City lawyers “need help from their firms” to engage with technology

Searle: Big gap between expectation and reality

Lawyers have been reluctant to engage with artificial intelligence (AI) and other technology partly because law firm partners haven’t given junior staff enough time to learn how it can help them, according to a government-backed report.

Funded by government agency Innovate UK, the report found widespread agreement among mainly banking and finance specialists from six large commercial firms that technology was increasingly important but that they were in the dark over what worked best.

Focusing on the behavioural science questions of what motivates and inhibits lawyers’ choices, legal transaction platform Legatics worked closely over two years with partners at Herbert Smith Freehills, DLA Piper and others, along with some 100 lawyers from Pinsent Masons, Osborne Clarke, Reed Smith and Eversheds Sutherland.

The report included findings from a survey answered by 133 lawyers from among 10 law firms

Key findings were that 95% of all trainees and associates agreed on the importance of implementation and use of new legal tech, an assessment shared by three-quarters of partners.

But fewer than four in 10 understood what was available, with a lack of time for learning or training and insufficient incentive to adopt it.

One partner: “The idea can be great, but there is a very real fear of the time it will take you to learn and implement the tech.”

The report concluded: “Numerous participants commented that time pressure and lack of availability and familiarity meant that it was easier to carry on working in the traditional way that is ‘tried and tested’.”

However, it predicted that as younger, more tech-savvy lawyers became more senior and “time cost” became less dramatic, barriers to adoption would fall away organically.

Remedies suggested by more junior lawyers included making them more aware of what was available, better communication within firms, more incentives to use legal tech – such as partners making it clear that designated ‘innovation hours’ trumped billable hours.

Another Legatics report published at the same time found a lack of faith among lawyers in AI tools because of high cost, lack of trust in its accuracy and complexity in putting it into effect.

The report recommended various changes to deal with this, including simplifying the software and breaking it down into more manageable ‘microservices’, reducing the training needed, and boosting lawyer control over outcomes to increase confidence in the technology.

It said: “We expect that this approach will, once fully commercialised, result in technology that is easily adopted by legal professionals and meet Innovate UK’s stated aim of increasing productivity with the use of AI based technologies.”

The company’s chief executive, Anthony Seale, a former Clifford Chance associate, said: “There has been a big gap between the legal industry’s expectations that legal technology will completely transform the delivery of legal services and what we have seen in practice.

“We wanted to diagnose the underlying reasons behind this gap and unlock the potential of AI technology in particular by re-imagining from the ground up how these technologies are built, deployed and adopted within law firms.”

Meanwhile, Legatics has secured a £3m injection from investor Mobeus to develop its platform and build on its “strong customer acquisition”.

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