This is a contributed piece by Dan Taylor, head of systems at Fletchers Solicitors
The pace of technological change in our society has never been so dramatic, and in a world where technology is embedded in our daily lives, our expectations on customer service have changed dramatically. With new devices and software continually being developed to improve business processes and quality of service, companies are striving to evolve their offering to stay relevant, gain competitive advantage and survive in the ever-changing marketplace. Perhaps surprisingly, the legal sector is no exception to this trend.
The legal industry has long been set in its ways and there hasn’t been much of a need to change, until recently. Over the past five years the sector has changed significantly, and witnessed a raft of legislation changes that have affected the sector and meant that firms can no longer rely on the ‘business as usual’ approach.
Most recently, the introduction of fixed fees, whereby lawyers are limited to how much they can charge for handling some cases, has forced the sector to seriously rethink how it operates, especially as lawyers will be limited to the amount of time they can spend on cases. In addition, the Jackson reforms in 2013 have also made it harder for firms to rely on third party companies to generate new leads and clients, so firms now have to find new ways of sourcing new business.
As a result of these changes, pressure is mounting on firms to cut out waste and work more efficiently to preserve profits, but without sacrificing the quality of the service they provide. In light of these challenges, the once analogue legal sector is pushing the boundaries of the digital revolution, hoping that technological innovation will provide the answers to greater efficiency.
Currently, a major technological focus in the legal sector is centring around Artificial Intelligence (AI) and how the rise of the chatbot could potentially transform the industry. Having made progress in other sectors, such as retail and finance, chatbots are becoming a more recognised way to reduce human input in favour of greater efficiency and improved customer service. Recognising the benefits chatbots can provide, forwarding thinking law firms are now exploring how such systems can be used in the legal profession, in particular, looking at their role in reducing time consuming data analysis.
These AI systems could be extremely valuable in assisting lawyers to review large volumes of current and past case work at a much faster pace. By utilising the large amounts of legal data available in law firms and in external databases, AI could significantly reduce research time and help lawyers to make quicker, more accurate decisions. By removing these time-consuming elements, lawyers could focus their attention on complex tasks like core legal analysis and provide a better quality of service to clients.
Although still in its infancy, we have already started to see examples where AI and chatbots have performed legal functions – for example, the chatbot called DoNotPay successfully contested thousands of parking tickets in London and New York. And alongside AI being adopted by a few forward-thinking law firms, a number of universities in the US have began running courses where students learn how to build AI systems to solve specific legal problems or challenges. According to Legal Week, this course has been extended to a university in Melbourne and discussions are currently underway with law schools in the UK too.
But to answer the big question that a lot of lawyers are asking right now - ‘will chatbots and AI replace the role of traditional lawyers in the future?’ – I believe the answer is no. Instead, it’s highly likely that AI will be used to support lawyers, automating time-consuming data analysis and making intelligent legal decisions to assist lawyers rather than replace them.
As this technology is still in the early stages of development, only a limited number of UK firms (including Fletchers) have begun to exploit the vast potential of these AI solutions. So there is still some way to go before we see a mass uptake of AI systems across the entire legal sector. However, over the next 12-36 months, it is likely that AI will make waves in the UK’s legal industry, and for the early adopters who are wise and bold enough to recognise the benefits, it could be a substantial accelerator for growth.
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