The take off
Last week I had the pleasure of attending The Legal AI Forum, allegedly the only international event to focus on the commercial implications and business strategy of AI for the legal sector. When I was stepping out of the airplane at Stansted Airport on Monday evening, I was ready to gain a clearer understanding of data strategy and find out how the legal profession can use innovation and legal technology to create new markets.
There was no doubt this would require “fixing, what isn’t broken”, diversifying legal workplace, but most of all changing the way of thinking. As I recently defended my post grad thesis on AI from the legal perspective, I’m curious whether any of my concerns relating to the inadequacy of law had been recently addressed in the UK. Despite the well-defined approach by the European Parliament there is still no global initiative to harmonise the rules.
According to the conference agenda, Christina Blacklaws (President of The Law Society of England and Wales) was scheduled to talk about human rights and the future of AI. Anthony Kenny (Assistant General Counsel Corporate & CBS from GSK) prepared a speech on future proofing humanity and adding values to AI. I was really looking forward to find out how the UK approach to deep learning is going to change in order to embrace the fast evolving reality. I can’t help feel we haven’t quite figured it out yet.
The first day of the conference kicked off rather slowly. All the attendees were warmly welcomed by the chairperson – Richard Tromans, a founder of Artificial Lawyer, a website dedicated to the new wave legal technology.
However, the event quickly picked up its pace and halfway through the day I already learnt about Luminance – the market-leading AI platform for lawyers. Their technology was founded on breakthroughs in machine learning at the University of Cambridge. Their smart solutions have already been deployed by companies such as BA-HR, CAS and leading UK and multinational organisations. Not far behind was NightOwl, a leader in corporate eDiscovery, which won their customers with advanced technology and proven processes, and 24/7 support from their lawyers and specialists.
Companies such as White & Case, McCann Fitzgerald, DWF or Jackson Kelly seemed to be sending the same message: “Humans + AI are better than either on their own”. However, in order to be able to transform into the new reality, the clients need to openly describe what their expectations are and take an active part in working out the best form of providing the services. Whilst the work environment is changing, the roles required to complete this digital equation will need to transform too. There already is a high demand for lawyers with some tech experience, or at least sufficient understanding. If they can at the same time drive innovation at their department, they don’t need to worry about their future.
I was surprised not to see any speakers from Kira Systems, one of the event’s sponsors and a Toronto-based startup. They are already servicing such legal giants as DLA Piper, Deloitte or Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP. They offer award-winning machine learning software, which excels at identifying, extracting and analysing text in contracts and other related documents. Kira’s stand was set out outside the conference room and was equipped with a vast number of leaflets and marketing materials (including a lovely edition of a board book about Robby the Robot). It was being looked after by a very approachable and pleasant Kira representative, who understandably was very proud of being part of such a digital venture. Unfortunately he did not want to reveal how the limitation of liability clauses in their commercial contracts looks like. Kira was mentioned on many occasions during this two day event, and taking into consideration the fact they have recently received a $50 million USD minority investment from New York City-based Insight Venture Partner, I assume they did not need any extensive exposure at the conference.
What really stood out on the second day of the conference was Stuart Hopper’s (Director of Practice Development and Innovation, Dentons) presentation on structural issues for the law firm model: how to accommodate the type of business change that innovation will drive. Stuart made a really good point: “technology is not innovation, it is simply one element of legal service delivery; it is necessary, but not sufficient; it is an enabler, but not a solution”. It’s vital to have a shared service centre, a good legal project management, continuous improvement and consulting, formal as well as peer to peer informal networks. And above all – an exceptional customer service approach.
This is a business model, which has been successfully implemented within VdA, a Portuguese law firm based in Lisbon, whose innovative business structure is mesmerising. It is a living organism, ever evolving, learning, changing and adopting. The company created an innovation forum, which members are not only partners, but include a chef and a fashion designer #DiversityOfThought. The forum has its ambassadors in each department to ensure everyone’s voice is heard and that it reaches the core of the business. This structure is supported by a strategic council and an innovations hub – they all work together to ventilate issues, to unleash people’s potential and nurture creativity. It appears they know what they are doing, as they never-ending efforts have been recognised five years in a row by the Financial Times, which had presented them with the Innovation Lawyers of the Year awards.
So what are the chances of lawyers diving into new ways of providing legal services? Without using any analytical tools and basing my conclusions only on the experience I had to date (plus some common sense), I can only say: it will take some time. And it will not be a revolution, but rather an evolution of not only the way legal solutions are delivered, but most of all the way we lawyers got used to operate and function. As we all know the hourly rate is still quite alive and kicking (although Thomson Reuters beg to differ), and it is something the legal profession will hold on to for another few years.
This attitude seems to be supported by the fact that innovating a legal practice cannot be done over a night. It takes conscious planning, where all those who are involved and responsible will need to evaluate the product time to market, assess the percentage of revenue from a new mode of service and its profitability, ROIs – and this will all have to be embraced within accountability reports and programme. As Antii Innanen from Dottir Attorneys (Finland) said: “ideas are easy; the adoption and creating value isn’t”. Further, there is still scepticism. Even though a neural network‐based law machine is able to match the inherently parallel reasoning process of the lawyer and provide a superior platform for the modeling of the legal reasoning process, it still seems to suffer from a ‘black box’ image. Therefore it is still difficult to understand how they represent knowledge, which then makes it difficult to establish the legality of a network’s results in terms of the law.
The above mentioned does not seem to discourage law firms in Holland (Solv) or Belgium (De Groote De Man), which have already transformed substantial parts of their businesses and are now reaping what they sowed. The change is coming, whether we like it or not. We might be in a state of flux, but this should not stop us from taking an active part in shaping not only the future, but most of all the presence.
I am sure Richard Tromans considered this year’s event a success, and I congratulate him on the organisation of The Legal AI Forum. Initially I thought the price for the ticket was rather steep, but then again, if you cannot afford to be there, then most likely you are not ready to invest in transforming your legal business yet.
The end…when it has hardly begun
Although nobody could tell me what impact the new Copyright Directive is going to have on the development of AI technologies and whether it is going to be implemented by the UK, I was leaving London full of energy and ideas on where to go next. Although I did not find out more about any concrete plans on how to tackle ethical, social or legal challenges, I could witness part of this brain storming in person. Just as if I was taking part in this transformation process.
The Law Society created a commission for technology, ethics and computer science, and their report is due to be published next spring. In the meantime, companies such as LegalSifter in collaboration with TLT shall continue supporting business with negotiating day-to-day contracts, reaching to wider audiences. Kevin Miller from LegalSifter is a great enthusiast of their legal concept and truly believes that this “now-not yet” technology will secure not only a great profit for the brave ones, who wish to try it, but it will also make the legal services affordable.
There are no doubt exciting times ahead of us.
There are no doubt exciting times ahead of us.
Last but not least I would like to thank Peter Brookes-Smith, Sush Ghosh, David Ball and Michal Piskozub for making it possible for me to attend a truly inspirational event. I hope the experience I have had will contribute to the success of Objectivity. One way or the other. Special thanks to Maciej Wyrodek, who has offered me his technical expertise as well as brutal, yet constructive criticism on the first draft of this post.