Legal tech will make legal services more personal, more powerful and more valuable.
The media is full of visions, comments, and thoughts on legal tech, its advances, its application, its benefits and its disruptive effects. The Legal (R)Evolution Conference in Frankfurt recently provided yet another – albeit one of the first in Germany – opportunity to experience, discuss and learn about challenges, advantages and opportunities in connection with the development and implementation of legal technology.
Actually some information provided seemed to be remarkable such as a reference that only 35% of the German top 250 law firms (albeit excluding the German offices of international law firms) would have yet introduced an electronic document management system. That left an impression – and us in good shape, since MAYRFELD from day one has been using an electronic document management and collaboration tool.
Left the above bonmot aside, there is, of course, a clear desire to perfectionate information technologies and information processing: no matter whether we are talking document management, tools for document production, office management systems, predictive AI or AI systems for the review of documents or the analysis of documented case law, under the bottom line we are talking about the possibilities to process information that is available in an unbelievable volume. Certainly, a huge impact. However, where does it lead us to?
It seems that the development of legal tech amplifies a notion that is tempted to reduce legal advice to the production or review of (legal) documentation. AI at its current level heavily relies on information – document – comparison. AI can also output information in writing. And since lawyers live in a world of writing it seems to be a small step to view machines and lawyers to be comparable and to envisage that lawyers will be replaceable. And where the personality or even originality of legal advice is drifted in the background by a mere focus on document production, there are even ideas to outsource legal advice to third party counsel – that, of course, could also be a machine. For the latest investment in a robo lawyer, see:
— Vanessa Davis (@butnickdavis) November 6, 2017
Further, the discussion about legal tech seems to entice an increasing desire for standardization – albeit forgetting that each morning at our local coffee shop we enjoy a myriad of possibilities for individual customization of a rather simple product such as a latte macchiato.
Social Media recently emerged with a slightly different approach: the idea of the supercharged lawyer.
— Rob Wilmot (@RobWilmot) October 17, 2017
"Legal tech will supercharge lawyers rather than replace them" -Paul Neo #LexTech17
— Janice tan (@janicetanying) November 4, 2017
Although the idea may seem too conservative to consider for technologically advanced legal data scientists, we would see a great potential for a neo-conservative approach to future professional legal advice. In short, it is our true believe that
Legal tech will make legal services more personal.
When we developed one of our mottos "More impact. More personal. More value" in connection with our corporate work, we did not predict that it would also hold so true for the effects of the emerging legal tech. Admittedly there is an increasing number of standardized matter management powered by legal tech (such as flightright) outside the scope of a business lawfirm. And looking at, e.g., the finance industry‘s increasing demand for documentation under London Market Standards, we cannot neglect the need for standardized documentation. However, there – still – is a necessity for advice off the standardized paths. Interestingly, professional coaches seem to (rightfully) shift advice to young lawyers to become more creative in light of growing competition on the market. So, where are we heading, since standardization and creativity, AI and analog lawyers seem to look into opposite directions? Let‘s throw in some old-fashioned experience.
Our lawyers have been fortunate to have counseled General Counsels of Fortune 500 companies as well as managers of SMEs cross-border and domestically in matters that were of particular significance for them. We, therefore, have a basis for applying an own evaluation of the disruptive impact and we see great opportunity. Legal tech will provide legal services with more impact, will make them more personal and more valuable. Except for the "leg-work" that is associated with every project or transaction, we cannot think of a project where we were not in demand for strategic analysis and advice, benchmarking business models against regulatory frameworks, communicating and negotiating client desires, evaluating risks and liabilities, and – most importantly – developing alternatives resembling our client’s business objectives within the applicable legal framework and – communication. These activities often result in documentation, in language that may be comparable for machines and that we might have used before in one way or another. – However, it would always remain unique to the transaction at hand because the interests in each transaction would be so unique. And the coffee shop around the corner may remind us that even very simple transactions can have highly individual aspects associated with them.
The work required until a transaction or project can be "reduced to writing" may be time consuming. Lawyers need to gather facts, research, analyse, compare. They need to process information. However, that is what legal tech is good at: gathering, sorting, or consolidating information. We believe, that is where in the future legal tech will provide a lawyer with more room. We think that the core value of good counsel is a very personal affair: it requires expertise, experience, strategic and rock solid legal advice on the one hand, however, also and foremost sophisticated communication and negotiation skills to turn client desires in solid and enforceable contractual rules. This is where legal tech makes legal services more personal and individual because it will allow us to turn "leg-work" (be it document review or case analysis) much more efficient and to concentrate on the core of the practice of law. And legal tech will allow smaller firms to gain a competitive edge over Big Law, since it will allow clients to compare expertise rather than headcount.
Legal tech will make legal services more valuable. Computer-aided analysis will provide a sophisticaed basis for a stronger personalization and individualization of legal services. This mix of technological and professional progress will turn legal advice more refined and reliable, resulting in a more sophisticated attorney work-product. This would even hold true for standard documentation such as standard agreements that are entered into multiple times. The higher the number of a standard contract to be entered into, the more you should make sure that you got it right – even the details. Would it really be a business proposal from a risk perspective to create multiple obligations on the basis of documentation that does not truly reflect your business? Would a client want a latte macchiato that was not really to its taste?
Admittedly, we have no basis for evaluating client expectations and desires in consumer representations, since this is not our practice. However, it’s been our impression that sophisticated corporate counsel appreciates outside counsel’s analytical – i.e., lawyering – skills which we doubt can be replaced by AI in the near future. However, legal tech will allow us to boost the impact and value of our advice.
We think size will become relative, dynamics will grow, business models will become more complex. Legal tech makes us looking forward towards even more personal, more valuable, supercharged counsel.
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