Legal tech promises to automate tedious and time-consuming tasks, thereby freeing up the time of inhouse counselors. But what processes could be automated, and should the legal staff fear for their jobs in the future? All the experts we spoke to were crystal clear: legal tech is an addition. A very valuable addition indeed, but tech will never completely replace lawyers and counselors. So, what can this technology do?
There might be some confusion in the market about the definition of legal tech. ‘The conservative legal industry sometimes labels anything remotely technology-related as legal tech, since they work in legal and they use software. And sure, it might be a quite broad term, but it is essential that this technology assists or replaces legal processes, according to Marten Männis, Legal Project Manager at ECLA.
Future-proofing the legal industry
Jeroen Zweers, vice president of the European Legal Tech Association (ELTA), would even define it more specifically: ‘It’s more than just a tech tool, it’s about transforming or innovating the legal organization.’ A transformation set in motion by the customers of the legal industry. And from Zweers’ perspective, that transformation should future-proof the legal industry by using technology, automation, artificial intelligence and the right mindset.
Of course, it’s not just the customers that will benefit from legal tech. Legal counselors and lawyers that deploy legal tech will have more time to take on the complex cases. Which was also the experience of Vasile Tiple, head of legal automation at RPA vendor UiPath, who, as a general counsel automated export control policy, contracts and GDPR checks. The tedious and repetitive tasks will be signed over to the robots.
Automating manually is demanding work
Tiple: ‘We took on export control policy at first. Doing the process manually is a lot of work, especially when you have to check thousands of clients. We automated the process using our own RPA solution. Now, the process runs behind the scenes and it’s only when something isn’t OK that our sales and legal teams will get a notification of what is wrong.’ After this first project was completed successfully, contract review and GDPR-compliant checks were also automated.
As well as freeing up legal employees for more complex tasks, legal tech can also contribute to a better utilization of the legal budget. Customers clearly don’t want to pay to download information or archive emails. ‘If a process can be done by a human and a computer, the robot will do it better: it makes fewer mistakes, it will do the work faster, and of course, it doesn’t sleep’, says Jan Wildhirth, cofounder of eagle lsp.
Robot and human work together
Also, the quality of the work will improve if robot and human work together, according to Wildhirth. ‘In the legal industry there is zero tolerance for errors such as missing deadlines. Luckily, a robot will never miss its deadline.’ Therefore, Wildhirth set up Eagle LSP together with two other cofounders, in order to help deliver legal services more efficiently. ‘We started with a focus on a fairly new and huge legal problem in Germany: mass litigation.’
‘We have a lot of startups in Germany that help the consumer to file claims. This has led to a massive increase in lawsuits. Unlike in the United States, these claims are individual lawsuits, which can easily amount thousands of cases.’ However, these cases run through almost the same steps in order to build the case. ‘eagle helps companies and law firms defending against such claims with state-of-the-art processes, cross-functional teams and technologies. In order to automate a large part of this process, eagle lsp uses various technologies, such as Robotic Process Automation.’
How would a human do it?
‘We start by building the process the way a human would do it. We map what steps a human would take. Then we check with our client if these processes are correct. Next, we extract a small part of the process and we automate that. If that works, we do another and so on and so forth, until almost the entire process has been automated.’ An example of a small part of the process is downloading information from an FTP.
A more complex part of the process that can be largely automated is sending out court briefings. Will this process ever be completely automated? Wildhirth thinks not: ‘You will always need humans. Maybe the work will change, but technology will only make the lawyer better.’
RPA is a game changer for legal
The sentiment that the robot is an addition to humans and not a replacement for them is growing. But the legal industry hasn’t always been excited about technology, says Vasile Tiple: ‘At first, legal firms and department weren’t convinced legal tech was for them. But now, we can clearly show that RPA is a game changer for legal. So, the sentiments are changing as well. The business models are changing thanks to RPA, so in the end it will give them a competitive advantage.’
Not only the sentiments are changing, legal tech itself is also developing rapidly. Some companies even claim to apply artificial intelligence, but the experts we talked to are skeptical about these claims. Marcus Schmitt, General Manager of ECLA, says: ‘It might be a bold statement, but I do believe AI doesn’t exist in the legal sphere. Legal technology is based on input. The more input, the more accurate the outcome can be. But that is not AI.’
Innovation by marketing
Zweers begs to differ, however: ‘Yes, AI in legal is scarce. Most often, cases of AI are, what I call, innovation by marketing, not by doing.’ But that doesn’t mean AI doesn’t exist: ‘The tools that use AI are being developed as we speak. The tools that can analyze an NDA, for example, and can advise you to sign it or not.’ But it’s not easy, confesses Zweers: ‘You need a lot of data and time, so developing an AI tool is expensive.’
One of the tools that uses AI, which is also backed by Zweers, catalogues content of law cases. ‘Searching for cases to build your argument is time-consuming. With this tool, lawyers can find relevant cases via a simple request. However, the results are not just based on specific search queries, but also on previous results, previous behavior and appointed specializations. We call it: searching without searching.’
Start with defining what can be automated and why
Companies that are new to legal tech should, however, not start by looking at tools that are available in the market. Even though Tiple, for example, had the technology readily available, he started by making an assessment of what work could be done by robots. Schmitt agrees: ‘First, you need to know: what is my daily work? And what repetitive tasks am I doing? Which jobs can be automated and what benefits do I gain from that?’
It’s only after you have made a decision on what can be done by robots that you can start to think about software, and that’s where a good relationship with the IT department comes in handy. ‘It’s good practice to get IT on board as early as possible in the project. Of course, legal decides what functionality is important, but IT knows what tools match the technology requirement and how a certain tool can be integrated with the other systems’, says Schmitt.
Grow a legal tech mindset
Last but certainly not least, it’s important to build a culture around legal tech: getting colleagues on board and setting the right mindset. Educating your team will help them lose the fear of tech. It will also help you utilize the tech to the fullest, because in order for legal tech to work, it needs to be filled with data. Perhaps, most important: tell your colleagues what benefits they will gain. Like: doing the work they were trained to do.