What is the next Big Thing for Big Law?
In part one of a two-part series, Chrissie Lightfoot analyses the technologies that will disrupt the legal sector in tsunami-like style within the next few years
As a futurist, an entrepreneur, and a lawyer, I always get asked, 'What do you think is the next big thing in the legal world?'
I begin my response with a catch-all reply: 'The next big thing is anything that helps you attract and keep a client. No client equals no business. A bit of a cliché, I know. But you must constantly rethink how to do things better using the latest research, thinking, and innovations.' In 2008 I commented that the next 'big thing' would be the adoption of social media and social networking, providing an innovative, cost-effective, smart way to market, brand, and sell using the latest in digital technology.
Facebook's founder, Mark Zuckerberg, in 2010 remarked 'There's going to be an opportunity over the next five years or so to pick any industry and rethink it.' True to form, the legal world caught on to this latest wave of 'rethinking' - but it took far longer than other professions and industries.
It has taken more than eight years for social media
to be widely adopted and truly embraced in the mainstream legal ecosystem.
Fast-forward three years from 2008 to 2011, during which I would answer with my catch-all reply and add smart technologies, such as relationship intelligent products; cognitive computing (CC); artificial intelligence (AI); and robotic automation technologies.
Leap forward another three years to 2014 and,
in a nutshell, I believe the next big thing for legal
was adopting a variety of fee-earning and business processes that encompass AI technologies, and which blend human talent and machine intelligence, delivering all kinds, and enabling
new kinds, of legal services.
Today, in 2016, smart CC and AI technologies
exist that are available to pervade every aspect of fee-earning and business processes within a law firm, including marketing, business development, and customer relationship management.
Suspicions and reinventions
Not surprisingly, it has been a slow burn for these pioneering smart technologies to 'break into' the legal world. It still remains a huge challenge for the vast majority due to the same suspicions and cautious approach that lawyers and law firms hold towards anything that may promulgate change or cause major disruption - or they simply do not understand. Not unlike how social media and social networking was viewed with scepticism back in 2008, so too is emerging intelligence - augmented and artificial - at present.
However, due to the evolution of AI and its potential impact on the legal ecosystem, Professor Richard Susskind recently warned that the legal profession has five years to reinvent itself, and the Riverview Law CEO, Karl Chapman, has predicted that the use of AI will be mainstream in the legal profession by 2020. I too have long held the belief that the profession needs to reinvent itself, and in 2011 declared that the impact of AI and robots would be felt by 2016 or thereabouts, but certainly before 2020, and definitely not in decades' time as Tony Williams predicted in the Jomati Report 'Civilisation 2030'.
I held and hold steadfast in this view, despite ridicule and scoffing, because we, the human race, constantly surprise ourselves with our technological breakthroughs. For example, when scientists were given the green light to crack the DNA code and sequence the entire human genome, everyone (scientists, futurists, thought-leaders, etc.) predicted it would take 100 years: it only took eight (1995 to 2003). Fast-forward 13 years to 2016. On 10 May this year Harvard University hosted a closed-door conference (in absolute secrecy - no journalists allowed) with more than 100 scientists, lawyers, and business leaders to discuss the creation of a synthetic human genome and its feasibility.
The Human Genome Project (2) aims to synthesise the full human genome. I have no doubt that this project will go ahead (once all the regulatory and patent squabbles have been agreed, not unlike in the 1990s) and in all likelihood it will take far less than ten years if the previous track record and history in genome achievement is to be taken into account. Imagine the technology in the 1990s and compare it to what we have now, factor in the exponential development of technology, and what do we have?
From AlphaGo to AlphaLaw?
Drawing a parallel with exponential advancement
in AI evolution and computing intelligence breakthroughs, and factoring in what could be deployed in the legal world, in March this year we witnessed Google's DeepMind AlphaGo's stunning victory over legend and world champion Lee Se-dol, the world champion of the strategy board game Go.
DeepMind (an AI system of neural networks) was acquired by Google in 2014 and uses games as a testing ground for AI algorithms that could have real-world applications. AlphaGo was imbued with the ability to learn through the human-like process of practice and study. It is not a hand-crafted program in which software engineers distil information from, for example, a human player's head into specific rules and heuristics. AlphaGo's founder, Demis Hassabis, comments that an aspect of 'intuition' has been introduced into the neural networks, a characteristic which distinguishes top Go players.
The same could be said about top lawyers, lawyering, and legal service provision. In a handful of years - from the introduction of chess-playing computer program Deep Blue in 1996 to AlphaGo's self-learning in 2016 - we have reached a point where a machine proved its superiority over a world-class human being's creativity and intuitive insights.
Despite the fact that Lee Se-dol has since beaten AlphaGo, this does not detract from the significant step forward made in machine-learning capabilities. After all, even Hassabis was surprised at the rate of progress he and his team achieved in such a short timeframe - 18 months, from inception to triumph.
I cannot imagine an 18-month-old baby being able to study and learn at the same rate as AlphaGo, can you? There is, therefore, a possibility, in theory at least, that a machine could learn through practice and study to become a world champion lawyer.
And this is deeply significant.
