Digital disruption is here and it’s happening – even within the seemingly conservative and traditional judicial element of the legal profession. As with any change, it has caused some consternation but, with the right tools and forward-thinking leaders, digital transformation can be a powerful business enabler. It allows a firm to identify the changes required, and provides the solutions that enable it to evolve into a more efficient, agile and prosperous organisation. However, in order to maximise the benefits of a digital transformation, chambers need to go beyond simply incorporating the latest technologies. They also have to reimagine their business, and the culture within it, to drive positive change. This digital disruption could not have come at a better time for the legal profession, with workload pressures and competition at an all-time high.
One example of these current pressures is the growing problem at the Court of Appeal, where a time/cost analysis in 2015 found their workload had increased by 59% in the previous five years. With no accompanying increase in resources, there is a growing backlog of cases waiting to be heard. Employing extra staff is part of the answer – and The Warwick Institute for Employment and Research estimates that 25,000 new workers will be needed in the legal activities sector between 2015 and 2020. But it is not the whole solution. In England and Wales, hundreds of millions of pounds are also being allocated for the modernisation of IT in courts and tribunals to enable digitisation and improve procedures.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is starting to play a key role in this digital transformation. AI applications can sift through vast amounts of information, automatically crunch the data and identify patterns significantly faster and more accurately than humans. With 1.4 million civil claims and petitions brought to the county courts each year, and each new case increasing the body of knowledge that a lawyer must get to grips with, firms hold increasingly vast amounts of information. Amongst all this data – including witness statements, court logs and judge summaries – will be the hidden facts, nuggets and insights that could help a lawyer win a case. Traditionally the task of manually extracting this vital information from mountains of unstructured data has fallen to junior associates, but this process is prone to inconsistency, inefficiency and human error. Universities such as Liverpool are already looking at how automated solutions can assist, using AI to explore a very straightforward premise – is there a predictable outcome to many cases based on historical legal data? In simple cases, where the facts are undisputed and well-established precedents exist, AI software can diagnose the situation and produce a draft judgement for the judge to review, freeing up time for more complex and contentious cases.
In line with this, chambers are looking to invest in digital technology such as AI that can offer leading-edge efficiency and outstanding client service. Billy Bot, which is the brainchild of Stephen Ward, MD of national chambers Clerksroom, is one example. In tests, Billy has been getting incredible results. Traditional chamber management tasks and processes, from a clerk first taking the enquiry through to allocating the case to the most appropriate barrister, are time-consuming, monotonous and laborious. Over 50% of the processes can be automated using AI. With total access to diary data, Billy Bot can query case management software for barrister availability, conflict check, create the case in the system and acknowledge the booking to the client by email. The technology integration into the case management solution means Billy holds over 15 years’ worth of accurate data. There is a barrister preference engine, which learns the preferences of Clerksroom’s 77 barristers, so Billy knows the variables including likely fees for specific areas of law, all courts in England and Wales, legal expertise and distance to travel from home or chambers to the court centre. Clerksroom typically spends eight minutes and takes 167 actions to arrange a case – now, with Billy, its clerks are saving on average 250,000 clicks and keystrokes, equivalent to 200 hours per month. In addition, letting the client input the details via Billy Bot means they are also seeing greater accuracy of data.
Of course, the AI robot will never be able to replace the relationship of expertise and trust that develops between a law firm and its client. There will always be a need for lawyers who understand the nuances of situations, and provide the insight and empathy required. However, AI can free up firms to do more high value and highly paid work. This means time spent interpreting and advising on their clients’ issues, rather than the more tedious aspects of due diligence and routine work.
AI and indeed other digital innovations also provide an opportunity to bring greater transparency into the profession, with the introduction of self-service processes that can help to de-mystify the various stages of legal activities. Many legal problems go ‘un-lawyered’ today, and research shows there is a substantial legal need that is not currently being met by providers. This offers enormous scope to better align legal resources through technology. According to the Ipsos Mori Social Research Institute for The Legal Services Board and the Law Society (2016), only a third of people with a legal need seek any kind of third party advice, and just one in ten with legal problems actually instruct a solicitor or barrister. It is a similar story with small businesses. Research by Kingston University revealed that over half of organisations experiencing legal problems tried to resolve them on their own – or when advice was sought, accountants were consulted more often than lawyers.
With the support of digital innovations, clients can track their own cases, and instantly review what is happening by accessing their information online. This will greatly reduce the amount of time legal professionals spend on the phone providing updates or allaying concerns about progress. By using technology, specifically around AI-driven automated processes, to reduce the time it takes lawyers to complete research and casework, it should also lead to reduced bills and simplified pricing structures – further encouraging people to instruct law firms.
With the rise of advanced technology, other smarter ways of working are also becoming available to chambers who want to move away from the traditional model in order to meet the need for improved efficiencies. Firms are facing challenges in adapting to a world where mobile working is seen as the norm. Staff expect increasingly flexible working arrangements, and clients demand more frequent and immediate communication. By adopting digital technologies such as the Cloud, barristers and their staff can work on the move, and still have all the real-time information they need at their fingertips. Case documents can be securely stored in the Cloud, meaning barristers and clerks can action tasks on the go, and the burden of document storage is lifted from clerks so they are freed up to focus on the clients who effect revenue and business growth. Being able to store, share and edit documents quickly and easily from anywhere and any device makes collaborating with multiple parties quick and simple. It results in increased revenue, reduced printing and courier costs and better client satisfaction. All of this will make a firm an attractive proposition for those seeking legal services, providing an important edge over the competition. It also makes it easier to comply with incoming government regulations such as the Digital by Default strategy.
By offering mobility, agility, security and efficiency, technology can deliver an untapped opportunity for barristers. It can also help chambers attract and retain dynamic young talent from the born-digital generation who expect a level of investment in technology that supports and embraces the way they like to work. The increasing understanding, acceptance and adoption of AI integration will only accelerate the digitisation already underway within the legal industry. Digital disruption will transform the way the profession operates and communicates and for those chambers understanding the benefits of creating innovative and streamlined operating models, it offers unlimited possibilities.
Doug Hargrove, Managing Director – Legal Sector – at Advanced Legal