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This article was originally published in the Irish Times on January 31st 2019.

In the legal sector, the robots can’t come quickly enough. Far from being a threat, as was originally thought, the advent of artificial intelligence is opening up fresh areas of opportunity – and valuable new revenue streams.

Pinsent Masons was an early adopter, recruiting its first data scientist – who had a background building artificial intelligence systems – in 2011. Since then it has built up a 35-strong team of data scientists and legal engineers.

“At the time there weren’t many bespoke legal solutions around, so we built our own,” says David Halliwell, director of knowledge and innovation delivery at the law firm. “It turned out to be a great move because it meant we have been able to develop that capability in-house.”

“AI” is a catch-all term, covering a range of underlying technologies in the sphere of cognitive computing including robotics, machine learning and expert systems.

Pinsent Masons’ technology sits in the latter category but differs from “off the shelf” products by seamlessly interweaving its own institutional legal know-how.

The result is that the firm’s team of computer scientists and legal engineers are constantly putting artificial intelligence into a practical context for both lawyers and clients alike.

Developing its own proprietary technology allows it to embed a more consistent approach to the project management of legal matters, creating more certainty of process and outcome for clients. It also provides greater transparency on the status of legal matters, so that clients can monitor progress in real time.

AI allows for greater efficiencies by presenting the lawyers involved in various projects with the relevant legal knowledge and procedural prompts at the most appropriate junctures.

“Our clients now also licence out our technology from us. It’s groundbreaking and it’s starting to generate revenues”

Further, the firm’s AI systems are designed to “flex” intelligently, depending on the varied path that any individual case might take on its way towards resolution.

Dispute resolution

To date Pinsent Masons’ AI technology solutions have been deployed in more than 7,000 legal matters including property acquisition, dispute resolution, contract risk review, complex due diligence and in significant corporate transactions.

Early feedback on the use of AI solutions was so positive that clients began asking for their own version. “Our clients said, ‘great, but why can’t we use your contract tools even if you are not instructing us?’ So our clients now also licence out our technology from us. It’s groundbreaking and it’s starting to generate revenues,” says Halliwell.

Not alone has the development of its own technology given the firm a short-term USP (unique selling proposition) when pitching for new business, but licensing the use of its systems binds clients more tightly to it over the longer term too.

There are other benefits, including positioning the firm well as an employer of choice. Pinsent Masons recently won a “best law firm for tech” award in the Legal Cheek Awards 2018. “That helps with recruitment,” says Halliwell.

Developing its own technology has also been a way of “taking control” of the digital disruption that is taking place in the marketplace.

It has brought new skills into the organisation, including project managers, data scientists and software engineers, all of whom bring valuable diversity and fresh perspectives.

“Clients want not just the documents but the data around the documents”

“We see the market not shrinking but growing as a result of technology. Developing it also insures us for the future. As client expectations go up, it will get to a point where if you can’t offer such services by default, you won’t be able to compete on price.”

Without it, law firms won’t be able to compete on “value add” either. “Clients want not just the documents but the data around the documents” and the insights they generate, says Halliwell.

New products and services

That’s because harnessing the power of artificial intelligence is not about simply doing the things you always did but just doing them online. It’s about using data to develop new products and services.

It has opened up the market for services such as large-scale document review, for example. Pinsent Masons is currently working with clients to review their contracts in light of Brexit. “This simply wouldn’t have been possible as a service before technology – it would have been too expensive for most clients.”

Among the solutions Pinsent Masons has developed is SmartDelivery, which provides accurate scoping and pricing of work, so that clients are clear in advance about costs. It also provides integrated end-to-end legal and business process frameworks and workflows, supported by project management.

Pinsent Masons has developed Traceable Causes, a solution that harnesses the vast data exhaust the firm generates. This is used to give clients visibility over their portfolio of risk by pooling and analysing disputes data, as well as the ability to invest in risk mitigation in a targeted and proportionate basis, and to measure the improvement that such investment delivers.

It does this through quick and easy data capture at matter opening stage through online instruction – or retrospectively – without any additional effort for the client. It generates a comprehensive dataset which the firm’s subject matter experts then analyse for trends and insights. Such insights are tailored to each client and can be benchmarked against industry-wide data.

Traceable Causes can also provide predictive analytics on the likely outcome of a particular type of risk, claim or dispute.

“Traditionally, law firms love disputes because they mean more business. But we are able to look at the data and say, ‘Here’s where those disputes are arising. Here’s what you might need to look at,’ enhancing our role as trusted advisor,” says Halliwell.

The result is that, rather than causing job losses, as was originally the fear, artificial intelligence is actually creating new ones through the provision of entirely legal services.

21 Feb 2019



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