In conversation with: Alan Larkin (head of innovation & technology at Family Law Partners, Sussex)
Why is innovating the use of technology important to your firm?
As divorce solicitors, our focus on the niche area of family law made us realise that the mainstream software offerings - especially the case management systems typically used by smaller firms - are simply not good enough.
Specifically, they are built around lawyers’ needs when, arguably, they should be built around our clients’ needs.
As a specialist team, we have spent the last seven years working on innovation, particularly via technology, that puts our clients’ needs first.
What tech innovation are you exploring at the moment? Why?
I’ll mention just two of our projects.
We are refining our ‘virtual lawyer’ platform, which is an engagement tool preparing clients for their first consultation with us. It gathers all the information we need for a first meeting at no cost to the client.
The automated process prepares a submission to our lawyers that mitigates known risks for practitioners and enables us to offer bespoke advice from the first minute of the consultation. It is an antidote to the risk-averse, generic advice model highlighted by MOJ research as being of limited value to prospective clients. It also earned us a discount on our PII renewal this year.
The virtual lawyer platform has generated significant data. We have been using IBM Watson to answer some familiar questions such as “what are the drivers of cost in family cases?” and “which factors predict the duration of a case?” The answers are surprising.
We are working towards a predictive model for costs estimation that is bespoke to each specific family dynamic, and adjusts for the choice of dispute resolution model.
What is in store for the future tech use within your firm?
We have several further projects in the pipeline. They all address either a specific pain point for family law practitioners, or fall into the ‘access to justice’ sphere.
Our collaboration with the University of Brighton (part funded by InnovateUK) allowed us to embed a knowledge systems expert in our family team to develop artificial intelligence and machine learning solutions to family law problems. These applications make it easier for clients to access the outstanding skill sets lawyers have to offer.
A key aim for the future is to share our learning and software applications with other family lawyers. We will do this through an independent platform called Family Law Lab.