Lawyers and Robots? conversation around the future of the legal industry

Lexis Nexis – like the American Bar Association, Law Society and the Legal Education Foundation – has had its go at surveying the future of legal services in the light of advances in technology. Being a publisher, it has gone about the exercise in a distinctive way. It has brought together reports of seven conversations about different aspects.
The great advantage of this approach is that it underlines two really important factors – the broad range of impact that technology will have and the wide consensus on the inevitability of the depth of that impact. It is impossible to read these contributions without seriously having to confront the likelihood of major disruption of the practice of law. They cover the field from the impact of artificial intelligence in commercial practice to the use of technology by an advice agency in Brighton. However, the content is most confident when it is dealing with the way in which technology will change corporate law. Here, Isabel Parker of Freshfields sees a change in expectations:

Clients (and recruits) of the future will expect a top tier legal firm to be technology enabled and its lawyers to be confiddent in working with legal technology. Clients will expect closer collaboration, aided by technology and will be unwilling to pay hourly rates for any legal process that could be automated.

Contributors are sharp in noting how this feeds into the increasingly active role taken by in-house counsel.

The big agreement Is on the importance of artificial intelligence for commercial practice. There are differing views of how firms should respond to its challenges. One line of thinking suggests that firms should develop their in-house capacities and seek to bind clients into them. The other, favoured understandably by those representing the interests of outside developers, is that you are better going to an external specialist. This debate seems perhaps to pay insufficient attention to the lessons of the past. These suggest that there is an initial wave of widespread innovation at the end of which one or two products emerge as the industrial standard. Remember WordPerfect? It lost out. Microsoft Word established itself as the go to programme and you still go to it now even if you are seeking to share a document created in another programme. The in-house v out-house discussion may be a temporary phenomenon. In the end, clients may well want to settle on one single product whose reliability has been tested, for example to predict case outcomes using artificial intelligence. There may be one winner (perhaps with a backup) among many losers.

The gap in the publication, though this is perhaps understandable, relates to the link between technology and other factors. Technology will have  different impact in different sectors when deployed as the result of different forces. Personally oriented practices will not have the capital to invest in the way that the corporates do. For them, technology is likely to be of more immediate use in creating national or regional brands designed to overwhelm traditional local firms. So, we are likely to see the development of various forms of virtual practice which allow national coverage from a limited number of physical bases. Effective use of something like Skype may prove to be the game changer.

For the advice sector, virtual practice will also be increasingly important as a way of leveraging scant resources. Relevant too will be the development of conditional logic and guided pathways to extend the reach of such agencies as to continue to weather the storm of continuing adversity. But, absent major government investment, there is unlikely to be much money to develop artificial intelligence to anything like the extent possible in the commercial sector, at least at the moment.

So, this report is worth a look –  though the ABA, Law Society and LEF reports may be more relevant  to developments relevant to technology and access to justice.

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