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Technology transforming the legal world

In a traditionally ‘risk-averse’ profession, innovative law firms which embrace legaltech are reaping the benefits – both for themselves and their clients

“The mistake people make is to think to think that innovation is all about technology, it isn’t. Innovation is a mindset,” says Karyn Harty, a partner with McCann FitzGerald. Photograph: iStock

“The mistake people make is to think to think that innovation is all about technology, it isn’t. Innovation is a mindset,” says Karyn Harty, a partner with McCann FitzGerald. Photograph: iStock

 

Advances in technology are transforming the way legal work is done. Much of it is coming from innovative Irish legal- tech start-ups such as Vizlegal. 

Its app makes legal information more accessible to law firms, enabling them to quickly find, track and save judgments, cases and other legal information.

Technology is impacting clients too, with start-ups such as Brightflag helping large corporates to analyse their legal invoices to help keep their legal fees in check.

Innovative Irish legaltech firm Oathello helps reduce paperwork in the legal system, starting with notary services and working its way along the chain to cover all forms of financial and legal paperwork, from simple forms to complex deeds.

But the success of all legaltech depends hugely on the willingness of innovative law firms to embrace it. 
McCann FitzGerald is a pioneer in that respect and an early champion of the benefits of new technologies. It successfully introduced Technology-Assisted Review (TAR) into Ireland, in a case involving the IBRC, vastly speeding up the process and ensuring significant savings for its client.

Compliance

It was the first law firm in Ireland to invest in artificial software from Kira Systems, to aid due diligence work for corporate finance and capital markets transactions. 

Its in-house Digital Services division focuses on developing technology-enabled legal, risk and compliance solutions for clients. 

It provides services such as data room management, the development of bespoke digital applications, legal document automation and workflow process management systems. 

It has educated machine-learning algorithms to perform AI contract analysis for larger pieces of work or repetitive exercises and, using technology platforms such as Kira Systems and HighQ Collaborate, produces cost-effective, streamlined solutions for clients.

“The mistake people make is to think that innovation is all about technology, it isn’t. Innovation is a mindset,” says Karyn Harty, a partner with McCann FitzGerald.

Karyn Harty, partner with McCann FitzGerald.
Karyn Harty, partner with McCann FitzGerald.

“We see ourselves as being first and foremost a very innovative practice, which means really changing the way things are done.”

The law is by tradition “risk-averse”, she points out, which means that one of the primary barriers to doing things in a better way is a culture that gives inordinate weight to the status quo. 

“Just because something has not been done before does not mean we shouldn’t look for a better way of doing things. In going to court and saying we would like to use machine- learning to do our discovery, we received enormous opposition, but we pushed through and that has now completely changed the way discovery is being done,” says Harty.

Its establishment of the first digital services team in a law firm is a case in point. “Innovation is a very comfortable space for us at McCann FitzGerald,” says her colleague Peter Osborne, who leads the firm’s 13-member Knowledge Team. “It’s part of a problem-solving mentality, a can-do attitude that we have always had.”

Recruiting

As well as improving cost-efficiencies for clients, embracing innovation helps with the recruitment and retention of staff. 

“As an employer, we look at ways of recruiting and retaining really good people, and to that end the more you can improve the quality of life for your associates, the better,” says Harty. 

What legaltech does is help take the time-consuming, low- value drudge work out of the job, including the vast amounts of time traditionally spent poring over documents. It’s “a game-changer”, she says. 

“Now we are seeing a rise in sentiment analysis, which uses machine learning to detect how people are feeling based on the way they are communicating. That’s a really useful tool.”

Being an early adopter of the digital disruption transforming the legal world has wrought enormous advantages for the firm. 

“Technology is developing at a really rapid rate. It’s very hard for practices coming to it now to know what will add real value,” says Harty. “We have really embedded-expertise in this area, because we’ve been doing it since 2011.”