Generative AI has turned legal tech adoption “on its head”

Westland: No time to wait 

The arrival of generative AI has turned the process of legal tech purchasing and adoption “on its head”, the head of innovation and legal technology at national firm Addleshaw Goddard has said.

Kerry Westland said law firms could spend “a lot of time navel-gazing” when it came to AI, but “I do not think we have the time to do that”.

Ms Westland said Addleshaw Goddard had seen “more engagement with generative AI” than with any previous legal tech the firm had introduced in the past decade, with more than 1,000 members of staff attending one training session.

“The biggest win from this technology is to put it in people’s hands. I can’t stress that strongly enough. You can do so many tasks from one interface.”

Unlike other tech, generative AI was “not a final thing that you just buy”, but an iterative process.

Ms Westland said the law firm had a separate innovation investment budget, “above and beyond” the usual technology costs, which it could use to deal with years like 2023.

“We had to dedicate a lot of time to understanding what generative AI is and what it means for legal.” This included speaking to existing tech vendors, new vendors and developing the firm’s own tools. “It’s about adaptation, rather than adoption.”

In terms of quality assurance, she said the AI had “sort of taken care of itself”, and lawyers had tested this by comparing results with previous matters. She said lawyers at the firm had identified multiple potential use cases for generative AI across departments.

Speaking at a Westminster Legal Policy Forum last week on The Future for AI in Legal Services, Ms Westland said: “We could spend a long time navel-gazing, but I do not think we have the time to do that. The longer you wait, the more you miss out in terms of the learning and cultural change.”

She said a “really interesting point” would come when clients were ready to take the risk of an AI-led review, with “no eyes on it”.

She added that there was “not enough guidance” from legal regulators on generative AI, because the technology was new, but the firm had set up its own advisory group to look at how it could be regulated.

Paul Caddy, head of insight at Shoosmiths, said lawyers who in the 1990s had learned how to ‘surf the web’, had to learn now how to ‘surf the tech’ and needed the skills to navigate it.

Shoosmiths has introduced a new fee structure this month which enabled lawyers who were heads of innovation in the different sectors to have their billing targets halved.

He suggested that all lawyers needed to think of themselves as ‘lawyers plus’, for example lawyers who were also AI innovators.

They also needed to get used to the dynamic that the law “had not caught up with the technology, including AI”.

Mr Caddy said: “Modernising our institutions and creating new laws is like trying to navigate a supertanker.”

Law firms were changing, and lawyers had to be ready for that. “Young lawyers will ask why they are doing a lot of dull work that AI could do”.

He said the three laws of legal practice in an AI age were that lawyers who used AI would replace those who did not, lawyers who acted like robots would be replaced by robots and lawyers who combined AI and emotional intelligence would “thrive above all”.

He added: “Lawyers must be excited by thinking creatively. We need to use our imaginations to put ourselves in the shoes of our clients.”

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