A season has passed since AIJA’s 60th Annual Congress in Singapore, providing a welcome opportunity to reflect on the event. For participants from TransPerfect Legal Solutions (TLS), attending Richard Susskind’s keynote address was one of the great privileges of the Congress.
For those unfamiliar with him, Susskind is a visionary author and advocate on the use of legal technology and how to successfully transform the delivery of legal services in the digital age. Susskind’s address perfectly encapsulated the evolving landscape of legal services and how technology-driven efficiencies are increasingly the sine qua non of a successful legal practice.
AIJA’s keynote selection is part of the organization’s continuing focus on legal technology. The 55th Annual Congress in Tokyo was themed ‘Artificial Intelligence, Technology and Innovation.’ Next year’s Congress in Rio de Janeiro presents the challenge of ‘Re-Thinking the Law in Four Dimensions’.
Over the years, AIJA’s leadership has embraced the reality that for all lawyers – and in particular young lawyers – legal technology is not only here to stay, but is also paramount to value-driven client service and long-term survival in an increasingly competitive legal market. Some of the themes discussed during the keynote, and throughout the Congress, include the following.
1. Legal Technology Solves the 'More for Less' Challenge.
Susskind noted that as business practices and regulatory obligations become increasingly complex, clients’ needs for legal services are growing. But at the same time, corporate legal departments are working with the same, or even shrinking, budgets. The traditional legal service model (the almighty billable hour) cannot meet the challenges presented by increased demand under tighter budgets because more complexity means more hours and thus higher fees. Susskind stressed that it is using legal technology that lawyers can streamline legal matters, deliver the same high-quality results and value in less time and fend off lower-rate, lower-quality competition.
2. Legal Technology Overcomes New Categories of Legal Competition.
Susskind detailed how the legal market has fundamentally changed in ways unimaginable 10 to 15 years ago. The Big 4 previously partnered with law firms; now they are a source of competition with meaningful differentiators. These consulting firms are much larger than law firms (massive, in fact) and they are able to leverage a significant historical investment in technology R&D and third-party licensing.
Likewise, Legal Tech start-ups, the newest entrant to the legal market, are disrupting the industry through technology, doing what Amazon did for publishing – and there are a lot of them. Tracxn noted 6,000+ startups in this space, with $1.3B in funding – with more than half of that in the last three years.
Finally, law companies, such as Axiom, offer on-demand legal talent to corporate legal teams. Forbes summarised their value when talking of Axiom’s founder and CEO, Mark Harris, as follows: He saw an opportunity to reconfigure legal delivery by altering its structure, economic model, and culture to better suit clients and lawyers. Harris recognised the growing misalignment between firm lawyers and equity partners as well as firms and clients. He constructed a law company – not a law firm – designed to respond to both.
Simply put, competition in the legal space is no longer limited to Law Firm A versus Law Firm B. In turn, it is more important than ever for lawyers, and in particular young lawyers building their book of business, to optimise the value they deliver to clients through the use of smarter workflows built on better technology.
3. Legal Technology Is the Future of Law.
In the aforementioned takeaways, Susskind advocated a subjective position: embracing legal technology is in the modern lawyer’s best interests. Here, Susskind makes the objective point: like it or not, legal technology is the future. Paraphrasing, Susskind noted: Our systems are becoming increasingly capable – every day there is a new tech or app breakthrough. It is growing quickly, getting faster and better – taking on new tasks it was thought only humans could do. And, there is no finish line; our lives are changed by technology that hasn’t been invented yet – look at social media. Artificial intelligence programs are also developing at an alarming rate. Short-term predictions overstate AI’s impact. Long-term predictions understate its impact.
Susskind’s overarching point was that technology is changing how we interact with each other every day, and law firms need to respond. Lawyers need to adapt how they interact with clients, their pricing models and the ways they deliver legal services to reflect the new reality of life in the digital age. “To think this will simply pass the law by is nonsensical,” Susskind said.
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