COVID has spurred the adoption of collaboration tools in the legal sector, but according to Ashurst partner Hilary Goodier, its AI and automation that drive the biggest transformation in law.
While legal firms have transitioned to remote working, and in some cases have been doing so for 18 months, communication and collaboration tools have seen dramatic growth in adoption, in an industry that has been slow to adopt digital.
According to Goodier, tools including data transfer, electronic court books and e-signature have also seen a sharp uptake. However the real transformation is yet to occur.
“Given the focus on tools that have kept us working during a pandemic, we've probably actually seen a slight slowdown in the adoption of legal technology to genuinely transform how we provide legal services, such as AI and automation,” says Goodier.
“Hopefully now that we're coming out of the pandemic, we're going to start to see an uptake in tools that really transform how we provide legal services rather than just the communication and collaboration tools.”
These transformative tools are being adopted in areas that have experienced exponential growth in data, she says.
“If you think about areas like disputes and M&A, e-discovery tools, for example, have massively transformed how we respond to regulatory notices, orders for discovery and internal investigations. And that's probably the area where we've seen the widest adoption of AI and machine learning tools due to their ability to manage, filter and reduce very large volumes of data,” says Goodier.
“Similarly AI based contract review tools have transformed how we do due diligence. We're also starting to see great gains through workflow and document automation in areas like legal managed services and general banking and transactional work.”
The biggest benefits of legal technologies lie in efficiency, which, while it will be a welcome change for legal clients, its also a massive disruptor to the business model of law.
“Let's be honest, efficiency is the enemy of the billable hour, but I think we should see that as an important and necessary challenge rather than something to resist.”
“Business models are being disrupted all around us. Facebook has completely transformed how we consume media, Amazon and eBay have displaced bricks and mortar shopping. Airbnb is disrupting the hotel industry and you just need to look at what Uber has done to taxis and home delivery. All of those industries have had to rapidly adapt. And it's about time we started to rethink and evolve the business of law as well."
Despite the significant benefits of digital, including improvements to access to justice, consistency of outputs and risk mitigation, it is still an area of contention in the industry.
“I think we're a victim of our own success. Many firms and individual partners remain very successful doing things the way they always do. So why should they change? Like any transformation we're having to take people on the journey and we have our early adopters and we have our laggards."
"And for the laggards, unfortunately by the time they get on the bus, it may just be too late.”