“It’s simple. Nice user interface. I like the questionnaire style.”
Comments like these, you assume, refer to an Apple iPhone, Google Search, or some other product hailed for its superior user experience. When is the last time you heard a client make comments like these when discussing a law firm’s legal services?
Okay, maybe you’ve never heard a law firm client make comments like these, particularly when talking about legal services of any complexity. But that is what I heard from a potential client who had just seen a demo of the Akerman Data Law Center, a client-facing expert system that provides data privacy and security advice.
Akerman Data Law Center
Last Friday, I spent the morning in Akerman’s Chicago office with Jeffrey Sharer, an Akerman partner and Co-Chair of its Data Law Practice. I planned for a discussion about legal industry innovation and a demo of the Akerman Data Law Center, but I got much more than that.
Paul Stroka, Director of Legal Solutions for Thomson Reuters Legal Managed Solutions joined us for a broad discussion about legal technology and innovation and the many opportunities for proactive attorneys. Then Jeff and Paul invited me to stay for their pitch to a client (after the client consented, of course). David Curran, Global Director for Risk and Compliance at Thomson Reuters joined us and the pitch began.
The shortcut to understanding expert systems like the Akerman Data Law Center (ADLC) is to envision TurboTax for law. Picture a flowchart of the questions the lawyer would ask a client, with each answer steering the inquiry down a particular branch, eventually landing on the applicable advice. A well-designed expert system helps clients solve well-specified problems, while routing clients with outlier problems to an attorney for further counseling.
While not all legal problems are well suited for deconstruction and codification, there are countless opportunities to create standards and best practices for the provision of legal services through the use of expert systems. In addition to client-facing expert systems, there is great potential for using expert systems as knowledge management tools. Expert systems capture legal practice knowledge, which can be used to guide attorneys (and others). These systems can help improve the quality of legal services, while also reducing the learning curve and empowering junior lawyers.
Data-Breach Advice from a Robot? There’s more to it.
While I was at Honigman, my practice included information privacy and security matters. Even among lawyers who see the possibilities for technology to improve legal services, it’s tempting to argue that our work is somehow exempt from the effects of legal technology and innovation.
Advising clients on data-breach matters is no easy task. Time is of the essence. Clients are subject to a wide array of state and federal laws and regulations, not to mention those in international jurisdictions. You might think that automating this service would be difficult. Correct, so the key to ADLC is more than automation. It’s based on a “people, process, technology” approach, which Jeff Sharer calls “collaborative disaggregation.”
“Collaborative disaggregation,” Jeff says in his law firm bio, is “proactively partnering with alternative service providers and leveraging technology such as ‘legal expert systems’ – such as the Akerman Data Law Center – and other forms of artificial intelligence to meet clients’ needs better, faster, and at lower cost than could be achieved under traditional models based directly or indirectly on billable hours.”
In the case of the ADLC, Akerman works with Thomson Reuters Legal Managed Services for the legal research and monitoring needed to keep the expert system’s advice updated. The interface and expert system itself were built on the Neota Logic platform.
I’m not yet aware of others using the terminology “collaborative disaggregation” to describe law firms working with their clients to re-engineer legal-service delivery. Right now, it’s primarily legal departments and their legal operations teams disaggregating matters. They are “making” solutions to certain problems internally rather than buying them from law firms, outsourcing certain work to alternative legal service providers, and using technology to automate various tasks. Some law firms have moved in this direction, including those who have created subsidiaries to perform work that might otherwise have been outsourced. Few law firms have gone so far as to build client-facing expert systems.
Opportunities for Law Firms Building Robots
Discussions about legal technology and innovation sometime pit solutions based on people, process, or technology against one another, as if they were mutually exclusive. Likewise, some question the value of “rules based” expert systems, focusing on the rapid advancement of data-driven artificial intelligence, like that behind autonomous vehicles and personal assistants. “Collaborative disaggregation” highlights that the best solutions fully utilize each of these resources, beginning first with the voice of the customer and a clear definition of the problem. Ask, “What does the client value?”
Collaborative disaggregation captures the essence of the approach that Jose Torres and I urged law firms to take in our talk at the Annual Corporate Legal Operations Institute in May 2017: Smart Process Design: Continuous Improvement to Leverage the Right Technology. Lawyers need to think about the whole value stream from the client’s perspective, not just the legal work that we traditionally perform. Doing this, we find many opportunities to provide greater value to clients through people, process, and technology. And as we create expert systems and workflows to capture knowledge and data, we will improve our data-driven decisions while also learning more about the problems that cannot be solved without data-driven artificial intelligence. In addition to improving legal services for corporate legal departments, this approach will lead to improvements in legal-service delivery that increase access to legal services for everyone.
You can complain about robots practicing law or you can build the robots. We’re building the robots.
Jeff, Paul, and their colleagues have identified numerous potential use cases for expert systems like the Akerman Data Law Center. I like the way Jeff put it, paraphrasing his partner Martin Tully, Data Law Practice Co-Chair: “You can complain about robots practicing law or you can build the robots. We’re building the robots.”