In the race to AI, NewLaw firms are sprinting out of the blocks
 
Alternative legal service providers (ALSPs) – also known as NewLaw firms – have always at the forefront of disruption in the industry. It’s not a surprise, then, that they’re taking the lead when comes to the adoption of artificial intelligence, reports John Kang.
 
In the last few years, the tradition-bound legal industry has gradually accepted technology’s importance in the business of law, and the latest tech trend to hit the sector is artificial intelligence (AI).
 
With their use of innovative technology, alternative legal service providers (ALSPs) are designed to challenge the way traditional law firms get work done. So while some law firms are still debating about AI, NewLaw outfits are already making progress in how and where to use it.
 
For example, Axiom recently announced the market launch of AxiomAI, a programme that leverages AI to improve the efficiency and quality of contracts work.
 
Kirsty Dougan, Axiom’s managing director for Asia, sees how a branch of AI called machine learning can help automate or support the interpretation of contract clauses and content – the typical legal grunt work that technology aims to takeover.
 
As she explains, “Legal’s use of AI today increases the velocity of contract review work. It allows legal teams to focus on interpreting and analyzing key clauses, rather than spending time finding them. The future of AI promises to radically re-engineer contracting.”
 
Similarly, Australian NewLaw outfit lexvoco is banking heavily on AI as it makes inroads in the region’s legal industry. “We see AI as playing a broad role in the NewLaw legal technology space, particularly for in-house legal teams where AI can be used to augment rather than replace traditional in-house legal activities such as risk analysis, work allocation, and financial forecasting,” said Claire Vines, head of technology and senior legal counsel at the firm in an interview with Asia Law Portal.
 
“While AI is still in its infancy in the industry, we recognise its potential to streamline legal processes in the future – alongside other increasingly useful applications of blockchain technology, including decentralised autonomous organisation, smart contracts and the Internet of Things (IOT),” said Titus Rahiri, director and consultant at KorumLegal in the same article.
 
 
DO THE RESEARCH, HIRE THE TALENT
Harnessing rapidly emerging technology is never easy, and two factors are especially critical to success: continuous research and hiring the right personnel.
 
Axiom has been researching techniques in machine learning that can be applied to contracting work. As Dougan points out, “The goal is to move from finding clauses to interpreting clauses, which promises to dramatically improve the speed of contract analysis, enable more powerful insights, and ultimately deliver the capability of creating new bodies of contracts faster, and with higher quality.”
 
Similarly, one of the big stories in the legal industry in the next few years will be the hiring of technology specialists by law and NewLaw firms, as well as training younger lawyers to get up to speed with emerging fields like AI.
 
For instance, trainees at some law firms are already being taught the basics of coding language, according to an AI-focused report published earlier this month by Herbert Smith Freehills. “With fewer trainees performing the repetitive work now done by machine, firms may take on more of a diamond shape, with specialist employees – legal and non-legal – bulking up the middle,” the report said.
 
This is already happening at NewLaw firms like lexvoco. “It is critical and quite rare, I think, that we have our head of technology, Claire Vines, being a first-class IT lawyer who also worked for Dell and IBM,” says Anthony Wright, lexvoco’s managing principal.
 
“It won’t be long before the legal-tech engineers are worth just as much if not more than senior partners,” he says. “They aren’t better than the senior partners – they are just adding different parts to the value chain for their workplace and the customer.”
 
As Wright concludes, “We’ll supplement our lawyers with hardcore techies who can put up with us lawyers!”


To contact the writer, please email john.kang@tr.com.