Stephen Allen: 'Lawyers using the technology will triumph over those who do it the old way'

Q&A: Hogan Lovells' innovation head on the power of AI to enhance decision making and his obsession with quantum mechanics

Stephen Allen was appointed to the new post of head of innovation and digital at Hogan Lovells on 6 December. He joined the firm in 2016 from DLA Piper as global head of legal operations. He is also a co-founder of The Bionic Lawyer project.

Define innovation

Put simply, innovation is about working better tomorrow than you did yesterday.  That can be better with regard to output, the method of delivery or a complete back to basics reinvention.  Incremental or fundamental.  It just needs to be better.

How do you explain artificial intelligence (AI) to an average lawyer of a certain age? 

Assuming it is artificial intelligence (which it isn't, really) I think of AI as a tool that can undertake a task, with a degree of automation, that would have formerly been undertaken by an 'intelligent human'.  In essence, without going into geeky detail this falls broadly into two camps: automation processes and big data-driven insight.  In both cases the sheer computational power of machines and their reliability at sticking to a task will prove invaluable.  However, I see AI as augmented intelligence to enhance human decision making, not replace it.

What impact will it have on the legal profession in the next three years?  How can lawyers prepare for this?

There is no reason today why the initial instance of document reviews should not be undertaken first by an intelligent, trained algorithm.  This should and will become the norm.  This will have two impacts: lawyers using the technology will triumph over those who do it 'the old way' and ultimately, clients will leverage some of those efficiencies to enable them to review all documents and focus lawyer time on the key contracts. This will require matters to be delivered differently, and markedly so.  Project management and process design will be key with lawyers focusing their time on specific legal tasks and not the greater process.

What’s the most exciting emerging application of AI in the legal arena that you are aware of? 

I'm going to answer this in two parts. From the market, some of the deep analytics AI in litigation reviews (eg: NexLP or Brainspace) which find patterns in data capture from litigation reviews and propose areas of interest for further investigation.  The data tells the lawyer what is statistically relevant.  Of course, a lawyer still has to determine what's correlative and what's causative. Secondly, some of the 'secret works' stuff we're doing building predictive models and data science.  More on that to follow.

Will AI ultimately be a force for good, or a force for evil?

It's neutral. The technology just 'is'. Whether it's used for good or evil depends entirely on whose hands it is in.  It needs regulating for that very reason.

What’s your number one priority for Hogan Lovells in 2020?

Driving our data strategy to enable us and our clients to make better, more informed judgements.

It is sometimes claimed that law firms are more focused on their own bottom lines than their clients’ needs when developing new technology products. How valid is this criticism?

This may still be true in some parts of the industry.  This firm, given its sector focus, can actually bring genuine bottom line improvement to our clients.  Moreover, we've developed a metric for defining legal value which we share with clients in value workshops. 

What is The Bionic Lawyer project? What has it achieved to this point?

Customers, providers and freshers (newbies) to the legal market are all speaking at cross purposes that impacts trust and momentum for change.  We could all achieve more if we had a common language and a common understanding.  Our aim is to create tools, frames of reference, that enable a common dialogue.  A year ago this was a lunch with Rob Booth [general counsel and company secretary, The Crown Estate), Stephanie Hamon [head of legal operations consulting, Norton Rose Fulbright) and now it is sixteen work-streams, a burgeoning set of video blogs and in excess of 100 contributors. 

Outside your own firm, which professional figure do you most admire, and why?

Obviously, my co-founders of The Bionic Lawyer.  Beyond that I admire Stephen Denyer, formerly at Allen & Overy and now director of strategic relationships at the Law Society: after many years (sorry Stephen) of service to the industry he is still looking to drive change and innovation.  I also have huge admiration for Liam Brown, chairman & CEO of Elevate, for creating and driving the alternative legal services market.

What other career might you have pursued in an alternative life?

This wasn't obvious to me as a younger person but I am, today, obsessed with quantum mechanics.  Definitely some sort of physicist or maybe a behavioural psychologist.  

What’s your favourite consumer tech gadget right now? Favourite podcast and book?

Consumer tech gadget: my iPad pro. No need for a laptop 80% of the time. Podcast: Gladwell Revisionist History. Book: (that's mean and is subject to change, by the minute) The Fabric of Reality by David Deutsch.

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