TLF Brainstorm | Ep. 4 | Big-data – big legal opportunities?
What is TLF Brainstorm?
TLF Brainstorm is an opportunity for our community of legal forecasters to share their creative ideas in response to an interesting question about the role of the lawyer.
TLF Brainstorm is one part philosophical, one part creative, and most of all, it is a space to share new ideas.
Some of our responses may be genius and change the world forever, some may completely lacklustre, some may be riddled with typos (having been typed and sent through on someone’s mobile phone while on the bus). This is the beauty of TLF Brainstorm.
This episode’s question from Conrad Karageorge:
I think the ultimate value lawyers will provide in a post-disruption legal practice is going to be using their understanding of the law to provide strategic advice which improves the lives or businesses of clients. Data is going to play an important role in this future role. A data-driven understanding of the legal system; analysing the players and trends within it, will allow lawyers to consider the application of the law to the client’s current position, drawing more on strategy than a black letter citing of legal principles.
Whether through increased access to more information (big-data) or through more complex data-science, this better access to information will ultimately increase the value of legal advice, elevating it to the same level of importance as financial or business consulting advice.
My opinion and understanding of this question is solely based on what I have read and the following statements are extrapolations and thoughts. I believe that technology will be increasingly harnessed and used to understand client needs. Big data and legal analytics can be utilised to understand an array of legal fields including: judicial proceedings, statutory interpretation trends, precedent but also the ways in which clients work, where their main legal requirements lie and how they want their legal services. I think that the value lies in how this data is used to benefit the client. More broadly, technologies and the work flexibility they allow, may also result in more lawyers working within their clients’ organisation, with the value reflecting even closer lawyer-organisational relationships through physical proximity.
Big data may also provide guidance to organisations in relation to tailoring legal advice, providing insights into common legal questions and problems.
I also think that lawyers can play a strong enabling/advisory role and use this information to holistically inform their clients. Prescriptive analytics could play an important preventive role in legal advice.
I personally don’t have a base of knowledge regarding legal analytics and it’s potential to not only reduce costs, but also improve value offered by firms. As a law student, the fact that I have not yet encountered legal analytics in my studies indicates that it is not a well known or widely used tool in the legal profession.
From my own view point, having little background knowledge of legal analytics, there appears to be quite a lot of value to be gained from the use of such information by firms in the provision of their services. Whilst data analysis can’t solve every problem, it does allow for a wider analysis of issues, which can be used for a more in depth evaluation of a problem, and thus a more comprehensive solution. Thus it seems to me that the fact I have not heard of legal analytics in my studies indicates that the legal profession has missed a key means of improving their services, something that is essential in an age of technological advancement and automation. The potential value that big data and legal analytics seems like it can add appears to be a strong investment, and not only should law firms be embracing, or at least investigating it, but law schools should be addressing potential technologies such as legal analytics in their teachings, particularly if they want to prepare their students for the future.
In my view, there are two central aspects of the question that requires response. The first is that technology will invariably be used in legal services and the second is how technology can be used to reduce the cost of legal services. I have addressed these aspects in turn.
Technology will be used in legal services
I have made the assertion that the use of technology in law is inevitable because history demonstrates this fact. There was a time where emails were the innovation that was set to disrupt the way lawyers operate. It is trite to say that the legal professional is a well-established aspect of society that has stood the test of time (and disruption).
It is my view that technology, such as automation services, predictive coding, metadata and big data querying algorithms will invariably become an additional tool at the lawyer’s disposal (indeed, I am writing this response on a smartphone – a concept that would be alien to those practitioners that endured the age of inkwell and quill).
Technology can be used to reduce the cost of legal services
The application of technology within the legal profession will most likely occur in two directions. The first arises from the market reality of the practice of law – it is a competitive advantage to offer services at an affordable rate.
The second stems from the social relevance of law and the importance of continuing to focus on and develop the ability for the community to access justice. Technology can greatly assist this pursuit and will (hopefully) be actively encouraged as a means to reducing the cost of legal services.
In sum, technology will be used in the legal profession and its use can assist in reducing the cost of legal services. I remain confident that lawyers, clients and society at large will benefit from a technology-rich legal profession.
Lawyers as teachers
At our core, legal service professionals are (or at least should be) enablers of business. The services we provide should be tailored in a way that empowers clients to become more legally literate.
Our services and platforms should make clients need to consult lawyers less and rely on their own innate understanding (fostered by the tools and directions we provide) of how the law affects a particular transaction, business or industry.
