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!


Dec 29 2016

eSignatures – no nothing to do with vaping!


Following on from my Uber post on innovative IT solutions, I wanted to look at one of those “been around for ages” technologies in Legal IT that is rarely used in anger yet could be a simple solution, that maybe not ground breaking, would add a real consumer feel to technology in law firm transactions. I’ve been meaning to put this post up after seeing a product in this category again and also hearing from an in-house lawyer team from a large global corporate at the recent ILTA Insight conference.

“Technological innovation is the next step…..simple solutions like e-signature to make sure its used in every context across our global legal community…..through to evaluation of AI tools”

So in the same breath as Artificial Intelligence (surely the buzzword of the year in LegalIT!) a solution that’s been around for ages is mentioned. But rarely does it get mentioned alongside big data and AI within law firms as an sexy “innovative” solution.

So what are eSignatures?

The product that I’ve seen in action recently is Docusign, however it’s perhaps the most boring of tech demoes you’ll see (not the fault of those running the demo!). Simply, like a traditional signature, eSignatures are symbols or other data in digital form attached to an electronically transmitted document as verification of the sender’s intent to sign the document. So the demo for Docusign is integrated into a document signing process, it’s slick and so like a lot of simple solutions doesn’t seem that much. (There is some more info here on exactly how it works: https://www.docusign.co.uk/products/electronic-signature/how-docusign-works)

Adobe Sign is another example with a nice little demo on their site to give you an idea of the process (https://www.adobesigndemo.com/uk/demo/send)

And this year (2016) saw the UK legislation implementing the EU directive 2014, this should be implemented by all 28 member states and so allow cross jurisdiction eSigning. What happens to the UK post Brexit who knows, but I suspect it’ll be some time before our legislation deviates from all the EU directives.

There is a lot of information that is worth reading about how the verification process can work to ensure that the person signing is who you think it is, however sometimes I wonder why we don’t worry as much about fraud and crime in the “paper” world as we do in the “cyber” world. Faking a signature or taking copies of a paper file have virtually no security wrapped around them! But that’s a topic for another day!

So why isn’t it widespread?

Tools like eSignature, document automation, speech recognition and others seem to have been around in some form or other since I came into Legal IT in the second half of the 1990’s. And I think one of the difficulties has always been about engagement with the right teams in the business and also trying to measure and justify the cost. The former is more a challenge in areas like document automation where a lawyers time is needed, this isn’t an “IT product implementation project” it’s business process change to get the real value documents automated. The latter though fits with eSignatures, unless you’re a volume business and you can measure a simple ROI (return on investment) against the cost of say postage or another tangible measure in huge numbers, it’s difficult to see the areas where monetary value could be tracked. But maybe this is it, maybe we need to look at value as something other than £’s, $’s or €’s. Something like the simplicity and feel that a client would get on being able to apply a simple online signature, rather than a paper one. In the consumer world when was the last time you signed a T & C’s document when purchasing something or had to wait for the “paperwork”?

Sometimes it’s the simple things that can give huge value. To quote Steve Jobs “We’ve got to make the small things unforgettable”.


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.