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Redefining the legal profession

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Redefining the legal profession

8th August 2017

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The legal profession is at a crossroads, facing both technological and business model disruption.  The way in which our clients currently, and will in the future, interact with their lawyers will change dramatically. They will require real-time interactive legal information, delivered and optimised for mobile use. 

Our clients regularly tell us that they are keen to explore innovative ways of working with external legal advisors as they want their lawyers to develop a long-term vision for the end-to-end management of dispute cycles and to enhance commercial focus through seeking new, inventive solutions.  This requires the use of new and emerging technologies to drive efficiencies in the provision of legal services and reduce costs.

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Interactivity will be aided through Artificial Intelligence (AI) applications and the use of web robots (commonly known as bots).  These technologies are already making law firms change and adapt.

For example, “POPI Counsel” is in essence a virtual attorney which asks the user questions about POPI (the Protection of Personal Information Act)-related issues and provides expert legal opinions instantly.  We will also soon launch “ContractorCheck” which assists clients determine whether an individual is an employee or contractor.  Changes such as these may result in fewer lawyers in the longer-term or at the very least the redeployment of lawyers.  Lawyers have already been providing ecosystem and business services for  clients and this will grow.  Increasingly, the legal services platform won’t be just about the provision of law but consultancy, accountancy, forensics and data analytic services too. 

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Law firms should be developing client products and subscription services in addition to providing the usual bill-by-the-hour advice. The Legal Services Consumer Panel 2020 Legal Services report predicts that there will be “less involvement by lawyers in many of tasks that until now have made up their staple diet”.

Large law firms have always had the benefit of impressive knowledge platforms but firms that can aggregate information from multiple sources will be of much value to their clients.  Law firms always strive to understand client needs.  Using tools which analyse large data sets will enable lawyers to gain insights into these needs which will mean that more and more, legal service products and client engagement will become personalised.  The personalisation of services by using technology to analyse multiple types and sources of data, will become a unique selling point.  

Big data and data analytics will allow for the more effective management of risk, commoditisation and decision making.  Law has to a large extent always been about prediction.  Disputes lawyers are asked to make judgment calls on the outcome of a case.  The regulatory lawyer advises on the likelihood of the regulator’s approach on a certain set of facts.  Commercial lawyers assess the likely outcome of commercial negotiations and positions to be adopted.  Big data predictive analytics can now be applied to ever increasing more complex legal problems.  It is unlikely that big data predictive technology will replace the lawyer anytime soon but it will give the lawyer a much wider access to information with prediction outcomes upon which to make judgments and advise clients.

As big data analysis has the potential to produce more relevant information, this could allow law firms to produce saleable information instead of the generic briefings that lawyers produce today, usually at no cost to clients.  One can envisage a future where knowledge is originated using predictive analytics, is delivered on a real-time streaming basis, is effortlessly interlinked with previous or current items and is shared and developed by an ecosystem of users comprising people from both the law firm and their client.

While automation is important where it develops efficiencies, that is not necessarily to be equated to innovation.  The use of technology to streamline old ways of working is not the be all and end all of innovation.  We shouldn’t be preserving a 20th century legal practice (which would not be unfamiliar to 17th century lawyers), but rather we should be redefining the way that we help our clients.

Technology is already allowing lawyers to do what we do more efficiently.  That of course is also redefining what it means to be a lawyer, and what skills are required to be a good lawyer.

The world of technology has given lawyers access to vastly more information. The challenge is to find meaningful ways to assimilate that information so it is of use to them and their clients. This requires a combination of big data analytics and AI. For example, a lawyer who is negotiating an energy deal who has access to info about prior energy deals, not just in their practice but around the world, and access to technology to make sense of the deals and decide which option is best for their clients, are at a significant advantage.

Lawyers who are able to automate tasks at the highest level and devise appropriate strategies based on the analysis of thousands of prior transactions, are at a significant advantage.

“If a business is not reinventing itself to adapt to changing market conditions then it is likely it will go into decline or be taken over by those that are better adapted to the new environment. This statement is no less true for law firms than for any other business,” Says the Law Society of England and Wales Future of Legal Services report 2016.

The traditional model of a law firm is in a state of disruption and the future law firm will be driven by leaders who understand technology, efficiency and innovation. The legal sector is changing and will continue to transform.

As much as technology and innovation has and will continue to reshape the legal profession, it makes the world more complex, risky and difficult for our clients.  So the need for sophisticated legal advice is ever-increasing.  And in turn technological innovation plays its role in delivering that advice.

Writen by Donald Dinnie, CEO, Norton Rose Fulbright South Africa.

With acknowledgement and thanks to Mike Rebeiro, Global Head of Technology and Innovation, Norton Rose Fulbright and Rohan Isaacs, Head of Technology and Innovation, South Africa.

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