Leading in a changing world – how technology and innovation are reshaping the UK services industry

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In just a few years artificial intelligence has gone from being a novelty in law to an essential part of everyday business.

We are only just beginning to realise its potential. In time it could bring transformative change to the services that solicitors offer, and that clients expect.

In my opinion, it will not, though, usurp living, breathing lawyers – at least for quite some time. Some have worried that they could be replaced by technology in the role they value most: that of a trusted advisors to clients. Instead the advance of AI, properly embraced, will help lawyers to do a better and more efficient job.

The ordinary application of AI is now very familiar. Lawyers often need to analyse thousands of pages of documents to reach a conclusion. Once, that meant a long, tedious job. I am not alone in remembering proof reading a document at 3am in time for a completion. Thankfully, computing power has now replaced manual labour, sifting out the important from the mundane.

Solving problems earlier

The next stage in the development of legal technology is bringing something just as useful, and much more exciting. Machine learning can now be used not just to uncover details once a dispute is underway, but to identify problems before they occur. AI lets us help clients change course before they risk making a mistake.

For example, we have developed a service called Aiscension which identifies any risk of cartel-related activity in a business. It uses neural-net Artificial Intelligence to scrutinise vast amounts of data and spot potential cartel conduct. In other words, it can stop staff breaking the law.

The cartel module was just the beginning. We are now training the technology to spot signs of bribery and corruption. In fact, we could develop it to spot all manner of risks and deliver real value: ensuring that companies stick to the rules, and don’t incur the cost, distraction and reputational damage of a breach.

Sometimes, this work can move our businesses onto new ground.

We have created an asset tokenisation engine called TOKO to help companies create fractions of any asset, and then issue tradeable fixed income tokens. Those assets could be anything from digital video clips to physical objects. We piloted the tech by tokenising an artwork by the Chinese artist Wang Xiaobo so sixteen token-holders hold, and can trade, a fraction of the painting of a white horse grazing in a field.

It wasn’t the sort of job I ever imagined doing at the start of my career. Since then, we have advised clients on structuring large real estate transactions, bonds, and an offering for a blockchain-based decentralized data marketplace. TOKO supports a wide range of asset classes and the future potential of the product is incredible.

Technologists and lawyers in partnership

All of this will demand a partnership between technology and lawyers. Providing access to tokenisation is one thing. Getting advice on whether it makes any sense to use, or indeed how it can be used to comply with laws and regulations, it is quite another. You need a lawyer to guide you on that.

Technology firms will be vital to making a success of this sort of innovation. We are successfully using IBM Watson technology, and its work with Legal-Mation is exploring just how much artificial intelligence (AI) can achieve for law firms and their clients.

Together tech companies and lawyers are considering questions such as: how do you collect and analyse the data to reliably meet ESG goals? Only together will they be able to meet reporting and compliance obligations, particularly for due diligence on green M&A transactions.

The new technology will also herald a very different way for clients to assess the performance of their lawyers. Legal business will be defined in future not only by the quality of their people, but also the quality of their algorithms and software, and their access to and use of high-quality data sets.

The role of the leader

Moving from traditional structures and roles into this new world will demand the application of AI, leadership and agility. Those themes were central to a fireside chat I had recently with Sreeram Visvanathan, the Chief Executive for IBM UK & Ireland, at IBM’s Think Technology Conference.

There, Sreeram talked about our collective responsibility, as business leaders, to focus on two key dimensions of technology and innovation: scale and speed.  In law, as in so many other industries, leaders now have to see technology at the centre of their enterprise, rather than acting only as an enabler or support function. As Sreeram noted, unless leaders actively engage in removing organisational, policy, process and human barriers, technology will not deliver its full institutional impact. I wholeheartedly agree. We established a Change Council at DLA Piper to drive innovation throughout the business, and we intend  to keep up the pace of development.

By prioritising innovation inside our firms and encouraging our colleagues to think more broadly about technology we can seize all these opportunities. In future, more of our services will be delivered to clients online. To get this right we must both make changes in-house, hiring the best technologists and engineers, and work closely with market-leading technology companies like IBM. Working in partnership we can help nurture tech start-ups and make the UK the best place in the world to build AI businesses.

More of our products will be designed to be used by those not legally qualified; and there will be more clients served not only by law firms’ personnel working on their behalf, but by law firms’ technology embedded in their systems.

Human judgment, empathy and advice remain at the centre of what we do. Leveraging tech may not actually reinvent the law. It will instead better prepare the lawyer; technology will free professionals to do more interesting and more imaginative work. Taken together, these changes have the real potential to reshape not just individual law firms but the entire UK services industry.

Global co-CEO and Managing Partner

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