Artificial Lawyer attended two quite different legal conferences in London, UK, last week, but the implicit and sometimes explicit message from both was the same: AI is going to change things and lawyers want to know more about it.
The first conference was ‘Corporate Legal Innovators’, organized by the Economic Policy Group and had a focus on the views of inhouse lawyers and General Counsel (GC).
Many of the comments from speakers, such as Funke Abimbola, GC Roche UK, revolved around the need for GCs to think more broadly about the business of the companies they served, rather than getting bogged down in process-level legal work.
Abimbola stated: ‘I’d say I was a leader first, not a solicitor.’ She then added: ‘I can’t remember the last time I reviewed a contract.’
She stressed that the job of a senior inhouse lawyer was about ‘driving outcomes’, i.e. to be a manager with a focus on the need to develop efficiency, improve systems and delivery, as well as protecting the company and meeting compliance and risk needs.
And, it is in this context that it would appear to be where AI can play an important role in driving efficiency. Other GC speakers on Abimbola’s panel added that disaggregation and new technology were definitely of major importance to their inhouse teams and their future plans.
Later, one inhouse lawyer at a FTSE 100 company told Artificial Lawyer that the company was now looking at using AI systems itself inhouse, though at present it had a process centre of its own that was working with law firms that made use of AI for matters such as document review. Bringing that capability inhouse, rather than using AI managed by external law firms would be a significant change.
Another speaker, Ajaz Ahmed, founder of legal information company, Legal365.com, said: ‘AI is going to happen. Some people will say ‘no’, but we will all be using it at some point in the future.’
He added that often an industry needed an outside force to change it, and this could be seen in the development of legal AI.
Interestingly, two inhouse lawyers from technology specialist businesses, Sean Thomas of HP Enterprises, and Rory O’Keeffe, Director of Legal Services UK, Accenture, both stated their inhouse teams had an interest in using AI, but that how they would use it was still not clear yet.
Thomas of tech giant HP, which has a very large inhouse team of lawyers, said: ‘We have looked at AI, but not found one yet that is for us. But, this is something to think about.’
It is a curious coincidence that HP previously bought UK tech company Autonomy from its founder, Mike Lynch, who has now helped to launch due diligence AI company, Luminance, which has bagged Slaughter and May as a key client.
Thomas added that HP had brought in a huge amount of legal work inhouse recently, reducing external legal matters for law firms by 40%, presumably some of which is process work that is best suited to AI systems.
O’Keeffe added that Accenture was also looking at AI. He said: ‘We have dipped our toes in and looked at RAVN and others and are assessing them.’
But, he added that one barrier was the need to ‘train’ the cognitive AI systems to conduct document review. Although law firms have not found this to be a problem.
In fact, it seems a surprising reason not to implement AI systems, given that an AI’s machine learning capability will improve via the use of a training set of documents.
Overall, the impression is that the inhouse world is only just starting to seriously consider using AI itself, but that this movement toward AI, no matter how slow, is of major significance to the inhouse world.
The changing inhouse culture toward higher efficiency and a more business-focused approach is likely to make AI’s adoption extremely useful. However, it does seem that some inhouse lawyers need some extra help, perhaps, to ‘get them over the line’ in terms of understanding how best to make use of AI.
The second London conference that Artificial Lawyer attended was the Law Society’s ‘International Marketplace 2016: Future Growth’ event at Chancery Lane.
Understandably a large part of the conference was taken up with discussing international issues for an audience filled with lawyers from China to Argentina. However, the final session was about the impact of AI and led by the Law Society’s Technology & Law Reference Group Chair, Peter Wright, founder of DigitalLawUK, a law firm specialised in internet and technology issues.
Wright began with a reminder to the audience about the now famous ‘DoNotPay’ legal bot created by Stanford University student, Joshua Browder, which handles parking ticket fines for clients without any human lawyer input. Over 175,000 matters have now been handled by the system.
The point was made that when a program made by a student can have such an impact then it was clear that other and perhaps more advanced systems, such as AI document review software, was clearly going to have a major impact as well.
The panel of speakers, which ranged from academics such as Paul Paton, Dean of Law at the University of Alberta to inhouse lawyers, such as Krishna Sood, from Microsoft, generally agreed with this assessment.
Incidentally, Sood added in response to a question from Artificial Lawyer as to why Microsoft was not making legal AI systems itself, that the challenge was ‘a lack of data and resources’ on the part of the US tech giant.
What perhaps is of greater note is that the audience from all over the world and representing firms both small and large, and which had arrived primarily to talk about cross-border legal business, was so interested in the subject of legal AI.
This suggests that legal AI has a bright future, not just with large UK and US private practice law firms, but firms globally. However, few of the various legal AI companies have made inroads into non-English speaking markets, though perhaps we will start to see that happen, as well as perhaps legal AI companies developing in other markets, for example, South America, or in China.
Overall, the impression from both conferences was very positive in terms of future and near term adoption of AI. There also seemed to be a high level of interest from those attending in the fact that a site dedicated to legal AI, such as ArtificialLawyer.com, was now running, which perhaps is also a positive sign of how things are changing in terms of lawyers’ perception of AI and advanced legal tech.
The conclusion seems to be that AI is still new to a very large segment of the market. However, the level of interest is significant and growing. The challenge now is helping these law firms and inhouse teams over the trialling and information-gathering hurdle and into broader adoption.