Do expect big things from lawtech, don’t learn to code

Lawyers from RPC and Hardwicke consider the future of litigation

Legal technology is at a “tipping point” that could see some aspects of practice revolutionised over the coming years, but not necessarily in the way that is expected.

That was one of the central messages delivered by a panel of lawyers at Legal Cheek’s ‘Future of litigation’ event earlier this month, hosted by City law firm RPC with guest appearances from barristers from commercial chambers Hardwicke.

Simon Hart, RPC disputes partner and the firm’s graduate recruitment head, told the audience of over 60 students:

As with all revolutions or significant changes, there are all sorts of bad ideas generated at the beginning, businesses fail and some succeed, but I genuinely think that there is enough momentum now to believe that we are on the tipping point of something much more significant.

But Hart rejected recent calls for law students to learn how to code, pointing out that new artificial intelligence systems being used by RPC and other City firms are “so user friendly that even I can use them”. Instead, he explained that his firm was continuing to look for “commercial people with a broad view” who could add value to clients with their human intelligence, people skills and good judgment.

Hardwicke barrister Emma Hynes also placed high value on such qualities, highlighting strategic vision in particular in her field of commercial litigation. She explained:

Many cases are won on diligently finding and recognising the smoking gun bit of paper and then strategically playing the case out — making the settlement offer at the right time at the right amount. That to me is something I just can’t see AI in my lifetime being able to do.

Meanwhile, Hardwicke’s David Plienar, a specialist in construction law, was adamant that “tech has got to work in the real world”. He cited the failure of video conferencing to kill-off business travel as an example of the way the human factor can be underestimated when predictions about the future are made. “Just because you can do it doesn’t mean it will make commercial sense,” he added.

The audience were also treated to a first-hand account of predictive coding from RPC’s Dan Wyatt, the lead associate on Pyrrho Investments v MWB Property, which saw the use of the AI-based technique in document review approved by the English courts for the first time. His detailed insights from the frontline are delivered between 4:40 and 10:12 in the video above.


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