AI in Tech and Law in 2018 and Beyond

December 11, 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 providers.

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

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 time-scale, 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