The Briefer: technology central

Technology central

Tony Williams|principal, Jomati Consultants

Janet Day|independent legal technology consultant

No business is immune to the changes technology has already created. The advent of Uber has changed the taxi business footprint. Airbnb has done the same for short-term accommodation, and Amazon for the entire retail space. And now, new models like Riverview Law and LOD – not to mention the rise of Big Four law – are changing the global legal market.

However, while it’s clear technology has created opportunity for these revised models in other vertical markets, law continues to be practised in the same way it has been for centuries. Yes, the speed with which transactions are conducted and communications exchanged has increased out of all recognition – but mechanics of instruction, documentation, revision and finalisation remain much as in Roman times.

So, if IT has created paradigm shifts in so many industries – why has it not really done that for law? And is one on the way?

So, if IT has created paradigm shifts in so many industries – why has it not really done that for law? And is one on the way?

First, much of the change elsewhere lies in the repeatable model. Calling for a cab has a limited number of variables when you use technology to take location out of the equation. The same goes for accommodation, and one could argue the single biggest variable in retail is the volume and variety of the sales catalogue.

Not so for legal transactions. Although component elements are entirely repeatable, the end-to-end piece often has unique identifiers and there’s insufficient repetition to allow for automation (via AI and machine learning) through the whole process. Where legal services have a high degree of repeatability they have already been subjected to varying degrees of technology-driven intervention.

But does this mean firms can avoid embedding technology in the core of their operations? Absolutely not.

Technology underpins every action a lawyer takes – from client contact, through digital presence for recruitment and market positioning, to research and precedent. No organisation can function without a mobile platform – law firms included. And as we change to more social and collaborative communication tools in a less structured workplace, technology again creates and supports.

The question one might ask is, what quantum of investment should you make – and how to prioritise where it goes?

The relationship between firm and client is also changing. No longer the centuries-old client/lawyer symbiotic union, it is now a relationship between the cost of the service delivered and the value the recipient perceives they gain.

Some newer entrants to the market make much play that they can support their new business model because of the investment made in a technology-driven platform and a set of optimised processes.  Meanwhile, long-established practices are making investments in opportunity for new technology-driven businesses to enter the legal market – look at Mischcon de Reya and Allen & Overy.

The relationship between firm and client is also changing. No longer the centuries-old client/lawyer symbiotic union, it is now a relationship between the cost of the service delivered and the value the recipient perceives they gain.

The ability of technology to analyse and present vast datasets in digestible form now allows firms to offer different service models, based not on complete resolution but on proper containment and management of issues. AI tools, providing predictive, outcome-focused answers, allow both client and lawyer to concentrate on managing them. And new lawyers expect to work not just more flexibly, but in a more informed manner. Technology offers the opportunity.

Firms will change as more use a flexible workforce not necessarily co-located – but their dependence on technology increases broadly in line with Moore’s Law. Not embedding it in the weft and warp will only result in an unravelling.

This article originates from Briefing July/August 2018: In-house special

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