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Legal Tech Trends

Augmented law firms ahead of the curve: Exploring 5 key themes in legal tech in 2024

Panel legal tech trends 2024

Technology is not just a tool for law firms – it is a strategic imperative to be successful. In 2024, the augmentation of legal expertise and services through technology stands as one of the hottest topics in the industry. Augmented law firms will differentiate themselves from their competitors by creating a mindset of sharing data and knowledge among their lawyers, enabled by technology. The augmented lawyers in these firms can spend more time on high-value tasks, improving the quality of their service to clients and giving them a competitive advantage over more traditional law firms.

Risks and benefits of building in-house AI products or other technologies

Peter Duffy, Founder and CEO of Titans, points out that there are two factors to consider in the discussion about building versus buying technology. One is culture. Law firms are great service providers on a project basis,” he says. But building, launching, and maintaining digital products is very different. It requires a very different way of thinking and a different operating model that you don’t normally find in law firms”.

The second thing you need to be aware of are capabilities. The reality is that in order to build a high-quality product, you need a mix of people: front-end developers, back-end developers, testers, designers, and product managers. All of these digital skills are rare in law firms, and when they are available, they are in hot demand.”

Another thing that shouldn’t be underestimated is the duration of such a project”, says Katherine Crowley, Legal Director and Practice Development Manager at Womble Bond Dickinson LLP. Keeping a development team going on a project with competing demands and staff turnover is not always easy. Outside vendors are often former lawyers themselves. They understand what is required and are likely to be inspired by a pain point they have encountered in practice. In addition, outside vendors are used to build solutions that can serve multiple clients. Law firms often fall into the trap of not being able to recoup the cost of development because their product only fits” one client or team.

Andrei Salajan
, Head of Digital at Schönherr, echoes his co-panelists in expressing his preference for working with external providers. The time and resources required to scale things over the years with new features and keep up with security and regulations is immense.” Second, Salajan notes that the legal market is becoming more mature which helps in finding the right product for a law firm’s pain point. In the past, tech startups were typically founded by two or three students struggling to find enough investment to launch, build, and maintain their product. Today, with the hype around AI, start-ups have much less trouble finding sufficient funding and are therefore able to deliver a stable, high-quality digital product much faster than most law firms could ever achieve by building their product in-house.

The evolving role of data in legal services and its impact on client relationships

With the rise of Large Language Models, our panel noticed a secret hope among lawyers to avoid the effort and curation that goes into their data. However, LLMs have not yet proved reliable enough to simply ignore structuring data. Fundamentally, you need to have good quality data in the first place,” says Peter Duffy. Generative AI cannot yet draft fully reliable NDAs. You still need precedents and a well-functioning legal brain to draft a quality NDA.“

On the other hand, Duffy recognizes the potential of LLMs to bring standardization to data. For example, enriching data with a standardized tagging system is something he is excited about because lawyers tend not to put a lot of time and effort into it. So why not let an LLM do the tagging consistently?

Andrei Salajan
notes that all these new forms of technology are generating a lot of discussion. He compares it to the rise of the cloud. Although working in the cloud is now the norm, it is still fodder for debate in some companies. The same goes for new technologies like generative AI and LLMs. Some clients are very interested in these new technologies and see them as an opportunity for their lawyers to become more efficient and deliver higher-value services. Other clients explicitly prohibit the use of AI in their mandate.

Balancing the adoption of cutting-edge technologies with existing ecosystems in law firms.

After last year’s hype around AI, a period of consolidation is starting,” says Andrei Salajan. At the moment, Salajan and his colleagues at Schönher are testing a lot of new tools that sometimes even overlap in features. It’s all about finding the right solution for the right workflow.

Salajan believes that the AI hype is a bit of a bubble. He senses a rush to adopt AI tools. Many of his clients are actively looking to get started with AI and legal technology, but 70% of the time they just end up talking about document automation, as this is one of the main pain points for almost every firm.

Because of the typical long procurement cycles in legal tech, Peter Duffy warns law firms not to lose momentum for integrating new technology. He says it is important to look for quick value and to keep the desire for improvement alive. A lengthy purchase and onboarding phase discourages adoption.

In addition to buying new technology, look at your leaky bucket,” both Crowley and Duffy agree. There is no point in throwing more water in. You’re just spending more on technology without getting adoption. Ideally, you should have a high adoption rate of your existing technology before jumping to a new one. Who uses what and to what extent? As a law firm, this can be difficult to track. Rather than trying to figure it all out yourself, Duffy recommends talking to your vendors. They may have a lot of insightful data or even dashboards on adoption to help raise awareness.

