Look beyond the hype and there is potential for real change, say Osborne Clarke experts
“We are picking off the low-hanging fruit at the moment in terms of what artificial intelligence (AI) can do,” said one of the lawyers at the frontline of AI at Osborne Clarke, Tom Try.
Speaking at Legal Cheek‘s recent ‘How technology and innovation will change the role of lawyers’ event, Try, a fintech rising star who recently advised Goldman Sachs on its investment in an Oxford-based start-up, was exploring what “the fourth industrial revolution” (as it has been called) means for the legal profession.
Try argues that AI is on the cusp of a transformation of legal services (and beyond) from the sort of machine learning which is “simple, word recognition analysis” towards learning which is actually being able to “make decisions that are complex or nuanced.”
He told the audience of 90 law students attending the event at Osborne Clarke’s City of London headquarters that we are a “long way off” AI having a high-level role in complicated legal drafting. Try added, however, that “what we will see are technologies that can really assist lawyers in doing some of the heavy lifting, and helping lawyers nail down what they need to look at, and the bits of the contract or the bits of the transaction that they really need to focus on.”
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Also on the panel for the Legal Cheek Live event was Claire Temple, a regulatory lawyer at Osborne Clarke who has done a lot of work with companies exploring drone technology.
Temple explained to the audience what type of drone-based innovations she is witnessing: “We advise businesses which are seeing this as an industry … [and] they want to be producing the drones or producing the tech which is attached to the drones.”
In addition, the firm has “existing clients who want to use drone technology in their business,” for instance, to replace the “dull, dirty, dangerous jobs” which drones can do instead. There are ‘search and rescue drones’ used, for example, when big buildings are on fire or have collapsed, meaning “you can send in a drone rather than sending in a search party.” Plus, as we all know from Amazon’s Prime Air that “delivery is a really big thing, lots of our clients are thinking about that.”
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As ever, risk is at the forefront of lawyers’ minds. Temple continued:
“We tend to find that when technologies come to market, there is a lag time for regulation and enforcement to catch up. There are not the standards in place and not the regulation to make manufacturers come up to new standards of security that are probably required.”
One member of the audience posed a question about how law firms can work in this “innovation space” when legal services and law firms are known for their more traditional temperament and standards — particularly in contrast to the tech giants and plucky start-ups which are disrupting legal services.
Ray Berg, Osborne Clarke’s UK managing partner, who joined Try and Temple on the panel, responded: “We claim to be the ‘least stuffy law firm’ … We’re open plan, we have been for 20+ years. We work in a connected way, which is trying to replicate what our clients do.” In the firm’s Reading office they are rolling out a system where “no one has an allocated desk, there are no offices for anyone, we have breakout rooms, we have collaborative working areas”. Berg believes “it makes people approachable internally”.
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The ultimate question that is so difficult to answer is when these new technologies are really going to take hold for the legal profession? Richard Susskind, the legal tech guru, has said that the 2030s will be the key decade.
Temple was also prepared to make some predictions: “If you look at something called ‘the Gartner Hype Curve’, it charts all the different up-and-coming technologies and how they are coming through society. [Technologies] go through a phase called the ‘trough of disillusionment’ before they become everyday technology; they predict that AI is just about coming into that”.
She continued: “I predict that in the next four to five years we will start to see AI being used with regularity in law firms. But we are a way off for [AI] doing complex stuff; not because it can’t but because of the trust factor.”
Try’s views on the pace of change in the fintech sector echoed this. In the short term, he “can’t see cryptocurrencies replacing existing currencies”, in spite of some of the hype. In the medium to long term, he suggested that the very real potential of blockchain technology was “perhaps more exciting” in other less sexy areas, such as supply chain management.
As with technology that has come before, much will hinge on the all important factor of “trust”, concluded Berg.
“There is a bit of a journey that we as advisers need to go on, but also the clients need to go on, to become comfortable with AI. Once that familiarity is there, and the trust is there, the real developments can take place.”
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