There is massive hype and conjecture about where technology is taking legal services but I think we need to remind ourselves that technology alone isn’t going to make the difference. Technology has the capacity to be an enabler of change, but the technology itself is not a differentiator, nor does it create a strategic advantage by itself.

Gaining a strategic advantage by its nature must be hard to replicate. If it was as easy as just buying technology, anyone could do it. A strategic advantage is carved out by the effective combination of people, process and technology. We’re loving the debate and discussion around technology at Hall & Wilcox, and we enjoyed participating in the recent Chilli IQ Managing Partners Forum around the “Agent of Change” theme.

Discussions led us to ponder six key themes or questions, currently occupying legal and professional services firms (and their clients).

How is AI being used? Is it real or hype?

There’s much excitement and angst about AI. How much will it change the way we work?

If you have the time, I recommend looking over this insightful, levelheaded paper from Deloitte (thanks to Hall & Wilcox board member and Chief Edge Officer of Deloitte Edge, Pete Williams, for putting us onto this): Cognitive collaboration: Why humans and computers think better together.

AI will change the way we work and take parts of work away from traditional lawyers, but its likely predictions of widespread job losses are exaggerated.

The key with any emerging technology is in how we use it. In some circumstances like contract review, AI could possibly deliver a 2060% improvement rather than be a replacement to anyone’s job. It’s not as simple as computers becoming smarter than people. Getting results and efficiencies from AI is more about humans and technology working together, and most importantly the processes which enable the best use of each.

We are reviewing a few AI based contract review systems at the moment. AI does a great job of doing the grunt work of extraction and classification (there are spectacular advances in this space alone), but the process still needs a lawyers insight and knowledge. The best tools we have seen then present a fantastic review interface with tagging and notation tools. They then present the information in an engaging way using analytics and data visualisation through dashboards and scatter diagrams.

‘Digesting’ a whole portfolio of contracts is far easier now than it was using a room full of paralegals working 24 hours a day doing a big review, but it still needs lawyers to play a key part. The most interesting part for me is that with the extra technology around review and visualisation, not only is the process more efficient, but the end result and commercial value derived is dramatically improved as well

Should lawyers learn how to code?

Learning to code might be useful as it could expand lawyers’ minds to what might be possible. That said, it’s hard to justify coding skills for lawyers really being necessary. It seems an extreme allocation of brainpower just to get lawyers to better understand a process where we can use people that can specialise in that area to do that work.

We’ve seen lawyers develop creative technological solutions to problems without coding. Last year Hall & Wilcox Senior Associate Vanessa Porter and recoveries expert Krisha Bennett worked together with tech specialists Neotalogic to develop RecoverEase, a program which automates the identification of claims with recovery potential for insurance firms. They did this without any knowledge of coding.

There are bound to be more people coming through the ranks that do know how to code or at least have an appreciation of it too. In the Client Solutions team here at Hall & Wilcox, we have a workflow developer who has almost finished their law degree. We find that the combined knowledge and approach is beneficial as they have a deeper appreciation of both sides of a legal service solution.

These ‘legal technologists’ are an important bridge between the lawyers and the business to deliver new and better solutions. We will always need more of these people. Lawyers increasingly need technological proficiency but do not necessarily need to be coders.

Read the other key questions at