Report from Lexpo 16

Last week, the first ever Lexpo was arranged in Amsterdam with a focus on legal technology and innovation. The event brought together representatives from the legal sector with suppliers of innovative new technology, to discuss the future of the legal market.

Keynote speaker Chrissie Lightfoot also moderated the whole day, and provided her insightful questions and comments to all sessions. In her keynote “Robot Lawyer Innovation. Friend of Foe?” Chrissie gave her visionary insights on how to deal with a legal reality where smart cognitive computing, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robot technologies exist and can support or replace many aspects of a lawyer’s job.

The new technologies relates to all four key elements of legal service provision; commoditisation, research, reasoning and judgment, and can support and/or replace both fee-earning processes and business processes.

There are several law firms and other companies trying to develop more innovative solutions, but, as Chrissie pointed out, so far we have not seen many implementations in practice. It is not enough to just buy the right technology, you also have to further adopt and deploy it property to make proper use of it. Many solutions in law firms today are not used to their potential. To explain the difference, Chrissie made the comparison of whether the technology is being used as a carthorse or a racehorse. The time has come for a new role of lawyers as “AI angels”, that is lawyers who can interpret that the AI is right about the law and willing to productise their legal expertise.

Even if many first year associates in the future might be replaced by AI and other computerised tools, there will be new roles for lawyers. One important aspect is the relationship intelligence and client-centric focus that is what sets us human lawyers apart from an AI-based system. Machines will not be wiser- even if they are smarter – than the humans. The primary role for lawyers going forward will be to provide an emotionally intelligent, supportive relationship to clients. Another role will be to help clients to help themselves. Already today, clients expect to do more by themselves, and AI is going to transform the client experience further. Lawyers who wish to future-proof their business should focus on helping clients to help themselves by providing AI systems in a way that could monetize that effectively and profitably.

D Casey Flaherty continued in line with Chrissie’s conclusion in his keynote about how clients and law firms can work together to improve legal service delivery. As the better use of technology is a corner stone for this, there is a huge need for lawyers with better technology skills. A general misinterpretation today is that we now have a new generation of millennials that are really tech savvy and up for this task. But, as Casey pointed out, there is a huge and important difference between being digital native and tech savvy.

Even if 83 % of the millennials are considered as digital natives and are always connected, a majority of them – 58 % – have poor skills in solving problems with technology. It is a big difference of being a consumer of content delivered through technology and really understanding how technology can support you in your work. We want technology to be magic, that it will just happen. Unfortunately, this is not the case – even if sales presentations often claims to solve all your problems magically. Enterprise technology is not intuitive, and is too complex to be intuitive in the same sense as an Iphone. Just because we have the tools does not mean that we know how to use them. It’s humans that are the barriers to technology. We believe in the myth of the digital native, but the truth is that we have to deploy the technology and learn how to use it to. Otherwise most of the functionality will not be fully utilised. Casey showed a practical example relating to the more advanced functionality in Word. If a lawyer wants to add a paragraph in a long agreement it affects the numbering of all succeeding paragraphs. Changing this manually takes quite a long time, with a large risk of doing mistakes. Instead the lawyer could use features in Word, which is already available, and change this automatically in seconds and with much lesser risk of mistakes. This is something that needs to be taught and be part of the training of the lawyers. As Casey pointed out, technology is like electricity. It’s great, but how are you going to use it? How do we get people to use technology better? Clients expect economy of scales and reusing knowledge by the use of technology in law firms.

Chris Bull then held an interesting keynote session about 10 ways in which innovative business models have changed the shape of the legal market forever.

Some of these changes include new investments (private equity etc), law firms becoming corporations, more outsourced solutions and more insourcing amongst legal counsel. Law firms have also become more agile with their staffing.

In a panel discussion following Chris’s presentation, Duncan Eadie noted that change has to come from the outside. Without the pressure to change, change in a successful business will never happen on its own. Hans-Martijn Roos also made some truly insightful comments about innovation in law firms and legal departments. For example, he noted that most general counsels still ask for their law firms to do things cheaper, not differently, which will not drive change per se. Discounts are not the answer for the future. Working differently is. Another large factor preventing change in law firms is the fear factor – the fear of becoming redundant.

In a following panel discussion, Max Hubner contradicted the general assumption that the clients know how to drive innovation. He pointed out that most general counsels come from the same breed as lawyers. If you should ask someone for advice, it’s better to turn to the CEO or the CIO of the companies. Remember Henry Ford and his famous quote “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse”. Likewise the iPhone was not developed by the use of customer advice, which Steve jobs explained by the quote “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” The same goes for legal services. Focus innovation on user need and give your clients what they didn’t even know that they wanted.

As for quotes, Daniel Pollick mentioned that “those who have knowledge don’t predict and those how predict don’t have the knowledge”, then continued to present five current trends and to give his predictions for the legal industry for the next 30 years. Some of these trends and predictions included the end of Moore’s law, the ecosystem going mobile and in the cloud and that people now actually want technology. For the last couple of years there has been a clear change of mindset, at least for cool technology. A fact that could be used as a Trojan horse to sell in the use of more boring technology that already exist within the law firm, like Word formatting functions and workflow.

A key take-away from Lexpo was the focus on the right use of technology and how much can be achieved by using already existing tools in a law firm in a better way. Technology is not magic in itself, it’s the use of it that can create magic. A huge challenge is how to incentivise lawyers to use existing tools as the current business model rather tend to promote inefficiencies. Another take-away was how close we are to an actual implementation of AI on a broader scale. Things are starting to happen and in less than a couple of years the use of AI might be mainstream in the legal sector. It’s time for lawyers to start future-proofing the legal business.