Google’s self-driven car recently collided with a city bus. It was the fender bender heard round the world. Why? Automation’s mishap was a momentary reprise — and great relief for millions — from its replacement of human drivers. After all, nearly 20 percent of Americans have jobs that involve driving. A recent Pew study found that 65 percent of adults believe that within the next 50 years robots and computers will do much of the work now done by humans. Count lawyers among the concerned group. And we’re not talking about half a century from now.
Technology and process are the means by which clever human beings are reshaping delivery of goods and services. As applied to legal delivery, new models are springing up that do not change what lawyers do so much as enable them to be more efficient and better leverage their expertise. This is good for value and bad for a model built on maximizing billable hours.
Lawyers are increasingly rendering legal expertise from technologically and process-driven business models — not law firms — that are “faster, cheaper and better.” This is well underway in the retail segment of the market where companies like LegalZoom, Rocket Lawyer and others are bringing millions of new customers — individuals and small businesses — into the marketplace. And the corporate segment is beginning to embrace new models, too. Investment in legal technology and the rapid growth of service provider market share confirms that.
In the midst of the astonishing pace of technological change and its profound impact upon nearly all facets of human existence, the future keeps happening in the once static legal vertical. Here are some recent examples.
The European Commission announced funding of a global study into a key element behind artificial intelligence and using big data in the legal sphere. And it has put up seven figures to advance the cause. The project, called MIREL (mining and reasoning with legal texts), involves academics from a number of European universities, along with researchers and scientists in Australia, Japan, China, Argentina and South Africa. The aim is to achieve a breakthrough in the interpretation and use of legal texts by mining them to assist with decision-making and compliance checking.
MIREL is noteworthy because a governmental entity is taking the lead in driving greater access and efficiency to legal delivery. Why? It’s necessary. And technology and process are integral components.
Online Dispute Resolution
The first trial of online dispute resolution (ODR) in the U.K.’s courts and tribunals will soon introduce a concept known as the “online continuous hearing.” ODR is intended to harness technology to provide quick, easy access to the judicial system and to promote a change in perception of litigation from an adversarial dispute to a problem to be solved.
Sir Ernest Ryder, Senior President of (U.K.) Tribunals, explained the means and objectives of ODR:
“Digitization presents an opportunity to break with processes that are no longer optimal or relevant and at the same time to build on the best that we have to eliminate structural design flaws and perhaps even the less attractive aspects of a litigation culture … it also provides us with the opportunity to create one system of justice, a seamless system.” (Legal Futures)
ODR harnesses technology to improve access to justice and to repair the inefficient, unpredictable, protracted, and hugely expensive litigation process.
Deloitte LLP recently announced an alliance with Kira Systems Inc. to harness the power of machine learning to contract and document review. The collaboration with Kira is another indication that the Big Four global giants are prepared to leverage their brands, war chests, global footprints, and deep C-Suite ties to secure a larger market share of global legal services.
UnitedLex Corp., a global legal business solutions company is introducing a “digital contracting solution” that combines people, process and advanced technologies to deliver a fully integrated end-to-end contracting service. The solution is designed to drive and measure transformative business outcomes, significantly reducing the costs of current contracting support in a 45-day “go live” period. This is another example of a service provider creating a cost-effective, turnkey, scalable solution to a widespread legal delivery challenge.
Legal Support Services
Deloitte announced its acquisition of Conduit Law, a Canadian secondment company. The move is noteworthy because it signals Deloitte’s double-down into the legal arena, adding staffing to an already robust suite of corporate legal offerings.
DLA Piper LLP has partnered with “agile” U.K.-based Lawyers on Demand (LOD) to provide a hybrid law firm/service provider offering. The collaboration of a megafirm with a service provider underscores that law firms must be flexible in providing clients alternatives to their costly model, especially for certain types of work. It is also an example of how different providers can collaborate for the benefit of clients — and each other.
LOD also announced its merger with Asian-based secondment firm Advent/Balance. The deal speaks to the global appetite for provider services and the scale that leading providers are achieving to respond to that demand.
The legal services industry, like the broader workplace, is experiencing accelerated change fueled by technology. The Economist recently reported that 1 billion new workers will enter the global workforce during the next decade and 40 percent of the jobs they will fill are not yet in existence. Translation: technology is restructuring the way goods and services are being delivered, and new models –- and new categories of jobs –- will be created. And this applies to legal services.
Buyers have new options, and sellers — especially law firms — must adapt. It’s not necessarily a zero-sum game. Providers that collaborate effectively with others in the marketplace for the betterment of their clients will survive and prosper.
This post was originally published in Law 360.