Predictions 2018 – 19

December 19, 2017

I predict that my predictions this year will be quite
similar to others’ when it comes to artificial intelligence (AI) within law firms,
with the continued take-up of AI applications accelerating the legal AI market
towards maturity! But I also have some thoughts about the broader direction of law
and technology.

2017 saw law firms rush to announce investments and pilot
studies involving AI – apparently the top 30 law firms are all doing something
around AI. This trend will continue through 2018, but the law firm model will
not look significantly different for another few years, although these
investments are already triggering consolidation both for law firms and lawtech

The big mainstream vendors already offer ‘AI-powered’
products and services. Some are genuine, as iManage integrates RAVN
applications further into its suite of products and LexisNexis and Thomson
Reuters among others develop more intelligent software and hardware integration.

And as the lawtech start-up market matures, and successful,
well-funded products like Kira Systems and Luminance are widely adopted, clause
extraction and contract automation will become recognised elements of the new
normal. In 2018, this will have business implications for ‘fast follower’
vendors and start-ups, who will have to come up with something extra special in
order to challenge the new status quo. My prediction is that 2018 will see an
increase in business failures among the self-proclaimed ‘game changers’ of
2017. As a magic circle law firm innovator said to me, ‘How many contract
automation tools does a firm need?’

The opportunities arising in these maturing markets – legal
AI and lawtech start-ups – will have a knock-on effect on 2017’s buzzword: ‘innovation’.
Many firms have invested in innovation departments and leaders, and some of
these have produced efficiencies, and new product and service lines, but so far
these have been mostly predictable. It is only a matter of time, however,
before someone – a firm or a vendor, and more mainstream vendors are diving
into lawtech – actually comes up with something genuinely transformational,
that significantly changes law firms’ operations, and potentially their
structure. This will accelerate the move towards a new generation in legal IT
leadership – among vendors, legal services providers, and consultants, who will
require different expertise, that may come from outside the sector.

Automation will have a knock-on effect on legal education
and training, and 2018 will see more law and legal practice courses offering
technology modules that may include technical skills too.

Meanwhile, consumer-facing legal services will continue to
follow the banking and insurance model, with chatbots and apps offering easy
access to a broader range of services, including the relatively slow but steady
progress towards online courts. This will highlight the ethical and societal issues
raised by technological advances.

An essential development for 2018 and beyond is that
regulation will need to catch up with technology developments in terms of
intelligent and connected devices. This is already recognised by regulatory and
legislative authorities, who have all published research papers flagging up the
need for new regulation, and a shortage of new skills. Some are talking about
2020, which gives them just two years to introduce and implement significant
changes. My prediction is they won’t manage it in that timescale, and law 2020
will not be dramatically different from law 2018. But businesses and regulators
will have to address the more pressing issues around (IT and data) governance, responsibility
and accountability.

My predictions this year are not as specific as previously.
In a way, I’m referencing Arthur C Clarke: ‘When it comes to technology, most
people overestimate the impact in the short term and underestimate it in the
long term.’

Joanna Goodman MBA, freelance journalist and technology
columnist for the Law Society Gazette and The Guardian. The second edition of
Joanna’s book ‘Robots in Law: How Artificial Intelligence is Transforming Legal
Services’ will be published in 2018.

©Joanna Goodman 2017