Law firms won’t see the upside of new technology without rapid deployment, integration software and design thinking.
The dramatic growth of the legal IT start-up community has reached the tipping point where it is shifting mainstream thinking.
The LawSites blog lists over 500 legal start-ups offering exciting new applications, some of which are attracting significant investment from law firms, their subsidiaries and external investors. Kennedy Van der Laan innovation director Jeroen Zweers’ Dutch Legal Tech Meetup has attracted over 600 members in just 18 months, and supporters of its annual awards include legal publisher Wolters Kluwer. In the UK, Jimmy Vestbirk’s Legal Geek meetups are following a similar trajectory with over 1,000 members. When it comes to software implementation, the widespread adoption of cloud computing has facilitated the take-up of web-based tools, including document comparison, secure document transfer and e-signatures.
Standalone web-based tools include legal artificial intelligence (AI), which so far is focused on specific areas of legal research and business processes. First-movers include ABS Riverview Law and start-up incubator Dentons’ NextLaw Labs. Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) led law firms into AI with ‘robotic contract lawyer’ LONald powered by RAVN’s Applied Cognitive Engine (ACE) that handles real estate due diligence. NextLaw Labs was an early investor in ‘artificially intelligent attorney’ ROSS, which is built on the IBM Watson AI platform and was recently employed by US firm BakerHostetler to carry out legal research in its bankruptcy practice.
These ‘narrow’ AI tools boost client service and law firm margins. And adding an intelligent layer saves fee-earner time by ‘including expertise in software’ to replace the initial consultation, which Neota Logic CEO Richard Seabrook described in his presentation to the AI Summit as the ‘last mile’ to wholesale AI adoption. Although this may be a little way off in legal, Taylor Wessing used Neota Logic’s platform to build a self-service app.
This includes an interactive questionnaire that advises clients immediately whether their activities come under the People with Significant Control (PSC) rules, and if they are affected refers them to the appropriate fee-earner.
The preponderance of web-based services has helped to accelerate law firms’ adoption of cloud computing, which frees up IT resources to build or buy bespoke innovation and diversifies the IT environment. One challenge of harnessing the start-up culture is that although it leverages technology as a differentiator, it shortens the product life cycle. Start-ups bring their products to market fast and swiftly adapt them to user feedback. This means that law firms have to learn to be agile – not just in terms of flexible working, but also the ability to shift their IT strategy very quickly when it is necessary or expedient to do so without losing user engagement.
Return on IT investment is a key consideration. Law firm IT budgets are bigger than ever. However, their biggest IT investments are not the standalone innovative tools, including legal AI, that hit the headlines. Rather, they are the core practice management systems (PMS), document management systems, time and billing systems, information security, disaster recovery and so on that underpin operations and compliance.
As web-based tools lower the barriers to innovation, law firm IT heads are devoting more attention to systems integration so that lawyers and business support professionals can bring together the right resources to maximize client success. How are firms streamlining their IT assets and making sure people are aware of the different tools and applications that they are investing in? How do they bring these together with their central operational systems? How do they make space for innovation when there is so much essential legacy?