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Implementing AI within law firms: Insights from International Experts

European experts

How to successfully implement AI within law firms? A question that concerns many of us. That is why we gathered the cream of the crop of the international law scene to discuss the rapid evolution of AI within law firms. This panel includes Christian Sundell (CIO at Cirio, Sweden), Nick Pryor (Director of Knowledge and Innovation at Freeths, UK), and Dr. Hariolf Wenzler (Director of Bucerius Law School & CEO at YPOG, Germany), alongside our very own Siska Lannoo (Head of Global Expansion at Henchman). These experts share their best practices and insights on the pivotal role of AI, lately considered to be a checkbox requirement’ for any modern legal team eager to invest in technology.

Where to start?

When looking into what AI-based products and services to integrate within a law firm, it can get quite overwhelming. Luckily, Christian Sundell, CIO and Head of Digital Transformation at Cirio, a full-service business law firm based in Sweden, provides us with a field-tested framework to lead us in the right direction.

  • Step 1: map out your firm’s processes and workflows. Know how your firm operates on a day-to-day basis and how the firm would like to operate in the future. It will help to identify areas where AI could enhance efficiency and effectiveness.
  • Step 2: educate yourself and your colleagues in understanding AI. AI is a powerful tool, but understanding its capabilities and limitations is crucial. AI must be seen as a tool to support, not to replace, human judgment, especially in complex legal scenarios.
  • Step 3: align AI initiatives closely with your business strategic objectives. These may range from improved service quality and delivery to reducing costs or increasing productivity.
  • Step 4: recruit a diverse team. You will need experts on infrastructure, information security, AI, and of course, the most important thing, legal professionals with an understanding of technology.

However, the journey doesn’t end here. So before reaping the benefits, there are a few more points of interest that you should take into account:

  • Data: AI heavily relies on data. Therefore, a robust strategy for data acquisition, management, and analytics is essential.
  • Ethical challenges and regulations: AI within law firms brings unique ethical challenges, including ensuring fairness, transparency, and accountability. You must address these challenges while complying with relevant legal standards and professional ethics.
  • Risk: mitigate common risks associated with AI, including system failures and cybersecurity threats, through a comprehensive risk management strategy.
  • Internal policies and procedures: make sure you create and establish AI-related policies your organization wishes to implement, along with the associated procedures and instructions.
  • User adoption: the key to a successful AI integration lies in user adoption. This area starts with information, and communication, and includes ongoing training and support for all affected users within or outside of your organization.

Embarking on AI integration is a complex journey, but with these steps and considerations, your law firm can pave the way for a successful and ethical implementation.

With Christian Sundell’s framework laying the groundwork, it’s crucial to also delve into the economic and managerial aspects of implementing AI within law firms. Dr. Hariolf Wenzler, Director of Bucerius Law School & CEO at YPOG, Germany, stresses the importance of a business development attitude when it comes to implementing AI within a law firm.

Different types of people do different stuff to create a full service for clients that is way more complicated and complex than it ever has been. Of course, in the core of services provided, legal knowledge still plays a significant role. However modern law firms are not focusing on legal advice solely. They focus on a way more complex product. The service part around it, and it’s delivery to the client is at least as important.”
- Hariolf Wenzler, Bucerius Law School & YPOG

In this context of providing broad and complex services to clients, Dr. Wenzler emphasizes the need for a thoughtful approach to AI implementation. Instead of hastily deciding on specific applications like contract drafting or translation, he advocates for extended ideation. Forming a team with diverse roles — management, finance, IT, lawyers, and more — is crucial. Define milestones collectively, allowing objectives to naturally emerge, gaining commitment from everyone involved.

What new skills does a legal firm need to develop or acquire to effectively leverage AI?

Should lawyers be taught how to code? Nick Pryor, Director of Knowledge and Innovation at Freeths, a full service law firm with 13 offices across the UK, has lost count of the number of times he has been asked this question. And his answer is rather short, yet telling: They could, but not necessarily should.” That’s short for it’s not a matter of knowing the programming language as such, but being able to understand the logical and rigorous thinking pattern of code is beneficial’. For example, if learning, HTML helps you do that, why wouldn’t you learn HTML?

