On my return flight to Barcelona, after spending the day at RiverviewLaw, I can't stop thinking about all I have seen and heard and, yet again, the outlook for the future of the legal industry appears before me and has a bittersweet taste to it: on the one hand, the immense prospects for the sector and on the other, the shortsightedness of those who should be its main actors: the firms and their lawyers.
Society is undergoing an unprecedented change due to its technological evolution and its capacity to collect and process data. This revolution is affecting all sectors and industries, is creating new sectors and the companies are adapting, changing, evolving. They are assimilating and integrating the evolution and they are progressing. Airbnb, Uber or Snapchat are billion dollar businesses which were unimaginable until recently, Their business models are revolutionary and are work on the basis of technology and data, without which they would not exist.
There are many people who wear implants, pacemakers, internal hearing aids, etc... body implants which self administer medication or diagnose disease are being tested. Driverless cars are already a reality, we will soon not be able to drive if we exceed a certain level of alcohol which will be measured by our cars, or we won't be able to park if we have not acquired a mandatory ticket. Our fridges can communicate with the supermarket and order the shopping based on the food missing inside, the supermarket talks to the bank to be paid and the driverless car delivers it while we are busy practicing sports using wearables which measure our performance, the calories burned, our heart rate and our blood sugar level and it wil send a message to the nearest hospital should we faint. Moving objects with our minds is no longer an exclusive privilege of the Jedi Knights, we are now able to do so with a booster of the electrical impulses of our brains.
The legal sector is also being transformed and here lies the bitter side: instead of the main actors of the sector, the lawyers, jurists or firms, who are leading the change, it is others who are creating the tools that make it possible.
Today, I witnessed Watson at IBM select three candidates for an acquisition operation based on the buyers requested parameters both quantitative (sector, location, turnover, margin, employees, etc...) and qualitative (strategy, reputation, corporate culture, etc...) in under two minutes from a body of companies which included all the companies in the world. how long would such a feat taken a firm? At what cost?
Watson, however, is not the only technology capable of doing this type of work, others are on their way or are already here; artificial intelligence (AI) is being applied, such as that developed at the University of Liverpool which proved that using AI, the same conclusion was reached as that of the judge in a case (Popov vs. Hayashi) which included graphic evidence, witnesses and expert reports among others, which could not be resolved on according to law and where, after a long drawn out proceeding with great media coverage, the judge handed a kind of Judgment of Solomon. The algorithm proved its effectiveness and capacity for reasoning beyond the simple application of a rule, as the rule did not solve the problem.
All of this brings me back to thinking about the position of a sector which cannot or does not wish to evolve, when all its clients and society as a whole is doing so. It is no longer just a question of implementing file management software, a CRM or other efficiency improving software, it is a question of being able to understand the clients' business, to understand what is going on in our society.
How are we, as lawyers, going to be ready to counsel on laws which regulate the network of relationships, situations and interactions which this revolution entails if we continue to believe that everything remains the same? How are we going to understand our clients, whose businesses are based on technology and data? Will we be ready to help them? It is not simply a question of computerizing our firms, but of taking on the responsibility requiered of us as professionals of Law and be prepared to understand, regulate and advise a highly technological society.
In order to understand change, we must embrace it. How can we tell someone, whose day to day involves the analysis of data, and taking decision based on that data, that they should read a 50 page report in which, basically, articles of law are listed? How long will that business person accept that is he wishes to know the status of his matters he has to call his lawyer or send an e-mail and then wait for someone to have the time to respond? The answer is that they will wait as long as it takes for new alternatives, adapted to our new horizon, to appear. These alternatives already exist: companies, bodies and firms which offer different and innovative solutions in the legal sector, which offer clients information based on data which is analyzed and structured in such a way as to allow clients to make decision in a question of minutes. RiverviewLaw is probably the most advanced firm in this field. It offers its clients, by way of a powerful management platform, something akin to a Watson confined to the data of each client. This is not fiction; it exists.
There are a number of things a firm can do to achieve an effective differentiation on the market, by providing value for its clients. A solid expertise and the development of technologies available to any business makes transforming the way in which we provide our services and present results to our clients in a different and innovative way simply a question of time, will and a minimum investment. it is a great opportunity for anyone willing to see and take advantage of it.