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Tech and the City: What does the future hold?

30 October 2019

Maxine Park, founder of DictateNow, considers the future of tech in City firms.

Law has undergone a metamorphosis in recent years, driven by the speed of technological change. At the forefront of this revolution are the top City firms, which realise that the drive to be the best means the right technology is just as important as the right people.

We can expect the enormous pace of change to quicken even more, with the legal workplace adopting many more tools in a drive for efficiency and to stay competitive.

This also means that the big law firms are having to think creatively as never before. Global firms are locked in a ferocious battle to be legal tech leaders, and London is in the eye of the technological storm.

Being at the forefront of technological change calls for great levels of ingenuity, which is being displayed in the City in different ways.

Allen & Overy has the Fuse project, where tech firms collaborate with legal giants, allowing A&O to see what kind of tech advancements are being made, and for tech firms to understand the issues facing the legal industry at the top end of the City.

Launched two years ago, Fuse is a hotbed of innovation, where the large law firms, their clients, and tech firms network in an environment that cross-pollinates the top tier of legal expertise with its tech equivalents.

Only those who have impressed A&O are invited to become part of Fuse. Law firms at the very top end are not just waiting for technology to come to them – they want to play their part in its conception, too. This move is certainly ahead of the game.

This positioning of tech and legal expertise alongside each other, looking for synergies, is not lost elsewhere in the City.

Clifford Chance now offers alternative training contracts for solicitors with a natural tendency for technology – it claims the IGNITE contract will offer applicants with an ‘aptitude for tech’ a route to qualify as solicitors.

This tech-savvy legal route is something that will, unquestionably, be widely replicated in the future, breeding a niche lawyer who will be one of the first voices to be heard when crucial decisions are being made in boardrooms.

What else will this ferocious battle at the very top mean?

Undeniably, it will see the world’s largest legal players acquiring tech firms that fit the right technological criteria.

Withersworldwide demonstrated this recently, acquiring a legal tech specialist, JAG Shaw Baker, in a move which creates a tight community of entrepreneurs, legal tech expertise, and wider legal expertise.

Unquestionably, it is a collaborative force, which has many of the legal giants by the Thames looking for ways to compete.

It will, in our view, lead to more mergers. Indeed, in PWC’s Law Firms’ Survey 2018, 46% of the City’s top 50 firms believed there would be merger activity by 2020.

It’s little wonder that snapping up tech firms is becoming a more attractive proposition. Speed of technological change continues to move at a bewildering pace.

We are seeing software in all fields improving and outpacing what has preceded it, at breakneck speed.

In areas such as contract automation, legal costs analysis, library search functions, and charging for legal services, software is allowing firms more time to work on business strategy rather than less mundane tasks.

AI

No look at tech in the City can ignore artificial intelligence (AI), which will have a major role in advancements. It is worth emphasising that AI-powered tools are largely going to assist the City, making new insights increasingly possible.

AI is a technological development whereby computers carry out many of the ‘smart’ tasks we associate with human decision-making. Many people equate the term ‘machine learning’ as a subcategory of AI, where we give machines masses of data and provide them with ways to learn on their own and develop to become gradually ‘smarter’ over time.

This scenario has led to a widescale belief that even the most advanced professions will be overtaken by machines, with human involvement in highbrow matters becoming virtually defunct.

Being involved in legal technology, we find this wholly unhelpful, yet it is understandable.

Of course, machines will continue to perform many more tasks, aiding City lawyers, but these will be the repetitive tasks in the preparation of legal matters, such as legal research and precedents. This is something the profession will surely welcome in the coming years.

In our opinion, AI is lightyears away from replacing the highest levels of judgement and wisdom of legal counsel, if it ever does.

This opinion is widely shared across the legal sector. 73% of those canvassed in PWC’s Workforce of the Future survey said they do not believe that even the highest forms of technology can ever replace the human mind.

In our view, it is better for us all to think of AI as technology and as an advancement that will give City lawyers an ever-increasing arsenal of powerful tools to draw on for new insights.

Data

These insights powering AI and other advancements are being fed by data, which is continually being pored over by the tech wizards collaborating with City firms.

Data cannot be underestimated – it is the future for all professions, not just legal.

Data analytics is adding value to City lawyers. It powers better decision-making in many legal practice areas, including trademark law, copyright law, and commercial litigation.

With the rate of current advancements, lawyers will be able to draw conclusions about opposing counsel, and contract drafts in order to reveal insights that could never have been imagined just a short time ago.

For instance, it may be possible to work out patterns in judges’ behaviours that can swing a case in one’s favour. Of course, the big firms will be the first to have such knowledge.

The demand for minute detail to assist with all areas of legal practice will see win rates in specific areas of law, and aid hugely in strategic planning, business development, and marketing.

Many of the changes we’ve discussed in this article rely on the assumption that technology safeguards the business of law, which is highly regulated.

Cybersecurity will continue to be tested by unscrupulous cyber criminals, meaning all forms of due diligence must be carried out by City firms. Mistakes are costly; in the recent Law Society Lawtech Adoption Research report, the majority of lawyers surveyed said that legal technology has to be proven before they could consider using it.

However, the innovators in the City will continue to be bold. Those at the top will press regulatory bodies, which will be under increasing pressure from the profession to forensically examine all proposed tech advancements, as law firms can be hampered from adopting technology due to the bureaucratic restraints of regulation.

Other areas based more on the running of law as a business, rather than regulatory legal matters, will continue to profit, too.

We can safely say we will see much closer ties with City law firms and tech firms, changing the profession as the legal industry develops at a huge rate of rapid change.

Tech advancements will not slow down, and better ways of doing things will continue to be the lifeblood of the City landscape, driven by the needs of equally tech-savvy clients.

Maxine Park is the founder of DictateNow, the largest digital dictation and transcription specialist in the UK.

The Law Society has partnered with DictateNow. DictateNow is the country's leading digital dictation and transcription service provider and work with law firms of all sizes, from Top 50 to small and medium firms.

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