Technology is advancing in every industry on a global scale even hitting law firms. Whether its digitalisation or even the adoption of artificial intelligence, while some embrace innovation with open arms, others struggle to make the change.
Someone who knows all about this is Sascha Mehlhase is the vice president of products and innovation at ABC Legal Services. Sascha oversees ABC Legal’s growing product, marketing and customer experience teams in transforming ABC Legal into the best-in-class technology and service industry leader, while simultaneously finding new avenues to scale. With nearly 20 years of product and marketing experience in software and technology, Sascha has advanced product strategies and led global teams in a variety of industries.
Here he discusses the ongoing impact technological adoption is having on the legal industry.
There’s often some resistance towards technological innovation at law firms from partners that are set in their ways. It’s been especially difficult to convince attorneys that didn’t grow up with digital technologies to work without hard copies, much less to consider trusting their clients’ cases to artificial intelligence. The Covid-19 pandemic has forced legal professionals to adopt technology at a rapid pace, making it more palatable to even the most entrenched Luddites.
Resistance to Technology from Law Firms and Courts
From the hallowed chambers of British criminal courts to the overcrowded marble pillars and stately staircases of the New York County Supreme Court, technology has taken a back seat to tradition. Enhancements such as e-filing have been phased in at a snail’s pace, but requirements for in-person appearance and hard copies of documents remained a fixture in many courtrooms. Some partners who are more resistant to new automation tools consider technology an expensive superfluous tool that halts operations for installation and reduces productivity with the required learning curve. The resistance by this group of legal professionals has made it difficult for the broader industry to embrace the benefits legal technologies can provide.
Covid-19 Pandemic Ushers in The Immediate Need to Implement Technology
By the end of March 2020, law firms and courthouses around the world were put on hold. Even the most successful law firms had to alter operations and had glimpses of the unknown for the future. It was the firms that had the foresight to implement paperless files, e-conferencing, and e-signing technology up to speed that were able to return to operations the quickest. Judges, clerks, and other court personnel received crash courses in audio and video conferencing tools and operating their caseloads remotely.
Law firm partners and employees quickly learned how to consult with clients via Zoom from home. Further, with children home from school, many court and law firm personnel were unable to leave their homes, even when safety precautions could be implemented at their workplaces. Embracing legal technology was not an option for these individuals if they wanted to safely resume work.
Law Firm Managers Now Face Less Resistance to Implementing Technology
Now that established lawyers have been somewhat forced to learn new approaches to traditional legal processes, senior partners are much less resistant to adopt new technologies into their permanent workflows. Law firm managers are finding that they now have the attention and credibility when they suggest implementing artificial intelligence (AI), natural language processing (NLP), machine learning (ML), as well as e-discovery at their firm. Many law firms are now looking to be leaders in adopting new technology into existing processes, rather than risking once again being caught on their heels.
Law Firms and Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing
AI can be extremely helpful behind the scenes improving the efficiency of most large corporate firms, but certainly not as a substitute for human beings. Instead, legal professionals are leveraging AI to supplement existing processes and automate repetitive tasks such as drafting NDAs.
ML enables AI through its ability to identify and analyse large amounts of information from court records and cases. The technology then recognises patterns and flags them to attorneys and paralegals, reducing the need to read through hundreds of pages. This can positively impact the client’s experience because their questions can be answered by legal professionals more quickly and accurately. This level of automation and added intelligence also helps legal teams by increasing efficiency and productivity, allowing more time for other billable tasks.
Despite the success of these technologies, there is still extreme value in human interactions and support, especially as more of the industry becomes comfortable with new automated processes. For example, even the most technologically advanced firms have maintained their administrative staff during the global pandemic to answer and route calls from customers and clients to the appropriate firm personnel. Firms can still adopt intelligent tools, while maintaining meaningful connections with their networks.
Advances in E-Filing and the Courts
Most courts have begun implementing some level of automation through e-filing; however, other courts have had types of cases that were not included in digital advancements or had some functions that still required in-person visits or hard copies to be completed. Despite past hesitations to implement e-filling and unique case requirements aside, the global pandemic accelerated the widespread need and desire to embrace digital transformation and improve ease of use by completing court cases through automated processes.
As demand increases, these tools will also see improvements. E-filing for example, continues to evolve to be able to automate cases not previously acceptable for transformation. For example, matrimonial cases that were not subject to e-filing due to privacy concerns, are now being automated with the use of encryption. These types of e-filling applications reduce the need for in-person appearances at the courthouse to file and obtain papers.
After seeing the impacts automation tools have delivered in just several months, courts around the world are now prioritising widespread adoption of these technologies to improve efficiency and experiences for all parties involved. The implementation of technology to power legal process automation is just getting started.