But until such time as an AlphaLaw champion lawyer exists (which may be sooner than we all anticipate), let us deal with the reality in a legal world where:
Smart CC, AI, and robot technologies in relation to the four key elements of legal service provision - commoditisation, research, reasoning, and judgement - exist and can support or replace many aspects of a lawyer's job, including both fee-earning and business processes;
Clients demand and expect more speedy, accurate, expert, creative, intuitive, and accessible legal advice;
Pressure is growing both from within law firms (or in-house teams) and from clients to respond to the demand for customer-designed services;
Technology-related projects that are both user and client-centric need to be implemented successfully; and
In the long term, everyone will be using these kinds of technologies, despite the fact that AI deployment in the legal world has a last mile problem, comments Rick Seabrook, managing director of Neota Logic, Europe.
Four aspects of legal services
As we witness the evolution of AI and its take-up
in the world at large, I predict we will experience a more measured approach and gradual warming to the evolution of AI in the legal world throughout 2016, which will then lead to a tsunami deployment within a couple of years - similar to the social media warming but on synthetic, exponential steroids. There will be AlphaLaw pioneers, just like there were social media pioneers.
Due to the deployment of smart tech, CC, AI,
and robots in the legal ecosystem where lawyers, firms, general counsel, and clients are beginning
to embrace such technologies, we're seeing that lawyering is increasingly becoming more productive, efficient, accurate, better quality, and less labour and time intensive, and the role of the lawyer is gradually shifting and changing.
There are, at present, several key providers of smart CC, AI, and robot technologies that relate to all aspects of legal services provision, and they deal with different aspects of the lawyer's role. If we break down a lawyer's tasks in a legal project from beginning to end, we find there is a technology that can handle the majority of these four tasks far more quickly and accurately than a human lawyer.
CC, AI, and robots are currently (and mainly) used and being considered for use in the legal ecosystem as a carthorse - for example, e-discovery, research, business processes, basic analytics or analysis, hypothesising, etc. - where they speed up much of the mundane elements of legal work. For example:
Big Law American firm BakerHostetler is the first licensee of Ross, hailed as the world's first AI lawyer and a 'very smart artificial co-worker', which interacts using natural language and is used for bankruptcy-related legal research matters. Ross (owned by Ross Intelligence Inc.), an AI product and service resulting from the use of Apple's slick Siri voice capabilities and IBM Watson's cognitive computing prowess, has been in the development and pilot stage throughout 2015 but will now be a huge boon for lawyers, law firms, and clients;
BLP has been using RAVN ACE (applied cognitive engine) AI technology in the UK since 2015 in its real estate department and commercial practices. Used for 'deep research' and processing, such as extracting specific pieces of information from large documents, the technology has been nicknamed Lonald by BLP associates, who welcome the machine as being more efficient, productive, and accurate than they could possibly be. Lonald is due to be 'rolled-out' in all BLP departments over the next three years in an attempt to boost efficiency and improve the morale of its lawyers;
The first Magic Circle firm to go public with the use of AI, Linklaters has also signed a deal with technology provider RAVN Systems, the details of which remain confidential. The Financial Times also reveals the company has developed Verifi, a computer program that can sift through 14 European and UK regulatory registers to check client names for banks. The company said it could 'process thousands of names overnight';
Riverview Law launched KIM - an AI virtual assistant - in January this year, followed up in April with an AI triage of managed services technology and an AI platform, a huge advantage for general counsel and law departments in corporations, and for clients of all company sizes;
Pinsent Masons has developed a programme that reads and analyses clauses in loan agreements. Its TermFrame system helps guide its lawyers through transactions and points them towards the correct precedents at each stage of a process; and
Hodge, Jones & Allen has been working with academics from University College London to create software that assesses the merits of personal injury cases since 2014/15.
All of these AI systems and computer
programs handle large quantities of structured
and unstructured data, and assist with the process, management, research, and reasoning elements related to legal issues. Two years ago they were not even in play in the legal market, though they were on the horizon.
Time equals money
For entrepreneurial lawyers and law firms, CC, AI, and robots also provide the opportunity to rethink legal service offerings. For example, with RAVN's AI technology, a law firm that has a client with tens of thousands of employment contracts across the world could offer the existing client an 'employment contract analysis' in relation to risk and compliance issues (for example, when there is new regulation or when the law bites). RAVN can configure a robot that will tell the firm or client what their exposure is. Providing this kind of legal service would have been impossible previously due to the disproportionate spend in time and cost; however, RAVN takes a routine, cognitive process (traditionally undertaken by junior lawyers labouring over a long period of time, usually months) and transforms it into an automated process, which can be completed in a matter of minutes or hours. Consequently, something that is incredibly difficult for a human to do that a robot finds very easy could be offered as a valuable new legal service. RAVN is currently in the process of developing a whitepaper on the potential of deploying AI technologies in the legal world, which should prove highly informative and helpful to curious minds.
This has been, and is, our current and main level of understanding, thinking, application, and deployment of smart tech, CC, and AI in the legal industry. And yet, a search for 'AI in law' produces 105,000 results in just the news section alone of Google's vast index. From the web as a whole, 25,900,000 results can be found, meaning there is appetite, curiosity, and interest in searching for how AI and the robots may be of use in the legal ecosystem more widely.
These technologies could, to some extent, be used in every aspect of legal service provision, not just the mundane 'everyday' basic legal matters of 'doing' but also the more lucrative area of 'thinking' and 'advisory'.
Part two of this series is scheduled to publish
next week in our 7 June issue
Chrissie Lightfoot was named in the 2015 list of the World’s Top Female Futurists and is author of bestseller The Naked Lawyer and its sequel Tomorrow’s Naked Lawyer: NewTech, NewHuman, NewLaw – How to be successful 2015 to 2045 @TheNakedLawyer entrepreneurlawyer.co.uk