The rise of cognitive technologies has led doomsayers to predict that the future of the legal profession will be presided over by an army of robot lawyers. Whilst it is important to recognize that the delivery of legal services is going through a transformation, we’re not quite at the point where practicing lawyers need to contemplate a career change that could resemble a Hollywood movie.
An important distinction in using technology needs to be made between process efficiency and process ownership. Cognitive technology can help improve efficiency, but business process – including the provision of legal advice – must have a process owner….and I’m not referring to the T1000. In fact, continued focus on the negatives of cognitive technology detract from the benefits this technology can bring.
It is worth considering the future of legal services in a digitally mature world. What will the role of a lawyer look like in 15 years? If we re-wind 15 years, the first-generation iPod had just been released, a smart phone was something that enabled you to configure different ring tones and Mark Zuckerberg was still in high school. Things can change fast.
Sadly, innovation in legal service delivery has not kept pace with Apple, Samsung and Facebook – or indeed other service industries such as banking and finance, manufacturing or retail. The good news is that clients are increasingly demanding efficiency from their legal teams. To keep pace, firms and in-house legal teams are placing an increasing focus on service innovation.
So let’s fast forward to 2030 and predict how the rise of legal innovation will change the way that legal services are delivered.
- Data strategy and analytics. An increased focus on data management by corporate clients will see legal teams – both internal and external – better equipped to provide proactive guidance. Traditional methods of managing data for practice areas such as Litigation and Merger & Acquisitions on a matter-by-matter basis, will evolve into corporate organisations centrally managing data and delegating or sharing access where appropriate to external firms to advise on a particular transaction.Productivity gains for corporate organisations adopting a “big data” approach include:a. Work product for historical transactions can be kept in a central repository enabling predictive analysis to be undertaken to streamline transactional work. Organisations will import work product relevant to a completed M&A transaction into this repository.This data can then be used to inform future transactions by providing predictive risk based analysis thus enabling lawyers to examine trends from previous cases and how they might affect the deal at hand.b. Preparing data and documents for litigation review can be a laborious and expensive process, particularly when using a range of external firms who have all adopted their own preferred tools and processes. Organisations will be able to avoid repetition of data manipulation to facilitate legal review by having a central strategy around collection, preservation and access of corporate information.
Relevant data will be able to be isolated, shared externally for legal analysis with the resultant legal work product being imported by the corporate organisation to isolate areas of legal risk across all matters. Having this central view will enable firms to better manage data security concerns, as well creating a more tightly controlled mechanism to provide data to third parties, such as law firms.
c. A central view of data will enable legal experts to work with specialized skill-sets, such as data scientists, to proactively determine areas of risk. This can range from proactive mechanisms to detect a possible breach of a regulatory requirement, or potentially implementing fraud detection mechanisms to protect the organisations business interests.
- Automated advice. Gartner’s 2015 predication of a world of “Algorithmic Law” has proven to be correct with organisations able to leverage online tools to receive real time responses to complex legal issues. Law firms will utilize their digital channels to provide advice to organisations in a range of areas such as Risk & Compliance, Employment and International Trade. These tools are created and managed by subject matter experts who keep pace with regulatory changes and the evolving legal landscape. Law firms are still required to provide expertise in subject matters areas, but will become increasingly relevant in the digital economy as jurisdictional barriers are broken down through an ability to engage customers online.
- Client engagement. As demand for data strategy and automated advice grows, sharing of data between organisation and firm will become a central area of focus. To support the centralized strategy of organisations, law firms will need to invest in solutions to ensure secure and accurate handling of data to support transactional work. This should be viewed as an opportunity for savvy firms to create innovative ways to generate efficient and accurate solutions for clients that become embedded within their business process. Well-designed solutions will enable firms to embed themselves within their client’s business process.
These predictions may appear somewhat futuristic, however as demand increases from organisations for efficiency and accuracy through digital engagement, it’s natural that legal services will have to fall in to line.
Importantly, the landscape outlined continues to require deep subject matter expertise and accountability for service delivery. Legal expertise extends to understanding the rules regarding how information is captured and shared, as well as the decision-making process that is implemented to take advantage of the available data. Legal advice must continue to be provided by suitably qualified best-of-breed lawyers to ensure adequate governance of this brave new world. Lawyers must also be able to adjust the approach when legislation inevitably changes.
What will change are the work practices and delivery mechanisms for consumption of the service. Face to face consultation will become less relevant and digital engagement will become a skill set that law firms must become experts in.
Legal services are not, and will not, be managed by robots. The focus instead should be upon the trend towards proactive client services creating real process efficiency. Whilst some things may change, lawyers will always be the process owners, which may not suit a Hollywood movie, but it is their rightful place in an evolving digital economy.