A new month is almost upon us, which means only one thing: a new Change Practitioner of the Month. This month rewards a company that has abandoned the archaic status quo entrenched within its industry, and has adopted cutting-edge technology to not only transform the way its employees work, but also offer a more efficient and accurate service to its clients.
The Facilitate4Me Change Practitioner for October goes to……Top 20 law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner!
Law firms are not often known for their modern approach to life. Indeed they tend to stir up stereotypical images of middle-aged, upper-class people, churning through pages and pages of corporate documents, still preferring their classic pen and paper to a more modern iPad (or tablet of any kind). One could even say that lawyers are almost afraid of technology, as it represents the unknown, something that lawyers find difficult to accept.
Things are a lot better now compared to the past. Just a quick Google search reveals a number of legal professionals who now have a strong online presence, either through their personal LinkedIn profiles, sector specific blogs and articles, or even social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook!
However, this apparent embrace for all things new and technological doesn’t seem to resonate in the work environment, with law firms, in the main, opting for a “this is the way we’ve always done it, so why change it?” approach. Of all the professional industries, the legal industry can easily be accused of being amongst the least “techno-forward” profession by some distance.
One city law firm however, seems to be ripping up the rule book, by adopting artificial intelligence (AI) into its business model in an attempt to boost efficiency and improve the morale of its lawyers.
Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) is a top 20 international law firm, with over 850 lawyers across nine offices in eight countries. It is based in London, and specialises in commercial and civil legal services including corporate tax, property and litigation. According to legal magazine The Lawyer [http://www.thelawyer.com/news/practice-areas/information-technology-news/blps-whalley-using-ai-for-processing-is-just-the-beginning/3040095.article] BLP has begun using AI software known as RAVN within its real estate and commercial practices to extract specific pieces of information from large documents, becoming the first law firm to sign up to RAVN’s Applied Cognitive Engine (ACE) artificial intelligence solution.
Though the revolutionary software is only being rolled out in small-scale tasks in selected practice areas at the moment, its infiltration into the legal profession has been met with some scepticism. One criticism of AI is that it takes work away from junior lawyers, whose responsibility it would usually be to carry out such data extraction tasks. Such work is essential in many cases, and though the work is time consuming and often very tedious, many still argue that it is an essential part of legal training that needs to be carried out by junior lawyers to adequately train them to become good lawyers.
The firm’s head of legal risk consultancy Matthew Whalley, disagrees. He argues in legaltechnology.com [http://www.legaltechnology.com/latest-news/the-only-thing-to-fear-is-doing-nothing-blp-becomes-first-law-firm-to-sign-up-to-ravns-artificial-intelligence-solution/] that the software allows junior lawyers to engage in more interesting work, which is much more beneficial to their legal training. “They’re doing more complex tasks”, says Whalley. “The main thing they aren’t doing is reading through a foot-high stack of documents with a highlighter and then going back through them all and typing what they’ve found into a spreadsheet…they’re able to do more interesting work, which they actually want to do”.
Whalley further argues that the use of AI facilitates a decrease in costs and increase in work – life balance, the latter being achieved courtesy of the need for fewer long working hours.
Though other law firms may take some heavy persuading in order to embrace this new approach to doing things, Whalley remains highly optimistic of RAVN’s place as a fundamental tool of the legal profession in the near future. “The efficiencies are the short term goal”, he says, “but the insights you get from turning unstructured contractual data into structured data that you can generate reports from is incredibly valuable”. “We can offer clients the BLP quality service but in a fraction of the time”, he told Legal IT Insider.
And in response to the concern that such innovative technologies can replace the work of lawyers and thus make them obsolete, Simon Harper, co-founder of BLP’s contract lawyer business Lawyers On Demand (LOD) argues that firms can use technology “to facilitate how the lawyers are working and how the clients are getting the information”, rather than replace them altogether. “One piece of that”, he says, “is around how we match the right lawyers with the right clients on the right assignment” in order to ensure the firm is making the best possible use of its time, talent and resources. This way the client receives the most relevant and best possible advice for their business needs.
As Peter Wallqvist, co-founder and managing director of RAVN so eloquently put it, “my advice to law firms who think technology will eat their lunch, is that the only thing they have to fear is doing nothing”.
By Ebony Ezekwesili
Ebony is a legal secretary and a 2:1 law graduate. She has a passion for law and sports, and writes her own sports blog at ebonylovessports.blogspot.co.uk.