Seven Things Lawyers Should Know to Be Digital Winners

Many lawyers and law experts worry about how their professional opportunities are changing with digitalization, observing how some daily tasks are already being taken over by digital automation and artificial intelligence, AI.

And yes, the ongoing change in the legal sector is significant, and moreover, it only just started. The good news, however, is that you shouldn’t worry if you develop an understanding of this change and if you build a personal strategy based on that understanding.

To give you some help on that journey, I will share some important advice, grown from my daily focus on technology and digitalization and its impact on businesses and on society through many years.

Before getting to the advice (jump down if you’re in a hurry), let me just highlight three core pieces of the digitalization puzzle that many people struggle to put together.

First of all, remember that digitalization has become a hyped term, meaning all and everything. And instead of scratching the surface, looking at apps and social networks strategies, try to focus on what really makes digitalization a powerful driving force for change.

These three aspects of digitalization are fundamental:

  1. The cost of a digital copy is basically zero, and you reach the whole world with one click. This means that once you have digitalized content, tools, processes, products, services or methods, you can spread them over the world at a very low cost. This is what makes traditional business models break, pushing a shift from owning to accessing, among other things. Think of how the music industry went from owning discs to accessing music, but also of any kind of digital tool in the legal sector.
  2. People—it is people using, investigating, and taking advantage of the low cost of digital material and the possibilities of reaching the world, that really makes digitalization explode and disrupt many industries. And since the Internet is not hierarchical, people are networking, connecting with individuals all across the world, changing the way we organize, collaborate, build things, provide funding, distribute news, recruit collaborators and much more. And people are already building network inspired legal services, such as Swedish Lawline.
  3. Algorithms and AI. Algorithms are what let Amazon effectively tip you off with ‘Customers who bought this item also bought…’ while AI, which is now evolving rapidly, adds a why-dimension to that kind of advice, making it possible to answer more complex questions. Both can be learning, making them richer, more accurate or individually adapted over time.

In the legal space, the use of algorithms and AI is spreading quickly (remember that they are spreading and evolving because of point 1 and 2 above).

Key areas are:

  • Research tools—such as ROSS, built on IBM’s system Watson that won over humans in Jeopardy in 2011. ROSS answers advanced legal questions in plain language.
  • Contract Review—AI-based tools that assist attorneys in analyzing contracts and other legal documents, pulling out key points of interest. One example is Extract by the UK based company RAVN.
  • Electronic Discovery—tools for technology-assisted review, aka TAR, helping attorneys with the hugely time-consuming work of going through documents, searching for relevant facts, cases, relationships and more.
  • Prediction—AI-based tools that effectively predict the outcome of a case, court decisions and more, based on the currently available information. These tools help to assess whether it’s worth pursuing a case or not.

On top of these, there are other areas, such as tools for assisting courts with certain tasks. Meanwhile, important research is being done to verify that bias is not integrated into such tools—the systems are prone to bias since they learn from data that might be biased.

As you can see, digital technology is starting to transform the legal sector, and yet this is only the beginning. So, as a legal professional, how can you prepare for, and take advantage of this change? Here we go.

Seven digital tips to lawyers:

  1. Start discussing digitalization in you organization, in particular with the top management, which has to understand its importance and be ready to take action. If the top management doesn’t show this understanding, consider searching for a new job. Your company or organization will be in trouble.
  2. Start investigating digital and AI based legal tools on the market, and learn about them. Remember that such tools will help legal professionals to work faster and more efficiently through automation, and those who are learning ahead of others will be winners.
  3. Collaborate with machines. No, machines won’t steal your job, at least not for a good while. In contrast, collaboration with machines is a winning formula. The best chess teams are humans together with computers, and that will be true in most other areas. So investigate how you can collaborate and build a team with legal AI-based systems.
  4. Get rid of boring work. Ask yourself which of your daily tasks you wouldn’t mind at all if a machine would do for you. Most repetitive work is boring, and the good thing is that machines are particularly good at repetitive tasks. Let them do it and free your time for work you find more interesting.
  5. Remain better than machines. Four main areas will be the most difficult for machines to master: Creativity, ability to convince and motivate other people, empathy, and fine dexterity. Find out which of your work tasks are related to any of those areas and try to develop them further.
  6. Get more social. Remember that the Internet helps people connect, peer-to-peer, across the world. Use and develop this opportunity in your work, and reinforce your informal networks, not only in the legal sector.
  7. Beware of digital strategies. Don’t contribute to building digital strategies that risk remaining a separate component of an organization’s operations. Essentially, digital technology is just a new tool and as any other technology it changes the conditions for what you’re doing. What’s particular with digital technology is that it’s a hugely powerful driver for change and it requires an adaptation to the new conditions—of everything from organization and sales to the main business model. Any digital strategy including less is not enough.

In other words—digital is an opportunity in the legal space, and the earlier you investigate its opportunities, the bigger the chance that you will be a digital winner.


Note: I also do seminars and workshops on digital transformation, and if you want a deeper look at digitalization, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Also, feel free to register for the legal innovation event VQ Forum, on October 19, 2017, where I will give a keynote on ‘digitalization—a threat or an opportunity.’


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