Existing vendors can help solve specific pain points or challenges.
To some extent, they already know the firm and the firm’s culture, and conversely, the firm’s lawyers are already familiar with their solution, UI, and roadmap. As a result, the new solutions are more easily adopted because they feel familiar.

The evolution of the interaction between lawyers and clients in the digital age?

Clients’ expectations of speed of delivery are increasing, and they expect us to deliver more for less. AI and digitalization are the enablers to achieve this while remaining profitable as a law firm. If lawyers embrace the importance of generative AI and digitization and understand how to use these new tools, client relationships will flourish. However, clients will still want to be able to pick up the phone and call their lawyer rather than speak to a chatbot when it comes to a difficult, high-value issue”, Katherine Crowley says. It’s important to strike the right balance between using AI and digital tools for efficiency and maintaining the personal touch and human connection that clients value. Law firms that can strike this balance will undoubtedly grab a bigger slice of the legal pie at the expense of slower, more cautious competitors.

Andrei Salajan
agrees with Katherine Crowley, but believes the question is how to do it. Today, it is easier than ever to leverage solutions. Access to the cloud, AI tools or any legal tech solution is really quick and easy. The playing field is becoming more level and the human factor is becoming the most important one: successful implementation, integration into the law firms’ existing workflow and adoption are key. That is why I’m not worried about these tools taking over all the work and replacing our associates,” Salajan concludes.

The importance to start with the problem rather than the solution whet it comes to legal tech adoption

According to Salajan, there is no silver bullet when it comes to legal tech adoption. It varies from team to team, organization to organization. If I look at our team over the last two years, I’ve noticed that the tools we use for things like transaction management and document automation are evolving, and we need to be flexible to move forward with them. This is very different, of course, from adopting some super-hyped new pilot that you might do with Harvey for example.” Salajan believes you have to adapt to all of these streams and need have that flexibility, which might be scary sometimes (“Another new tool?!”). However, digital literacy or tech savviness are not skills that are thought overnight, but are becoming increasingly important.

The challenge is to cater to all the audiences, such as established senior partners and young associates joining the team, and there is no single solution to do that. Mindset, culture and change are key to adoption. I think it’s exciting, it’s going to push a lot of people to the limit in a positive way, and it’s going to bring needed change to some law firms.” Salajan concludes.

Returning to the statement, Katherine Crowley jokes, If you offer a solution to an acknowledged pain point, you’ve already won to some extent the hearts and minds of the lawyers – and lawyers are bloody difficult to win over, let’s be honest”. When lawyers see that the tool is a real solution, Crowley believes they are more likely to become sophisticated users of the platform at an early stage of the rollout, and they will be more willing to experiment with how the platform is used because they already understand the basics of what it does and how it can improve their working lives.

Crowley thinks lawyers have a really tough job. They’re busy, they’re tired. They work on tight deadlines, and they have to do their job against a backdrop of constant technological change. But shiny new technology doesn’t always solve their problem immediately. Nice to haves that don’t solve a problem, are usually ignored, so I always think that rolling out a new piece of of software, is about sales. You need to make sure that you are the salesperson with the most compelling story that says: use my tech, your life is going to improve’, and you can only spin that story if you’ve identified the problem, and if the tech that you’re offering is the solution.”

believes that you really have to get into the weeds to understand what the existing process is, how people actually do their jobs, and what the highest priority problem is that needs to be solved. My favorite example of focusing on the problem rather than the solution, was one particular product my team was working on. We were told up front that we wanted to have a more efficient way to do AI review of a large and complex document set. And instead of jumping into building that, we started by mapping the processes, talking to everybody, understanding every single step of the process. And actually, the best problem that we solved was that there was a third-party online portal that the lawyers had to interact with. It was a really old portal that didn’t allow users to export in bulk, so they had to manually download documents one by one, which is a really boring, mundane, low-value task for people to do. So we built a very simple Chrome extension that did a bulk download by running a script to download files. And that may sound simple, but the time savings from that was twice as much as the time savings from the AI extraction..”

In conclusion

The journey to becoming an augmented law firm is one of finding the delicate balance between technological innovation, adoption, and maintaining the human touch in client relationships. By embracing a mindset of knowledge sharing, leveraging external providers to solve specific pain points, and prioritizing quick wins in technology adoption, law firms can position themselves as leaders in the augmented era of legal services. In doing so, they will not only stay ahead of the curve but also build lasting client relationships and secure a greater share of the legal market.

Interested in watching the full panel discussion? Here’s the link to the recording.