The great dilemma of service providers in the 21st century is not an absence of information, but rather sorting through that information we already have available in a way that is both:
(a) time and cost efficient; and
Legal analytics to date has tended to focus solely on analysing the way that lawyers and law firms tender services to their clients and searching for ways to make the same more cost-effective.
Firms that have worked in harmony with client’s desires to reduce legal spending have been rewarded – but there is a limit.
Price erosion dilemma
Once legal services have been made as efficient as possible, what more value can lawyers offer?
Cost is a poor factor to compete on as there is always another service provider willing to do the same work for less, until a particular product or service has decreased in value so substantially as to minimise its profitability (i.e. when rogue discounters cause irreversible price erosion).
Creating new value
The answer to the price erosion dilemma is to create new value using legal analytics external to firm efficiency. Legal analytics potentially provides clients with information akin to the data and visual representations of particular businesses and industries already offered by analytics companies in other industries (such Ibis World) – but with a legal focus.
The matter then becomes one of making predictions about future directions of the law and best practice business decisions in consideration of those possibilities. For example, recognising that an overly-litigious competitor may make a particular industry less attractive to a client.
Offering analytics on external legal data, and building predictive models off of it, can prevent price erosion by offering a service that few firms currently provide.
Legal analytics gauges legal risk and presents it at scale through technology in a way that clients can understand. Firms that utilise legal analytics will be well placed to shift towards a more tech-infused way of practice characterised by greater strategic and predictive input and a generally increased legal awareness from consumers.
Legal services is rather broad so I have decided to focus on legal advice. I believe the value of legal advice depends on its quality and the way it is communicated. I really do not think technology will improve the quality or correctness of traditional legal advice. The law changes slowly and lawyers providing advice have often spent years in the area. The improvement will come with how it is communicated.
When emailing was introduced, it greatly changed the landscape for lawyers. Everything became much more instant, particularly when email was accessible on a mobile phone. In order for law firms to remain valuable to their clients, they had to be accessible at all times. Currently, we are seeing video conferencing and screen sharing to ensure clients either understand the advice or document.
How can big data and analytics improve the quality of legal communication? This likely comes down to using these tools to improve the commerciality or practicality connected to the legal advice. Telling a client yes or no is not enough anymore. While lawyers should not make commercial or practical decisions for clients, they are expected to provide the legal process, costs and benefits of various options. These tools may also assist with understanding the type of advice a particular client would like. Some want a phone call, others wants a one-line email while others will require a full detailed advice.
Technology will not just make lawyers efficient – it will make them more adaptable and receptive to each and every client.
Technology will provide lawyers with greater access to resources which I believe will allow them to provide higher quality legal advice. For example, they will be able to consider a wider range of resources (particularly international resources if relevant) but will be able to refine such searches to surface only the most relevant material. With the use of technology, a lawyer will spend less time doing menial tasks and more time focussing on the different or abstract aspects of a matter. This results in a more professionally satisfying day and for greater efficiency in the workplace.
Legal analytics and big data are concepts that have only just appeared on my radar but what I’ve heard so far truly excites me. I am more interested in what they could do for the betterment of the profession in a moral and ethical sense than how they can cut costs – though it’s a given that they’ll have that effect.
Legal analytics will likely create greater transparency in our profession, by lifting the veil on how decisions are made, particularly as concerns litigation. It is a powerful tool because it exposes irregularity in decision-making by presenting cold hard facts; for example, biases held by judges by favouring particular lawyers (as shown by Premonition), or law firms choosing to brief particular barristers over others.
I think these tools can only be a good thing for the profession by encouraging transparency and fairness in decision-making. I’m looking forward to learning more about it, and they’re issues that need greater coverage!
It is clear that the more technology is integrated in the provision of professional services the more efficiently those services are provided, think of the time taken to create legal documents before the uptake of computers or researching a lesser known legal point before online legal databases.
These ‘time-saving’ developments have a downward pressure on the pricing of legal services, as firms that adopt the technologies can provide more for less.
There are some emerging technologies that are not just making processes more efficient but providing new insights. Legal analytics can provide information that could not previously be provided by a lawyer. The US-based Premonition platflorm can answer the question of who is the most successful counsel for defending against a charge of manslaughter in Idaho in front of any specific judge. This is repeatable for any number of different combinations of metrics of publicly available information.
At the heart of delivering more value, rather than doing things more quickly, is pulling out new insights from the wealth of information not yet analysed.
If you would like to submit or answer a question for our next TLF Brainstorm, please contact our Editor In Chief, Michael Bidwell, at firstname.lastname@example.org