Don't expect AI to perform miracles - the reality is more mundane, but can still be transformative

The use of AI tools will undoubtedly increase, but change won't happen overnight, writes 3Kites' Paul Longhurst

Firms should temper their expectations about dramatic technological change over the next 12 months Shutterstock

The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades. So went the refrain from Timbuk 3’s 1986 hit, which comes to my mind at this time of year when so many people are offering their views on the legaltech landscape we can all expect to see 12 months from now. Just the other day, the BBC reported on research that claimed 39% of household tasks would be undertaken by robots come 2033. The same article thankfully provided some balance in the shape of a scientist in 1966 claiming that we would be freed from domestic chores in 10 years if only someone would invest the £1m necessary to develop his robot which had a more than passing resemblance to the Cadbury’s Smash robots (you had to be there).

The point I want to make here is that such prophets all too often anticipate dramatic change whereas the reality is more usually that such change comes about in smaller, incremental shifts. The problem is the expectations that these prophets create amongst (in our case) lawyers, accountants and the like, who expect new systems to perform miracles. The reality is more mundane, but can still be transformative.

Over the next 12 months, I see process automation (often in the guise of case/matter management for legal) continuing to move beyond its traditional high-volume areas to help lawyers across the spectrum to work more efficiently, especially in the areas where there is no real advantage in applying years of legal experience. Opening and closing files or creating, issuing and chasing invoices are parts of the job that very few fee earners would say they enjoy. Helping to reduce the time taken to complete such tasks, and have them completed in a more consistent manner, should free lawyers up to spend more time applying their hard-earned experience on high-value work.

The use of shiny silver robots – or in our case AI (artificial intelligence) tools – will undoubtedly increase, but I think its influence will be more evident in the next five years rather than 12 months. At 3Kites, we talk about the people that already have the answer without understanding what the question is... or even if there is a question. These are the projects desperate to use AI because of the buzz around the term. Our suggestion is to start by learning where your firm needs to improve client service, increase its bottom line or help staff to have a better work/life balance and then to find a solution that will actually help deliver that today and over the next few years. A number of firms have been working on this area for several years, but there is always more that can be done in terms of process improvement and integration with related systems such as AML/KYC (anti-money laundering and know-your-customer).

In my view, Bill Gates had it right when he wrote in 1996 that “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten”. So this is not an anti-stargazing plea but simply a suggestion that we apply a degree of realism to the predictions for the next 12 months and don’t underestimate the value of the tools we already have available. As Timbuk 3 sang in 1986, “Things are going great and they’re only getting better”.

Paul Longhurst is a director of 3Kites. This is the 17th article in the series Navigating Legaltech. We will be publishing a follow-on article from 3Kites in the next few weeks that considers the impact of AI on legal work and the potential challenges that it introduces for law firms.


About 3Kites and Kemp IT Law
3Kites is an independent consultancy, which is to say that we have no ties or arrangements with any suppliers so that we can provide our clients with unfettered advice. We have been operating since 2006 and our consultants include former law firm partners (one a managing partner), a GC, two law firm IT Directors and an owner of a practice management company. This blend of skills and experience puts us in a unique position when providing advice on IT strategy, fractional IT management, knowledge management, product selections, process review (including the legal process) and more besides. 3Kites often works closely with Kemp IT Law (KITL), a boutique law firm offering its clients advice on IT services and related areas such as GDPR. Where relevant (eg when discussing cloud computing in a future article) this column may include content from the team at KITL to provide readers with a broader perspective including any regulatory considerations.

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