Disrupting the legal profession
Artificial intelligence and advanced data analytics technologies are key elements of the modern law firm’s toolkit
Pinsent Masons also sees the growth of in-house legal teams as a positive development and is working with clients to optimise their effectiveness. Photograph: iStock
The world has changed and so has the legal profession. Tradition still matters but law firms are now utilising the very latest technologies to automate time- consuming processes such as document discovery at the same time as adapting to meet the challenges presented by new trends in pricing structures.
“We have been devoting a lot of time to innovation and the development of our digital strategy over the past five years,” says Karyn Harty, dispute resolution and litigation partner with McCann FitzGerald. “We were very much first out of the traps in that and we are very glad that we started back then.”
According to Harty, much of what is now happening in Ireland has already been seen in the US and UK. “Firstly, there is much greater demand from in-house teams for self-service,” she says. “They want to do things themselves rather than rely on external lawyers for the plain vanilla stuff. We see that as a positive. We do complex, novel, unusual, premium-end work. Of course, the plain vanilla work can reach a scale where a client with an in- house team might need support from us.
“In practical terms, this means we do a lot of collaborative work with clients. For example, our digital services team works with internal legal departments to build bespoke solutions in areas such as contract management.”
A&L Goodbody also works with clients to develop innovative new solutions to business issues. “As part of our think, innovate, deliver approach, we actively talk to and engage with our clients about the design of technology-based legal services which help them overcome business obstacles,” says client technology director Joe O’Sullivan.
“We now have a significant number of projects in train where we are actively co-designing with our clients.”
An example of this is the firm’s new data subject access request (DSAR) toolkit known as Arrow. “Arrow is a bespoke end-to-end process designed to help our clients respond to data access requests, a key feature of the GDPR,” O’Sullivan explains.
“Supported by internal data analysis, we have created an optimised process with cost-effective resourcing, standardised workflows that are repeatable and scalable. We also have combined this with technology solutions to form a robust technology-led process. This ensures that our clients can process complex DSARs in a cost-effective, auditable and efficient manner while ensuring consistency of approach.”
Pinsent Masons also sees the growth of in-house legal teams as a positive development and is working with clients to optimise their effectiveness. “An increasing number of clients are coming to us to ask for our advice in relation to this,” says client solutions director David Halliwell.
“They are interested to hear how we are seeing other legal teams respond to the need to provide a better service and better value for money to the business. This is founded on our approach of building long-term sustainable relationships with clients in our five global sectors, which has led us to assist them on strategic level reviews and help them with legal transformations of their functions.”
Halliwell says the firm has been able to deliver this due to its focus is on becoming a professional services business with law at its core.
“This means we bring a wider range of disciplines to bear when we help our clients solve their challenges. We are able to call on expert legal operations advisers who have delivered legal operations excellence as part of in-house teams, as well as process mapping and improvement experts, and legal project and change management teams, supported by the wide range of skills and experience available through Vario, our flexible resourcing hub.”
The winds of change are also blowing when it comes to pricing. “We are seeing international firms coming into Irish market and we are also going to see quite a bit of change around the pricing of legal services in the next 12 to 18 months,” says Harty. “We will start to move away from chargeable hours as a measure of value towards better and more imaginative ways to price.”
Fixed fees may come into the mix. “We have a no-surprises billing policy which offers clients full transparency with a budget tracker every month,” Harty adds. “Client demand for price certainty is reasonable. They are looking for more reliable estimates and fixed fees. Litigation has been the last bastion of the chargeable hour, but we are now breaking cases into modules with a fee cap on each one. We are looking at price in a much more granular way in terms of what we know will happen, what else might happen, what could happen and so on.”
“One of the problems we see in the market is that some firms are struggling to price legal services when technology is part of the process,” adds McCann FitzGerald head of project services Paula Fearon. “We are very lucky that we were first movers in technology and are very comfortable with what it can do and the efficiencies it brings. We have the ability to bring disparate technology products together to solve a problem and the experience to price that properly.”
Technology is not just a cost but also a source of value for clients, according to O’Sullivan, who points to a recent A&L Goodbody Corporate Crime and Regulation Summit, which attracted more than 600 delegates. “The clear feedback from attendees was the importance of technology in mapping, extracting, managing and distilling massive volumes of data so that it is auditable and transparent. Clients perspectives are shifting from one where a client’s data perimeter was seen as a burden, to one of data being an asset that they can leverage.”
A&L Goodbody has also been a first mover in this area. “We have been at the forefront of leveraging cutting-edge technologies,” O’Sullivan adds. “We are the first law firm in Ireland to implement the market-leading ediscovery platform, RelativityOne, in the cloud. This technology, underpinned by our delivery, reporting and analytics infrastructure, gives our clients access to a highly scalable and innovative solution to help them manage their data.”