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Key tech innovations shaking up the legal business

Dan Taylor, head of systems at Fletchers Solicitors, explores the key technological innovations that have the power to revolutionise the legal sector.

Every section of the business world will experience change in some form or another, and for businesses to stay relevant, they should look to be innovative and should always be on the search for ways to revolutionise.

However, not all industries have the same experience with change, and innovation may not come quite as naturally to some as it does to others. The legal sector in particular is the perfect example. For a long time, it’s had a set way of working, and up until the past few years, there hasn’t been much need to adapt. But times are changing and recently the industry has been subject to its fair share of alterations, forcing firms to sit up and take notice, and adopt new ways of working.

Jackson reforms

So the big question for many firms is ‘how do we make savings and work more efficiently, but still deliver an excellent service to our clients?’ Well, technology is increasingly becoming integrated into the practice of law, and going forward, it looks set to become a major solution in the quest for greater efficiency. With this in mind, below are three key tech innovations that have the potential to shake up the sector in the next few years, and which firms should be taking notice of in order to become more efficient.

Artificial Intelligence

There has been a lot of talk about how AI can transform certain industries, such as customer services and finance, and the conversation is now entering the legal community. AI programs and solutions have the potential to be invaluable when it comes to coping with the increasing amounts of data that lawyers have to handle, making it easier and quicker to sift through and analyse large collections of documents. It can also be used to automate a number of time-consuming tasks, particularly when it comes to legal research.

For example, sophisticated research tools such as ROSS, ‘the world’s first artificially intelligent lawyer’, have already been adopted by a number of US Law firms. ROSS, which was developed by IBM and powered by its WATSON AI platform, is very useful as lawyers can ask questions and the system will then provide citations and suggest topical articles from a variety of sources.

This software goes beyond a simple knowledge database and uses machine learning to understand legal language, search and collate all available information on legal cases, and provide increasingly sophisticated hypotheses for possible legal courses of action. Greater use of intelligent systems could allow lawyers to focus more of their time on more complex, high value tasks like the core legal analysis, driving efficiencies and helping lawyers to make quick and accurate decisions. Such systems also have the potential to reduce overhead costs and increase profits.

As the technology is still in the early stages of development, only a limited number of legal innovators (including Fletchers) appear to be recognising the vast potential this technology presents for the sector. However, over the next 12-36 months, AI is likely to make a big break into the UK legal industry. And once AI systems are launched that can automate time consuming data analysis and make intelligent legal decisions to assist lawyers, competition between firms will increase dramatically.

Positioned correctly, this tech has the power to be extremely disruptive to the legal market. For the early adopters who are wise (and brave) enough to recognise the benefits of such automation, and have the appropriate company cultures to integrate it, it could be a significant accelerator for growth.

At some point, law firms need to acknowledge that the legal expertise that’s long been the preserve of lawyers is becoming more freely available to the public. Once this is accepted and embraced, in order to survive law firms will need to start offering their services both in the traditional way, but also offering a variety of different online-based options to allow the client more flexibility in how they purchase legal services. With profit margin pressures threatening to force many of out the market, the firms that will be left standing will be the ones that can alter how they deliver their services - to mirror how people access many other services in today’s fast-paced society.

Intuitive management systems

Like many other professional service providers, the legal sector continues to cling on to increasingly out-dated systems to help them conduct their business. One good example in the legal sector would be the use of computerised case management systems. A decade ago, these case management systems seemed futuristic. However, with the gravitation towards the ‘paperless office’, these systems are now seen as clunky and slow to operate. Most lawyers will find themselves having to trawl through complicated menus to find documents, following complex workflow processes to action even simple tasks, and making thousands of keystrokes every day to conduct their work.

However, a large proportion of us use voice recognition and touch screen technology every single day, often using our phones to ask “Siri” to search Google, put a reminder in our calendar for a colleague’s birthday, recommend a local restaurant or bring up a map with directions to a chosen destination. So why can’t lawyers simply ask their computer to bring up the case they want or the documents they need to read, or swipe between documents quickly on the screen, or even dictate an email using just their voice?

As of yet, such an intuitive case management system isn’t currently available, even though the technology exists and we all use it. This would reduce the time spent on case management significantly and would free up more time to get through more of the core legal work. The development of such a system will surely dominate the market, and those law firms that adopt these systems would see huge efficiencies in productivity and cost savings.

Fundamentally, there is no doubt that the world of law, like many other industries, is changing. Law firms can no longer stick to their traditional way of doing things, and now is the time to take action and start moving with the times. Otherwise, firms are putting themselves at great risk of being left behind by the competition. As new forms of technology continue to emerge, the sector is being presented with a number of opportunities to grow and find improved ways to service clients. The question is whether the firms will embrace change, or cross their fingers and hope for the best.

Dan Taylor, head of systems at Fletchers Solicitors

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