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Robotics to revolutionise the legal sector

Could improve transactional work, litigation funding and judicial judgments

14 September 2015

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By Manju Manglani, Editor (@ManjuManglani)

Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) are challenging law firms to redefine the value of their legal services.

With cognitive computing now capable of completing within seconds work which would have taken a team of people months to do, law firms will need to move away from transactional work and focus more on high-value advisory work.

That's the view of Matthew Whalley, head of the legal risk consultancy at Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) and the originator of 'contract robotics' at the global firm.

He predicts that a large share of the UK's top-20 and top-100 law firms will be using AI by 2020 and that the magic circle will be using it within the next 12 to 18 months.

For him, law firms that understand how to leverage the technology will have a competitive edge in winning and retaining high-value clients in future.

"You can start to talk about new sorts of projects that aren't just transactional, that are more advisory," he told Managing Partner.

"You could then build up this whole advisory side of the firm that can start to help clients in banks, corporates and real estate development, and start to look at what their property portfolios look like, what their transaction portfolios look like and what their outsourcing agreements look like. You can round up different types of legal work or legal risks that have come from the management and actually start to quantify them or prioritise them."

BLP has pioneered the use of 'contract robotics' for lawyers in its largest practice area, real estate, through the use of RAVN's applied cognitive engine (ACE).

Affectionately called 'LONald' because of its use for Light Obstruction Notices (LONs), its custom robot can now do 100 days' work in less than two seconds.

With the ability to organise and analyse large volumes of information stored in scanned copies of documents, there are many possibilities for further deployment of cognitive computing.

"It can turn unstructured data in documents into usable, analysable data that you can then start to make decisions with," said Whalley.

"It can tell you where you need to improve, where you need to put playbooks in, where you need to retrain to bring things back into the agreed risk parameters and start to reduce the amount of risk that tends to bottle up and then blow up into huge issues, huge regulatory fines and lots of negative headlines."

He continued: "So you can start to really point or re-target lawyers at some of the root causes, some of the problems that have caused the industry huge problems, as well as improve speed of transactional work and deliver more value to clients as a whole.

"Join that with a bit of extra partner-level experience and it is a very powerful combination."

New opportunities to leverage AI in law

Aside from BLP, two other firms recently confirmed that they are investing in artificial intelligence. Dentons is developing a legal advisor app with IBM Watson to improve legal research processes, while Riverview Law is developing 'virtual assistants' for in-house counsel.

Some law firms are currently developing custom 'robots' for structured finance (due diligence on facilities), employment law (reviewing global contracts) and property management (renegotiating ground rents), according to RAVN's managing director, Peter Wallqvist. In addition, several UK government agencies are using it for e-discovery projects, he says.

The ways in which law firms are using artificial intelligence today is just beginning: there is a whole spectrum of ways in which the technology can be leveraged in the legal sector in future.

While cognitive computing currently requires human intervention, it could evolve to the point where none is required. In future, firms may be able to marry document automation and cognitive computing technology to automatically produce legal work. However, that is still a long way off.

"Our approach is not so much full automation, it might be because of the kind of firms and companies that we deal with - they are not quite ready to take the step where they just sit back and look at how it actually works. We want to help as much as possible, but it should always be a human that presses the button, to say 'okay now this looks good, send'. And that is what has happened when it is real cases," commented Wallqvist.

"It's baby steps, but eventually you could say that some of these things that we are doing right now won't need intervention from anyone."

Indeed, Wallqvist hopes that his firm's ACE technology will develop to the point where law firms can 'self-service' their own robots.

One area in which BLP's Whalley believes robotics could add value is in the realm of data analytics for litigation funding. The technology could be used to develop litigation portfolios using the techniques used to create investment portfolios, with an analysis of the risk profile of each case.

"I think there will be litigation funders which will start to look at it to process vast amounts of case data to get better at working out which elements of cases matter the most and to get more accurate percentages around the likelihood of a favourable outcome," he said.

"You could actually create a portfolio of cases and say 'these cases are dependent on whether it goes to jury trial', 'these cases are dependent on the underlying process' and 'these cases hinge on is whether there is a good, valid, legal argument'."

Similarly, he believes robots could be developed to produce case summaries of court proceedings, based on written and oral submissions from each side. These analytics-based reports could be automatically sent to judges to inform their deliberations, enabling them to deliver much speedier judgments.

"You could turn a case around in days rather than weeks," suggested Whalley.

Once the technology is advanced enough, it could potentially be used by other countries to process cases based on English law.

"You could almost get the UK being the legal hook for the rest of the world, because we have a fantastic legal education system, a fantastic set of lawyers being trained here and respect from the rest of the profession around the world."

One country which would be a natural target for this technology is India, in which it can sometimes take 10 years for a case to get through the dockets.

"That would be a complete switcharound - instead of everybody outsourcing standard legal work to India, they could outsource their legal judgements to the UK," said Whalley.







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