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Artificial intelligence to be ‘the norm’ in law firms by 2020

Law firms must be technology-led to ensure their future survival

1 September 2015

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By Manju Manglani, Editor (@ManjuManglani)

All law firms will need to leverage artificial intelligence in future as a standard technology investment.

That's the view of Karl Chapman, chief executive of Riverview Law, which today announced that it is developing 'virtual assistants' for in-house counsel.

"Artificial intelligence is going to become the norm over the next three to five years," he told Managing Partner.

"Law firms will need to have made these investments and be using these tools or they're going to find it very difficult to be competitive. For us, it's just common sense."

Firms that have already invested in pre-artificial intelligence have a strong competitive advantage. Cognitive computing can reduce the amount of time and resources it takes to complete a transaction.

In early August, global law firm Dentons announced that its collaborative innovation platform, NextLaw Labs, would be investing in pre-artificial intelligence for lawyers, powered by IBM's Watson. Dubbed 'ROSS', the legal advisor app is expected to streamline legal research, saving lawyers time and clients money.

Later this month, a global law firm is expected to announce that it is using the cognitive computing services of tech start-up RAVN to automate process-based legal work. The technology is able to organise and analyse high volumes of legal documents at a fraction of the speed of trained lawyers.

In one recent RAVN case, a 1,000-contract project which took a four-person team three months to complete was finished to the same standard - and with added analytical tools - within a few hours after a 10-day one-off configuration process.

Differentiation strategies for the future

Over the next few years, access to artificial intelligence technology will cease to provide law firms with competitive advantage. Most firms will have invested in it, much the same as the majority currently have practice management systems. So, how will law firms need to differentiate their services in future?

Responded Chapman: "I think you're the first person to ask this question and I think you've hit the nail on the head! Today, having the technology is a big differentiator, but that will change over time. The issue is, what will be your core differentiator in future?

"Today, we've got the technology and we're beating other firms. We are much more advanced I think than a lot of firms in terms of using this technology. But, over time, I think that having the technology is only going to be part of the differentiator. The big differentiator will be how you use it, how you exploit it and the culture of your organisation."

For him, there are three big steps which law firms must take to prepare for the future of artificial intelligence being the norm.

"Number one, you've got to get that artificial intelligence is going to fundamentally change the market. Number two, you've got to be able to deploy the technology - and that means you understand what's the right technology, what's available and how to use it. Number three, you've got to use it."

In the next four to six years, he believes law firms that have taken these steps will have developed the experience, culture and skills to stand out from their competitors.

A strong understanding of the power of technology will become a prerequisite to the way law firms do business in future.

"You're going to have to have a very strong technology understanding. I don't think it's going to be enough to be technology enabled, I think you have to be technology led," said Chapman.

Indeed, Managing Partner research has found that tech-savvy lawyers are key to law firms' survival. However, persuading lawyers to use new technology was also identified as the biggest IT challenge of 2015.

Small to mid-sized US law firms are increasingly embracing technology as key to improving lawyer efficiency and increasing profits, according to separate research. The issue is whether they will be able to ensure their lawyers fully migrate to the new platforms.

Clearly, changing lawyers' attitudes towards new technology will be critical if firms are to succeed against the early adopters of artificial intelligence.

"None of us quite know what the future looks like, but the direction of travel is pretty clear," said Chapman. "And this is happening across all sectors, not just in the legal market."

"We'll all make mistakes along the way, but if you don't enter the race, you can't win it!"





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