Jan 4 2017

Experience in Artificial Intelligence – lessons for Legal IT in 2017


To start 2017 I thought I’d have a quick look at 2016’s favourite Legal IT topic, Artificial Intelligence (AI). Reason for picking this topic is down to two pieces of technology that I brought into our household at the end of last year that utilise AI heavily. Those are Nest and Alexa.

The former has brought home to me what I think is going to be a key issue in adoption of AI in law firms, that is trust. My Nest thermostat “learns” over time and one of the key aspects of this is watching for when you go out of the house, the system then reacts by turning thee heating down. At the same time it triggers my Nest security camera to turn on. Over Christmas though I’ve noticed, on odd occasions, when we were out that the camera would turn on but the thermostat wouldn’t drop the temperature. Other times though it would, there seemed to be no consistency. After a lot of old style IT troubleshooting and a lot of googling, I eventually found that this wasn’t a bug, but that Nest had learnt patterns and our locations and kept the heating on when it thought our trip was local and brief, thus in its mind turning off the heating was less efficient (as otherwise it would need to heat the whole house from scratch on our return). The camera though it realised should be on immediately.

This is my trust point, until I fully understood what was going on I didn’t trust the technology. I thought it was just not working, so I had taken to manually overriding the settings when we went out. In reality it was working very well and actually better at predicting things that would save energy than I was! This issue though will be the same with Legal IT AI, getting the trust will take time and will probably need a full understanding of how the machine is learning before people will accept AI into the mainstream functions.

Alexa to me is voice recognition starting to become useful, moving from the smartphone (Siri) or the computer (Cortana) to being “in the room” makes so much sense and is much more useful. Whether it’s controlling the lights or simply putting on some music it genuinely is useful rather than a gimmick. It is impressive how Alexa is using all the data it is gathering to improve, however it also shows how far AI has to go in terms of human interaction. It is way beyond having to specifically phrase your commands or questions, but there is so far to go to get beyond a few “skills” it has now.

These two areas fuel my scepticism around AI. No that’s not fair,  it’s not scepticism it’s just wanting an injection of reality into AI within Legal. I am impressed with Alexa and Nest and the more I use them the more I get impressed by the learning, however my expectations for the technology (particularly for Alexa) were not overoptimistic. I think if we adopt a realistic approach for AI in Legal in 2017 then it can and will be a great enabling technology for firms. If we don’t temper the hype though, we’ll be disappointed or fail to trust it and it’ll go in the bin for years before we try it again!


Nov 30 2016

Legal IT vendors you’re not Uber, you’re just cost cutters


If there is one company that gets thrown into conference presentations on “disruption” in law firms more than any other it’s Uber. So is Uber really disruptive or is it just innovative?

“A disruptive innovation is an innovation that creates a new market and value network and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network, displacing established market leading firms, products and alliances.”

In my city it hasn’t displaced established firms or products, I suspect in some cities it has started to put existing firms out of business. But anyway that’s not the point of the article, what I often thought when hearing these talks was what actually are the key aspects to Uber’s popularity? The things that make us use them above other taxi firms? And then how would you achieve the same in a law firm?

For me personally Uber does the following:

  1. Fixes the “the driver is just round the corner” or “the driver is 10mins away” excuses when you asked a dispatcher where the taxi was. You now know exactly where the taxi is and how long you have to wait for it to arrive.
  2. Convenience of booking. No remembering numbers or what the local taxi is. It works how we work, online. A phone is now a computer and no longer a, well a phone.
  3. Lack of taxis during busy periods. Surge pricing is a big incentive to get drivers on the roads, meaning more taxis and less waiting.
  4. Lower cost. But, and it’s a big but, I think is the least important. It’s great it’s a bit cheaper but the above three would encourage me to continue using Uber regardless of a cheaper price.

And it was that last one that got me thinking that the focus in a lot of legal conferences is all about reducing the cost. Using AI to do due diligence to reduce cost, using document automation to churn through documents faster to reduce cost, automating processes to reduce cost, use legal delivery centres to reduce cost.

What we need to do is find the equivalent of the first three, what are the niggles that clients feel everytime they use a law firm? It’s not necessarily an IT solution that a Legal IT vendor can sell. It is more likely to be a simple niggle that every client is facing when dealing with law firms.

In a competitive market keeping costs low and building your market share is important, but the disruptive firm is going to find that problem to solve that’s not about cost saving but getting rid of that annoyance that many clients are facing.

And Legal IT vendors, stop advertising your tech, however innovative it is, as something that’ll disrupt and simply point out it’ll cut costs! This isn’t a bad thing in itself.