably. The bionic lawyers of the near future will spend much less time hunting for precedents or manually reviewing thousands of pages in a discovery or due diligence exercise; instead they will be free to focus their efforts on providing the best possible legal services to their clients.
But lawyers will still be involved. Calculators didn’t replace mathematicians. Instead they provided a massive opportunity for better ways of working. The best mathematicians nowadays aren’t those that can laboriously grind through calculations by hand; the best mathematicians are those that can best conceptualise problems in to its core elements, then pose (or program) the key questions in such a way that their machine assistants are able to answer it most effectively. The future for lawyers is similar, and I think it’s an incredible opportunity to make the practice of law far more satisfying.
With greater adoption of tech and more innovation, how do you see your role evolving in the future?
We’re basically living in the future right now! In an age where my fridge and washing machine have wifi and I can control the colour of my light bulbs from my phone, pretty much every legal project of any size will have some kind of technology component to consider. I’ve already talked about how we’re all going to become bionic lawyers. But I think that the very best lawyers will have a deep understanding of both the legal and technology issues and how they interact. For many problems, there might be both legal and technical solutions. For example, I worked on a digital privacy issue recently. The natural instinct was to include some additional disclaimers in a privacy statement. But the much better solution we arrived at was using a technology solution (hashing) to preserve the uniqueness of the data while ensuring that it was fully anonymised. Knowing what legal and technical solutions are available, and the best one to use for a given problem, will be a key role of the lawyers of the very near future.
LawFest is focused on innovation and tech in the legal profession, why do you think it’s important for legal professionals to attend an event like LawFest?
To me, the best part of Law Fest is talking with others that share an interest in the technology space, to find out what they’re doing and sharing ideas. I particularly like talking to tech vendors. Again, it’s an incredibly dynamic space at the moment and I’ve found the tech vendors at Law Fest to be really open to hearing suggestions about how you’d like to work or use their products, often in ways they hadn’t envisaged themselves!