Digital tools offer new and increasingly powerful ways to extend and improve legal services. The traditional law firm business model is being challenged in some quarters by start-ups offering easy-access legal assistance. AI, new conversational interfaces and cloud services in particular are proving useful. Law firms that don’t adapt will be left behind, but those that can incorporate new tools and techniques will forge ahead as client and employee expectations grow.
The legal profession operates with a relatively traditional mindset, and has been slow to adopt new technologies. A hierarchical workforce, specialised and centralised knowledge, reliance on costly training, complex internal processes, and legacy systems all play their part. This can lead to an inconsistent experience for clients, while increasing the time and complexity of finalising tasks. But for law firms (and their client!) time is money. Both clients and the younger, more digitally-driven workforce are less forgiving when it comes to processes and employee tech that doesn’t work and feel like the digital tools they use in day-to-day life.
Although defining and implementing new technologies is a big challenge for law firms, the potential for streamlining operations and enhancing client and employee experience is huge. A new wave of legal leaders are recognising the need to see innovation as a business strategy. The growth of SaaS companies like Clio and Everlaw, or research programmes like Stanford’s centre for legal informatics, CodeX, has driven opportunity and competition in legaltech. Any digital innovation project, however, requires a comprehensive understanding of commercial and cultural context for successful implementation. That’s where user-centred design comes in, to ensure that new tools are built around those who will use them – both employees and clients. Such an approach can bring a wealth of benefits, with technologies like AI, cloud-based document management, Blockchain and others having immense potential to boost productivity and efficiency, and consequently – margin. Implementing innovation takes skill, and it’s something legal firms should treat as a valuable tool that complements the human factor.
The role of technology
Digital transformation goes far beyond implementing a website and maintaining an active profile on social media. If defined and implemented correctly, tech solutions can resolve some of the industry’s pain points. Efficient client servicing and data management are just two of them. The most profound results lie in time-saving and cost efficiency – key for ensuring competitive advantage with best-in-class CX and enhanced employee experience.
Chatbots: AI with a human touch
One tech solution – AI-driven chatbots – is already demonstrating potential to help law firms with client interactions. Most of the early running (with chat functions and far beyond) has been made by smaller start-ups, and although significant VC investment has gone into the sector, it’s not been huge. With established players starting to look at investment arms or accelerator labs, for example MDR in London, there’s plenty still to happen.
Operating on Facebook Messenger, DoNotPay’s latest chatbot helps refugees with immigration applications in the USA and Canada. To evaluate whether the refugee is eligible for protection, DoNotPay’s chatbot analyses a user’s responses to a series of questions and delivers the correct application form. The use of Facebook as a platform means it can be used on any mobile device, increasing accessibility and reducing associated cost and time for refugees.
CaseCrunch (formerly LawBot)
CaseCrunch is an extension of the DoNotPay model for criminal law, covering 26 criminal offences. Unlike DoNotPay, CaseCrunch doesn’t deliver specific legal advice and its functionality doesn’t allow for taking the case forward by submitting a letter or application. Its role relies on using predictive analytics to analyse the applicability of law in various scenarios, such as whether the user is applicable to press charges for an assault. During the beta stage, LawBot (as it was then) was capable of predicting a claim outcome with 71 per cent accuracy, which has reportedly now increased to 86.6 per cent (as compared to 62.3 per cent achieved by human lawyers). The founders, a group of Cambridge University students, after rebranding to CaseCrunch have extended the tool to help law firms with litigation strategies using data-driven analysis, reducing the amount of time and money spent on legal prediction tasks. Their current solutions span complaint handling, legal decision forecasting and merits-based claim review.
Legal Intelligence Support System (LISA)
Working similarly to online chatbots, LISA is an online non-disclosure agreement (NDA) generator. It provides free access to legal services, of particular benefit to smaller businesses. LISA bills itself as impartial, and able to represent both sides of an agreement – not something a law firm would traditionally offer to do.
What does technology hold for the future of law firms?
A big part of choosing the right legal tech is assessing whether it complements human skills – not if it can replace it. This is particularly important in the legal sector, where human knowledge, empathy and compassion all play a major role.
The human factor is indispensable, regardless of the complexity, size or transformative promise of a technological change. While AI will streamline operations and resolve increasingly complex client enquiries, it is currently aimed only at determining a single ‘best’ outcome and then observing its effectiveness to refine future attempts. Nonetheless, its potential to complement the support provided by lawyers and minimise resource-use is massive.
Will technologies like chatbots and AI support law firms to be more, not less, human in their client interactions? We think it’s very likely. Understanding the pain points for both the legal workforce and their clients is key to identifying potential innovation opportunities. But to deliver long-term results, insight into the importance of cultural change and a thorough iteration of new technological solutions according to user feedback is vital.
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