The legal landscape is very diverse and varied, so I don’t think you can generalise. If you’re in the magic circle, you’ll be looking at global competition and the rising prevalence of US law firms. The next tier down will be thinking about how they can propel themselves towards global reach, mid-market firms are worried about maintaining relevance and high street firms are looking at alternative platforms and consolidation. The key thing that each and every firm holds in common is understanding technology and what it means for them, their clients and the wider market.
At the moment, it’s difficult to see where technological change is going. There is a saying that people can overestimate the short-term impact and underestimate the long term impact. Short-term technology might not seem very significant, but long term it absolutely is.
AI is already prolific in everyday life from connected cars through to Amazon Alexa. Everyone is aware of it - they can’t fail to be. A lot of the big firms have implemented technologies with the likes of Kira, RAVN, Luminance and Watson. But the question has to be, once the deal is done, where do you take it?
Certainly, AI has become easier to use. Now becoming more available on an ‘as-a-service’ basis, it puts more pressure big on-site implementations, but it’s still early days and it’s hard to see what AI will look like at scale. Think back to 1999 and the beginning of the internet. We didn’t see the real disruption then - that came later with mobile, social and cloud. I believe the same is true of AI.
Right now the key challenge is driving adoption. Senior decision makers are aware of AI, but as yet no one has made a compelling case for it at scale. This creates challenge number two – training data sets. Partners are reticent at the moment about fee billing resource being diverted to training data sets when they aren’t sure of the commercial value. The technology is there, and the competitive pressures are growing, but they’re not quite there yet.
Whichever legal segment you’re looking at, from the magic circle to the high street, there are standard repeatable components of work where AI can make a real difference. Also, the cognition aspect of AI will have a huge impact. Say for example you are working on a healthcare M&A, if the platform has worked similar deals in the same sector before it will start to be able to identify relevant regulations, contract patterns etc. saving an inordinate amount of time in the process.
As well as tech, you also have to look at demographics. More solicitors are going in-house, baby boomers are on the cusp of retirement, new delivery platforms like legal process outsourcing and on-demand are growing strongly, so law firms are declining as a percentage of the total sector. These macro trends in conjunction with tech will change the legal sector in the long term, but that change won’t be evident for a few years yet.
Yes, my goodness if it’s not ready now it never will be. The Economist reported GDPR to be the most complicated and important piece of legislation to come from the EU. You can’t just paper your way to compliance, it’s about stewardship and accountability. Ultimately I think it will create a more data-driven focus across law firms and be a can opener for embracing a more comprehensive look at data in the organization and digital transformation.
Absolutely – but that is the nature of technology. It transforms, and along the way relationship and working practices change. GDPR will lead to more collaboration between law firms and their clients because there will be more connectivity between the two. There will have to be in order to maintain the integrity of the supply chain as clients as buyers will be able to aggregate parts of the service from different legal services vendors.
Without question senior partners intuitively recognise that a data breach could be terminal, but there is a gap between this intuitive knowledge and what needs to be done at a practical level, in terms of IT security and policies and procedures. Every firm needs to pay constant attention to cyber.
Firms are getting better, but they haven’t all quite woken up to the realisation that they are a store for client’s most sensitive commercial, confidential and personal data. That will change though and the gap between the two will become smaller, mainly because corporate clients are examining law firms’ cyber credentials as part of the procurement process.
Cyber is the one area where truly you can never do enough. Companies are getting better but the truth is that you can never guarantee that you won’t be breached. The key then is how you respond to that incident when it occurs. I think that cyber is often viewed as a list of technologies, but these are only half the story. Penetration testing, anti-virus etc; all these solutions need to be supported by processes, policies and procedures.
To directly answer the question, have people invested enough? No. But if they want to survive they must.
With over 30 years’ experience at the leading edge of technology law practice, Richard is widely recognised as one of the world’s top IT lawyers. He has built an outstanding reputation for advice that combines commerciality and client service with innovative legal solutions to the business challenges of technology development, deployment and regulation.
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