Our executive team recently sat down with TLS Vice President, Consulting & Information Governance, Al-Karim Makhani to discuss the latest technology trends he and our clients are seeing across the legal industry.
TLS: What are some of the legal tech trends you have noticed in the last couple of years?
Al-Karim: The pandemic obviously induced a work-from-home shift, which has forced everyone in the industry (and beyond) to adopt technology faster than predicted. What surprised corporations and law firms alike was that the technology was ready to plug and play with minimal technical, logistical, or procedural fuss. Baseline acceptance of technology has become an industry norm, from those using document sharing platforms to present evidence securely in a remote environment, to 70-year-old judges giving directions via Zoom (and the odd attorney turning into a cat). End clients, attorneys, technologists, funders, notaries, and other industry players now look to tech solutions when maybe even two years ago they wouldn't have been asking those questions.
TLS VP Al-Karim Makhani
TLS: Can you speak to any other big trends?
Al-Karim: We are diving deeper into artificial intelligence or AI with this broader understanding of technology. We have many tools leveraging cognitive computing and continuous active learning. Courts, attorneys, and parties are now comfortable utilizing that tech. We have judgments that detail how the tech works, its importance, and then mandatory consideration. Even in arbitration, which has historically been slower to adopt technology, we are seeing new and creative uses of AI—whether it is to increase prospects (finding the best arbitrator), presenting information in dynamic ways including AR and VR, or replicating the decision-making process. As these tools are increasingly deployed, we are going to look at how we can use real (deep learning) artificial intelligence—the kinds of things that you would associate with big tech companies.
TLS: How is AI used in the legal industry?
Al-Karim: There are ways that AI is already being piloted in the legal space. We see AI tools being used to assess witness credibility—facial nodes for small movements indicating dishonesty, MRI images for changes in the brain, pupil dilation tracking. Companies are finding creative ways of resolving disputes based on smart contracts—whether these are open source or coded into the smart contract itself. From what I’ve been reading, there is a real push to look at how to resolve disputes leveraging technology. For the most part, much of the technology that we are using in the legal space, even the cutting-edge technology that's being developed, is around helping manage and understand data to help judges and arbitrators make decisions based on technology that provides insight. The new wave may well replace existing forms of dispute resolution—coined alternative alternative dispute resolution.
TLS: What are smart contracts and can you elaborate?
Al-Karim: Smart contracts are a more common way of doing business. Right now, the legal world isn't really in a place where it can deal with smart contracts in a sophisticated way. Courts are trying to apply archaic legal procedure to constructs that transcend the system designed to regulate them. Much of the development we are seeing is around coding in dispute resolution capacity within the smart contract itself. There is an organization right now that provides a dispute resolution service where you can pay in Bitcoin or cryptocurrency to be, essentially, a worldwide judiciary. If you believe in this model as a legitimate form of dispute resolution, you're basically going to have the result voted on by thousands of people that have cryptocurrency. What you might lose in the assessment of a 75-year-old judge who has decades of experience you might gain in a swift dispute resolution. I think that's the trade-off, and I think that is what we are going to see. Parties to a dispute are going to choose speed and cost efficiencies over getting the right answer.
TLS: What are some of the trends our clients are talking about?
Al-Karim: For a long time now, every time we talk about legal tech industry trends, the first one is exponential data growth. So in one way, it’s trite. But on the other side of the coin, exponential growth is both vertical (data size) and horizontal (disparate data sources), and that is a real concern for our clients. WFH has given rise to millions of hours of recorded video meetings—information that is material to business operations, C-suite decision-making, and legal strategy. Clients need more advice on protecting, interrogating, and transferring their data while growing their business and complying with data-centric obligations.
TLS: What else can you tell us about legal tech trends in 2022?
Al-Karim: The number of languages that people are communicating in within each dispute is growing almost as fast as data. At the beginning of the workflow, rather than translating every single document, we spend a lot of time building out search terms that are thematically and syntactically the same in a number of languages. Most technology has been built for English language data and there is no getting away from that. It's not as easy as machine translation (MT) of 18 languages and plugging them into a legal tech tool. In fact, we’ve worked with various judicial bodies to pilot MT protocols not dissimilar to TAR protocols. It’s cutting-edge stuff, but if you have millions of documents in obscure languages, out-of-the-box MT simply won’t work and human translation is too time and cost inefficient. Designing a QC loop to improve the learning that underpins MT to reduce edit distance has had profound implications for non-English data.
TLS: You attended Legal Week 2022 in New York this month. What is the theme of the trade show now?
Al-Karim: The theme for Legal Week, if you can call it that, is always the same: a chance to see and learn about what is going on in the space. This year, there was definitely added energy, as it’s the first time people are back together in person. Apart from the obvious (and important) social aspect, I’m a great believer that ideas are best conveyed and understood in person. Another theme is the great resignation. The problem is less about why we’ve made a cultural shift away from stringent office hours and more about employees taking data with them when they resign. Our forensics teams are involved in more and more matters where employers need to assess whether data/trade secrets have been taken and, more importantly, prevent it from happening.
TLS: I’d like to ask you a non-legal tech related question. For people who know about TransPerfect, especially as a translation company, how do you differentiate that you work for TransPerfect Legal Solutions?
Al-Karim: TLS is the legal solutions division of TransPerfect. But when people ask me, I still like to tell them the TransPerfect story because it provides a frame of reference that contextualizes our business culture. We are a 30-year-old, innovative, fast-growing, billion-dollar business built on ruthless customer service and serious investment in our people and clients. TransPerfect started out in the language space, but our revenue today is disaggregated across a number of technologies we’ve developed for legal, pharma, financial services, and many more, while also retaining our position as the biggest language company globally. All of this has provided us with the opportunity to offer award-winning legal tech services on both sides of the Atlantic.
TLS: So, what does TLS do?
Al-Karim: The division may be broadly divided into two specialities—software and services. We build and develop our own technology. Where a better tool exists on the market, we license it. And, that’s great. But the services side of TLS is just as important. We have a number of the world’s leading subject matter experts in analytics, AI, data privacy, and project management. Legal tech is not standalone. You need to have the experts to deploy the right technology, in the right way, at the right time. So for the last few years, we've been working very hard to bring in those experts from wherever they may be in the market. Those experts in turn push the development teams to continuously ensure our tech is ahead of the curve. Without that, for a tech company, you become obsolete in months, not years.
TLS: What are the types of technology that TLS is using?
Al-Karim: We mostly deal with forensic collection and data processing platforms. We have a number of analytics tools that interrogate data to find patterns and trends. Continuous active learning, which is an automated way of building data models to understand documents without the need for thousands of attorneys, is being used in most disputes. The reality is, when a firm is faced with one million documents for review in a month, they simply cannot get through this discovery without machine learning technology. The difference is that today, lawyers understand there are tools that can make an impact, even at 10,000 docs.
Beyond machine learning is AI. In construction matters, for instance, contractors are being fitted with cameras to record days of onsite work and collect pictures and video that would be invaluable in a dispute. Businesses are also realizing that they need a less reactive data solution. Collecting data from scratch every time there is a matter (contentious or non-contentious) becomes expensive. We are more regularly deploying client-side information governance platforms, which connect in real time to every data source they have and provide insight on a dashboard. This expedites the disputes process from a DSAR to an investigation.