How to Prepare Your Firm for the AI Revolution

Law firms are increasingly embracing the promise of artificial intelligence (AI) and more legal professionals are asking questions about how their firms can take advantage of the ever-increasing number of AI-powered legal tools.

In part one of our three-part series, we looked at how to identify areas of your practice that could benefit from legal tech and AI-powered tools. In part two, we examine how your firm can prepare for the latest in legal tech.

The importance of secured data

Preparing your law firm to use the latest AI tools requires a sophisticated understanding of new technologies and how they operate.

Automation and AI are driven by data. The effectiveness of any legal tech solution depends on the quantity, quality and security of the data you feed it. When it comes to securing that data, consideration needs to be given to the relative costs and benefits of onsite and cloud storage.

Many firms host their data in onsite servers, which can present a security risk and an economic burden. In New York in 2012, there were reports of lawyers carrying their firm’s servers home when Hurricane Sandy caused major floods. Many businesses faced severe damage to basement-stored servers and subsequent data loss.

As the practice of law becomes more data-driven, this risk can only increase. Cloud storage providers seek to solve this problem by removing the need for onsite servers, but they present their own security challenges for legal firms.

These typically centre around both technical measures (such as data encryption, cybersecurity, uptime and backup-restore-disaster recovery capabilities) and legal or compliance measures (such as data sovereignty and jurisdictional questions, compliance with relevant regulations in multiple jurisdictions, and audits/certifications).

Driving a culture of innovation

Data-driven practice management is one example of legal tech’s benefits. The software captures up-to-date data about your firm’s operations and uses key metrics such as fee analysis and profit indicators to help you make better business decisions. But what can you do with this data? And who can you task with interpreting it?

The decision of where to use AI in your firm can be baffling for non-specialised staff. The latest trend is to hire multi-skilled staff from law and tech backgrounds, but dedicated technology specialists can, and should, play an important role in shaping the future of legal practice.

“A dedicated technology specialist can help steer your firm’s AI adoptions and ensure the technology is understood, embraced and applied appropriately throughout the organisation,” says Robert Regan, Partner, Corrs Chambers Westgarth.

Regan says it’s also important to engage all staff at your firm in your AI journey to ease fears about change, prevent conflict and ensure your AI implementation is delivering real value across your organisation.

“Everyone at the firm works with our leads of innovation, technology and e-discovery to ensure we continue to improve our engagement with our clients, with industry and with our people through the considered application of new technologies.”

Gilbert + Tobin is also taking an organisation-wide approach to implementing new technology with the introduction of a dedicated innovation unit to help manage change and drive a culture of innovation at the firm.

“Our innovation unit has delivered a number of technology tools and solutions to lawyers and clients,” says Gilbert + Tobin’s Chief Knowledge and Innovation Officer, Caryn Sandler. “It means we can cut through traditional hierarchies and organisational structures, and involve different members of our firm, including lawyers, knowledge management, legal project management, technology and dedicated innovation personnel.”

Creating tomorrow’s legal professional

The next generation of lawyers will be much more tech savvy than their predecessors, with many Australian law schools helping students prepare for the brave new world of AI-powered legal tech by adding app development to their curricula – and even teaching budding lawyers how to code.

UNSW, for example, recently launched its first legal coding subject. Current UNSW law student, Yenée Su, shares her perspective:

“Us law students love a good argument, so unsurprisingly, heated debate erupted about whether law school is the place to learn coding. Some law students were strongly opposed to it, saying that a legal education should focus on teaching the law and preparing us for practice, instead of keeping up with the latest tech trends. But it’s not just another fad because the legal profession will continue to embrace new technologies, such as AI, to improve efficiency. So I think it’s great that law schools are giving us the opportunity to experience this fusion of tech and law.”

While the debate rages on, it’s clear that a combination of legal expertise and technological know-how will be a prerequisite for firms who want to lead the way into a successful future.

Shane Conroy is an experienced freelance journalist and copywriter. He contributes to a range of national print magazines and blogs, with a focus on business writing, technology and travel. He is a former features editor of the Virgin Australia in-flight magazine, and has provided copywriting services to some of Australia’s most recognised brands.

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