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How are legal technology and artificial intelligence changing the way lawyers do their day-to-day work?

Monday 27 June 2022

Report on session at 6th IBA Global Entrepreneurship Conference, 16 – 17 May 2022, presented by the IBA Closely Held and Growing Business Enterprise Committee. 

Pedro Fernández 

Pérez-Llorca, Madrid
pfernandez@perezllorca.com

Session Co-Chairs

Ivan Delgado Pérez-Llorca, Madrid; Website Officer, IBA Closely Held and Growing Business Enterprises Committee

Meltem Koning Van Doorne, Amsterdam

Speakers

Tina De Maere Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Limine, Brussels

Sjors Dobbelaar Founder and CEO, Legalloyd, Amsterdam

Jeroen Zweers Independent Advisor and Co-Founder, Dutch Legal Tech Association, Amsterdam

Session Report

Before entering into the panel discussion, I would like to clarify to the reader that this was a very interactive session where speakers and attendees spoke and shared their opinions equally.

Meltem Koning opened the session and raised a well-known topic, asking: ‘As law firms, how can we innovate?’ The Co-Chair, Ivan Delgado added and explained the concept of legal tech. That is, the use of technology and software to provide legal services and support the legal industry.

In this context the initial questions for the panelist and attendants are: Are law firms as advanced as other industries that we as lawyer advice? Our clients use and demand technology, but do we need it or not?

Delgado explained that although there can be a pressure for innovation and use of legal tech, there are three relevant stoppers for the industry: (i) confidentiality issues: confidentiality is essential for law firms and new technology frequently implies risk on this; (ii) data protection problems: when sharing a document or information through new platforms or technologies; and (iii) liability and insurance issues: for example if you share documents in a platform but do not have a clear trace back of the data and where it has been stored.

Sjors Dobbelaar explained that they are a hybrid law firm - they work as a platform to provide SaaS legal services in a subscription model giving one solution for the client.

Tina De Maere founded a digital matching platform. They use legal tech and human creativity on a single product.

Jeroen Zweers works in new models and innovation for the legal sector. He helps corporate departments in embracing legal tech and innovation and give a strategic focus.

After this short introduction of the speakers, Meltem Koning asked if the use of legal tech in the legal practice will be normal in the near future. Some of the attendees expressed their doubts and Zweers asked the audience if anyone knew the reasons for the legal sector not changing as fast as other industries (in addition to the problem raised by Delgado at the beginning of the session).

The main comments were as follows (not necessarily consistent):

  • The legal sector is driven to gain income for the partners and not to be innovative. It is a cost-saving industry instead of being innovative and trying to do things and deliverables better.
  • There are so many areas in law that it is very difficult to capture them into legal tech. It has been done, for example, in due diligence and in standardised documents, but it is difficult to use in other complex areas of law.
  • Zweers sees many other practices (eg, litigation, labour, legal research, etc) where legal tech is in its early days, but is consistently advancing.
  • Law firms can be very profitable businesses, thus there may be some resistance to change the business model.

These comments led to another question from Koning, who asked if there is any kind of structural resistance from law firms compared to other similar industries like accountancy or consultancy, which may be more open to embrace innovation? The main comments were as follows:

  • There is indeed fear to kill the business model.
  • More than being against the change, law schools need to focus on other skills (in addition to law): the use of technology naturally, to speak in public, to be an entrepreneur, etc.
  • In this sense, Zweers commented that, in different associations of lawyers in the Netherlands and Germany where he was lecturing, partners were more open to innovation than associates, because they are more business oriented.
  • A participant commented that in his opinion the aim of any business is to make money. He does not think that legal tech is particularly resilient. As long as lawyers perceive that they will be earning more money with legal tech then they will use it.
  • Other industries, like accountancy, are easier to standardise and thus can be more easily perceived as a commodity.

The moderators and participants remarked that in many areas we are almost the same as centuries ago, with paper copies of the documents yet in a few years we will probably store our agreements and tools in blockchain. In this sense how can we evolve our work and be ready for the big changes that are coming? Zweers says that lawyers need to change the current working model which is primarily selling hours to clients.

Many industries changed and evolved during the Covid-19 pandemic due to necessity but the legal sector has not perform badly during the Covid-19 pandemic, thus there was no real incentive to change the model.

This topic led to the efficiency of law firms and the effort for unification of legal documents, with initiatives like the Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA). Dobbelaar commented that if all law firms buy or use the same tools or documents, they will not only innovate but also use something that may work. The innovation must come from a different source and, ultimately, it will be the client who wants to work with the firms that do things better.

In this sense, how can law firms sell the innovation to their clients?

Zweers said that he has participated in some experiences where the consultants and the lawyers were together to explain their services to the client. This was particular advantageous in a process where the contact person of the client is not a general counsel, but instead a third party such as a business or technology.

Dobbelaar said that they offer a combined solution (legal and software) in a platform and that in his firm, lawyers and developers are sat together, so that each group can understand the needs of the other and evolve the legal and the software product.

The day before this panel, there was a session with general counsels of different companies and they said that they needed the external lawyers to step ‘in their shoes’, to be able to advise on both the legal and the extra-legal. This extra legal can be the innovation.

The final question for the speakers was what would be, in their opinion, the the most influential tools in the next five years.

Zweers answered the use of artificial intelligence (AI) solutions to solve complex legal problems, contract review and legal research tools.

De Maere explained that for her the focus will be in tools oriented around people. The most valuable asset of firms are people. She remarked that covering vacancies is now very difficult but with the right tools law firms can beat their competitors and attract talent.