Making headlines some days ago, was a story of how the UK government is spending 1 billion GBP to modernise its court system. The aim of this innovation project is to cut annual spending by £250m and staff by 40%, while at the same time improving access to Justice, as well as the speed and quality of service delivery (e.g. by the use of online forms for petitions).
Lawyers, too, are being urged to be innovative. Last year, the British Law Society published a 116-page guide on innovation for law firms, called Capturing Technological Innovation in Legal Services. And there are good reasons to being innovative. It gives a competitive advantage, improves productivity, profitability, and, as mentioned above, the speed and quality of service delivery.
But what does it mean for a law firm to be innovative? The first thought that usually comes to mind, which is also reflected in the title of the Law Society document, is the use of new technologies. Lawyers have already successfully been automating many aspects of their law practice for over three decades. New advances in the fields of artificial intelligence and machine learning are heralding a new age, a second wave if you want, of office automation.
Some examples: law firms can already use virtual legal assistants to do legal research. They can even use virtual receptionists. Document assembly and document review can now be done more efficiently by AI than by their human counterparts. In fact, many specific tasks that have a sufficient degree of repetition can already be automated, as the advent of robot lawyers and legal chatbots has proven. Progress is also being made with smart contracts, where human intervention is often no longer required. AI is proving useful, too, in knowledge management and eDiscovery, as well as in predicting the possible outcome of cases.
These advancements in legal technology are resulting in a change in the professional demography of law firms. With new technology comes a demand for new skill sets, which in turn leads to new roles and positions that need to be filled in law firms. It is not uncommon, these days, to find law firms who employ specialized programmers, statisticians and data scientists, chief data officers, and project managers.
One of the more novel new occupations is that of Data Analytics Attorneys (often shortened to either data attorneys or analytics attorneys). In their article on legal innovation, Wendy Butler Curtis and Kate Orr explain that “the data analytics attorney understands the needs of the client, the function of the tools, and the value of the data. They know it is necessary to train and maintain the artificial intelligence and the richness and quality of the data to predict the accuracy and value of the AI output. Analytics attorneys are also adept at identifying tasks that can and should be automated.”
But just as innovation in law firms is not limited to the use of new technologies, so are the new roles in law firms not limited to tech related jobs. Gone are the days where lawyers were solitary consultants who would charge by the hour. Lawyers now are professionals who are running a business that delivers legal services and products. They are concerned with optimizing and automating processes and work flows, with improving service delivery, as well as customer relations and customer satisfaction. As a result, law firms started employing non-lawyers to run their company (CEO), to keep their finances in check (CFO), and to handle their accounting, marketing, and even customer relations.
As these examples show, innovation requires a different approach, which can affect each aspect of being a lawyer and running a law firm. The first part of the Law Society’s paper focuses on technological innovation in practice. It deals with working smart (which involves putting the client first, innovation hubs, Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Machine learning and Artificial Intelligence, and predictive analytics), with agile resourcing (where attention is paid to a fluid workforce), with new pricing models, as well as with innovating for Access to Justice.