“Power to the People – Right On!” So sang John Lennon famously in the early 1970’s. Lennon was of course writing at a time when people were marching for their rights in the context of political revolution, and his call was for a transfer of power from government and corporations back to the people in the streets.
Today, hype about disruptive technology has resulted in declarations that the latest new thing would trigger revolutionary change and result in sudden massive losses in employment and subsequent calls for socialist redistribution of wealth and power to the dislocated people. Then it was “socialism,” today it is “universal income.” And today the cry is even made for the poor lawyers who are to lose their jobs to artificial intelligence and SaaS-based automation tools—from contract automation and analytics to natural language processing and contextual-search-based litigation document review tools. We will refer to all of that as “AI” here because much of the legal community is calling all legal tech “AI” anyway, even though most of it is not.
The reality is that advances in technology from the assembly line to the computer have resulted in evolutionary (not revolutionary) progress that causes a rotation of human labor away from lower-skilled functions to more productive higher-skilled functions that further results in more productivity, growth, and higher-value jobs. Today, the legal industry is buzzing with fear that “AI” will supposedly eliminate the jobs of lawyers (and others). We think not. The lawyers, and the many dozens of other non-lawyer roles in the legal ecosystem, have the power. All we have to do is help those people understand that they (and especially the lawyers, enabled by both the tools and other players in the legal industry) have the power to use those tools to help better serve their clients.
We have met with dozens of legal technology entrepreneurs, scrutinized their demos, tested tools, selected and implemented many of those tools for our clients as well as for our own businesses. At Pangea3, we implemented technology solutions that resulted in annual efficiency improvements of anywhere from 20% to 30% (reducing the amount of time that it took one of our lawyers or engineers to complete a particular function), empowering those professionals to do more and better work that further helped our company to grow year after year. Natural-language processing and contextual search tools like kCura’s Relativity reduced the need for a reviewer to actually eyeball irrelevant document by as much as 70%. Contract authoring tools like Leaflet and Contract Express can reduce contract drafting time by as much as 50%, by eliminating the need to burn hours opening up multiple documents in a document set and manually editing those documents with various transaction-specific objective data or manually cutting and pasting clauses, renumbering clauses and updating section references. These tools don’t work by themselves. Lawyers learn to use these sophisticated tools so that they can complete certain routine or repetitive tasks more efficiently – allowing them to spend more time on more sophisticated tasks, like determining the implications and consequences of what they are seeing in relevant documents and their contract negotiating position.
In some instances, the tools facilitate new types of work product that actually result in more work for lawyers, not less. Contract management platforms (platforms that assist users in tracking obligations and risks, among other things, in contracts) together with automated contract extraction tools that enable lawyers to efficiently scan through a contract to find the clauses that cover those items, have made it economical for companies to retain lawyers to conduct a review of entire repositories of legacy documents, so those companies can better manage their risks and obligations. Prior to the existence of these tools, companies let these legacy documents languish in a multitude of electronic file folders or worse – plain old paper files – viewing any attempt to get a handle on all of this information as too cumbersome and costly. Here technology has created an opportunity for the legal market, quite the opposite of the perceived threat that technology will make people superfluous.
Other types of tools make legal practice management less time-consuming, freeing up people time and allowing lawyers to provide clients with more certainty about costs and outcomes, again potentially resulting in more work, not less. For example, new tools have been developed to analyze historic billing data and related matter activity to allow firms to estimate the likely cost of a new engagement. This helps those firms provide clients with palatable fixed costs for matters while minimizing the risk of cost over-runs. The result is a greater willingness of a company to retain those firms.
The professionals do have the power. Yes, the technology will continue to evolve and make some legal professionals redundant with respect to certain types of work, but the professionals will learn to use those tools to be more productive and add more value, and the legal world will keep growing and flourish as will the rest of the world with its drones, autonomous vehicles, robots and whatever else the technologists dream up next. As a result, we believe that the coming wave of “AI” will disrupt for the better, delivering Power to the People. Right on!
David Perla and Sanjay Kamlani are co-founders and managing directors of 1991 Group.