Joanna Goodman looks closely at what is happening, and about to happen, in the use of AI by law firms and considers some wider developments in tech affecting lawyers
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 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