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ISSUE I 2019

The Fourth Industrial Revolution: Exploring the Next Era of Legal Tech

The recent Association of Legal Technologists (ALT) conference of thought leaders and technology enthusiasts was the perfect forum to explore the impact and application of emerging technologies on the legal landscape.The legal world is changing quickly, and there are tremendous opportunities for law firms to gain a competitive advantage by becoming early adopters or at least trial users of new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI). At the very least, firms must be aware of the changing landscape so that they can understand the implications of the emerging technologies. However, with new technologies come new issues as we’ve already started seeing with the recent data privacy and cybersecurity headlines. 

Among the various topics, none is more polarizing than AI, which both excites and strikes fear into legal professionals. The excitement is due to the promise of freeing up lawyers and paralegals from some of the more mundane and repetitive tasks in the practice of law, while the fear is driven by the notion of AI evolving to the point of replacing lawyers completely or at least drastically reducing billable hours. One interesting perspective discussed is that the current fusion of modern technologies with AI is “The Fourth Industrial Revolution.”  Shawnna Hoffman, one of the world’s most recognized leaders in artificial intelligence and blockchain, presented this concept.  As the Global Co-Leader of the IBM Cognitive Legal Practice, a pioneering member of the Global Legal Blockchain Consortium and the MIT Legal Forum for AI & Blockchain, she is at the forefront of AI and has a keen understanding of its potential, and limitations.  She argues that the previous industrial revolutions all fundamentally changed not only industry, but society—starting with steam, evolving to electricity, building on computing and now bridging to intelligence.  

The key to understanding the impact of AI on the legal profession is understanding where AI excels. In general, AI is best at repetitive tasks such as processing large volumes of documents, searching for relevant knowledge, sorting information, and recognizing patterns in data are some of AI’s critical strengths. These areas are well within the basic understanding of AI and its current applications within the legal world.  Building on AI’s basis is the continuing evolution of analytics, which is an area of convergence that will impact all aspects of law firm operations.  One example that Shawnna described is identifying which lawyers have tried a similar case before the same judges, delivering insights, identifying trends and providing actionable intelligence. Many law firms believe that docketing and calendaring solutions can serve as the data foundation for analytics in this area, because of the vast amount of relevant, and just as importantly, validated data that lives in those solutions. 

Another aspect that is perhaps more valuable, and less obvious, is the ability of AI to eliminate bias. In contrast to finding what we look for, AI can objectively seek out information. However, AI is only as good as its inputs and the higher-level human emotions are needed as balance. Humans excel in areas where AI cannot function—in what makes us essentially human.  Certainly, common sense is an area where humans have the advantage. But more importantly, morals, imagination, and compassion are all essential human strengths. Dreaming and abstraction are also beyond the capabilities of AI. Given the complementary sets of strengths, for the foreseeable future, as Shawnna argues, AI cannot replace legal professionals, but rather augment them.

Along with the promise of AI comes the reality of data privacy and cybersecurity, which also generated a lot of buzz at the event after an interesting presentation on the topic by Dennis Garcia, Assistant General Counsel at Microsoft.  As much of the legal vertical strives to innovate on the technological side, there is an increasing risk of introducing new points of failure, exponentially more data to be managed and protected, and a growing need to focus on the fundamentals of cybersecurity. Vendors who offer solutions to firms need to pay more attention to the cybersecurity implications of their offerings including any integration with firm or other third-party systems. Law firms often give incredible access and freedom to their vendors, particularly in access to a firm’s proprietary and confidential data. All partners must be reviewed for adherence to the latest cybersecurity certifications and best practices. In this era of big data and the associated privacy concerns and massive data breaches, vendor trust is now more critical than ever. 

Many firms seem to be wrestling with these concerns around security and privacy as the technological landscape evolves. While not typically early technology adopters, law firms are becoming increasingly savvy through competitive pressures, and clients expect them to provide the latest technological advantages as part of their engagement.  AI is just one example of technological change impacting the practice of law, and there are many others. Ultimately, any technology that allows lawyers to add more value to their clients is a winning solution for both the firm and the client. 

The key takeaway is that this Fourth Industrial Revolution is upon us, whether we like it or not.  Firms must actively seek out and embrace these emerging technologies to better understand their implications and potential benefits, or risk being left behind in a state of competitive disadvantage. 

American LegalNet Inc.

American LegalNet (ALN) empowers law firms with innovative workflow management technologies to mitigate risks, increase operational efficiencies, and reduce costs so they can focus on their core competencies. ALN offers litigation workflow solutions including Court Rule-based docketing/calendaring software that mitigates risk of law firms missing critical dates. Click here for more information.

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