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Technology checkmate for law firms?

Technology checkmate for law firms?


Lawyers must embrace tech or find themselves swept from the board, writes Matthew Rogers

‘We should not worry about what our machines can do today,’ said Russian chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov. ‘Instead, we should worry about what they still cannot do today, because we will need the help of the new, intelligent machines to turn our grandest dreams into reality.’

Kasparov famously lost to IBM’s supercomputer Deep Blue in 1997 in a match billed as man versus machine. He had beaten Blue a year earlier but would soon succumb to the ferocity of a device able to calculate 200 million positions per second. While he had reservations about the intelligence of machines back then, 20 years later, Kasparov says humans must work with technology to get the best out of humanity.

Speaking at the TED2017 conference in April, he said: ‘Our technology excels at removing difficulties and uncertainties from our lives, and so we must seek out ever more difficult, ever more uncertain challenges. Machines have calculations. We have understanding. Machines have instructions. We have purpose. Machines have objectivity. We have passion.’

The jury is still out on how far lawyers will accept technology into their realm, but that has not stopped tech companies from pushing their products. Question-answering computer system IBM Watson has formed the basis for revolutionary legal research tool ROSS, which is used by a host of big name firms, from Dentons to Latham & Watkins, and Bryan Cave to K&L Gates.

Meanwhile, RAVN Systems has developed an Applied Cognitive Engine tool to help search unstructured data. It has around 70 law firms as clients so far. RAVN’s co-founder, Peter Wallqvist, confirmed at the ConnectLive17 conference that he was looking to develop technology that could predict costs, risks, and the outcomes of cases.

Law firms are becoming more aware of technology’s importance. Research by LawNet reveals that a competitive edge, improved client satisfaction, and increased revenues are all reasons why its member firms are considering investing in new tech.

However, other firms remain reluctant to change – even those that should be able to mitigate any additional expenditure by attracting external investment. Those that have can reap the rewards of a more efficient business and an improved market share.

Chris Marston, chief executive of LawNet, warns of the risk firms face if they don’t invest: ‘The impact of these new technologies will go far wider than just the legal sector, resulting in changing client expectations, and it is this that will ultimately drive change in the profession.

‘The danger for firms of not engaging is that they’ll get overtaken by competitors offering different solutions that are more attractive to clients. No one wants to be Blockbuster! The challenge though is to ensure that the technologies you invest in deliver solutions that are relevant to your firm and your clients.

‘The world is moving so fast and the danger of getting left behind is real. But adopting technological change shouldn’t just be a defensive strategy. Embracing technology brings opportunities for creating innovative solutions and driving efficiency – surely things all law firms would want to achieve.’

For Kasparov, there will be no excuses for those who fail to wholeheartedly embrace the AI revolution. ‘If we fail, it’s not because our machines are too intelligent, or not intelligent enough. If we fail, it’s because we grew complacent and limited our ambitions.’

Complacency and lack of ambition are killers for any business, including those that sell legal services. Those that are unwilling to take advantage of new legal tech may find themselves outplayed by their more forward-thinking competitors and swept from the board. It may not be checkmate for law firms yet, but it soon may be.

Matthew Rogers is a legal reporter at Solicitors Journal | @lex_progress