At Freeths, Nick and his team invest quite a lot in teaching their lawyers not to jump to solutions right away, but also build a framework to understand what good prompting looks like, to understand some of the nuances. They learn about what causes the AI to hallucinate, how to intuitively sense what good and effective prompts are, and how to mitigate some of the drawbacks of the technology.

Siska Lannoo
, Head of Global Expansion at Henchman, points out that there also is a heavy responsibility on the vendor side.

The technology should be smart enough to understand the intent of the user and not the other way around”
- Siska, Head of Global Expansion at Henchman

Vendors play a crucial role in carefully selecting the right LLMs (large language models) for the right use case because they don’t always perform as well. There should be multi-testing of LLMs to ensure the behavior can be anticipated. Henchman stresses the importance of combining AI with the law firm’s unique data and accumulated expertise. This integration creates context, a critical element that many AI tools struggle to grasp effectively in diverse legal scenarios. By merging AI capabilities with the firm’s data and built-up knowledge, the technology gains a more nuanced understanding of context, ultimately enhancing its reliability and performance.

If you’re asking to generate a clause, then of course, you want AI to understand that you’re working in a specific industry, in a specific type of contract, with a specific transactional value, and against a specific counterparty that you might have been up against in the past because you want to anticipate what they will negotiate on. If AI has access to your firm’s dataset you’ll avoid hallucinations and the generated outcome will be trustworthy because it’s provided with context”
- Siska, Head of Global Expansion at Henchman

How do legal organizations need to change to integrate AI effectively?

Today, more thought is being given to how AI changes the fundamental business model in which law firms operate. Nick refers to James Barksdale, former CEO of Netscape, who was famous for saying There are only two ways to make money in business. One of them is to bundle and the other one is to unbundle.” And in the legal services market, you sell by the hour and all your costs in any form, technology, people, whatever, are all in that hour. Nick believes that we are at a point where an element of unbundling is a better way to capture and present the value of what law firms offer to their clients.

When we adopt this technology and the amount of time we spend on a file changes substantially, we have to make sure we balance how we distribute that change in the value stream.”
- Nick Pryor, Director of Knowledge and Innovation at Freeths

When it comes to introducing change, Nick and Dr. Wenzler stress that you need to work on two aspects of legal professionals’ brains. One is the rational brain of lawyers which tends to go into analysis paralysis mode. Lawyers are critical and analytical by nature. But at some point, a strategy or an approach needs to be picked, rationalized, and supported. Two is the emotional side. It has to be easy and smooth. That’s why the quality of an interface plays such a critical role in the adoption process. There is a high expectation for user-friendly technology, even in professional settings.

I just wanted to sort of underline this with the experience that more and more, we live in a B2C experience world. We love Amazon OneClick. We love all that stuff that UI and UX have told us about how easy life can be. And we don’t tolerate bad software just because it’s B2B or it’s in business. So we want to have this smart and swift and consumable experience also when we’re in business. And I think that’s just a good argument for a good interface. And that then sort of picks up on adoption.”
- Dr. Hariolf Wenzler (Bucerius Law School & YPOG)

Thirdly, Nick and Siska mention that it’s not a good idea to keep vendors at arm’s length during the adoption process. Nick realized over time that it’s a complete waste if you don’t let the customer success teams help you along the way. Partly because it’s very demanding – it takes a lot of time to roll out new technology – but also because you’re not making the most of these people who really understand how to fully capitalize on and take advantage of the new tool.

You and the vendor have a shared incentive to succeed. To treat it more like a collaborative partnership and less transactionally makes a really, really big difference.”
- Nick Pryor, Director of Knowledge and Innovation at Freeths

In conclusion

The power of AI technology is finding its way in the world of legal. Clearly it’s here to stay and is making legal businesses conscious about the countless wins and opportunities tied to effectively adopting the technology. Christian Sundell’s framework can help you think about the challenges that go along with a new technology rollout, the necessary set-up, and mindset for a successful implementation in your enterprise. Additionally, it’s more important than ever internal stakeholders are all pulling the same rope when it comes to gainful implementation and adoption. According to Nick Pryor and Dr. Hariolf Wenzler, a shared mindset about the value of legal tech is key. Furthermore, Siska Lannoo adds the importance of not missing out on customer success services to drive internal enablement of new tools. When it comes to how technology influences the billable hour, the panelists unanimously believe a change in the current way of working is imminent. 

Interested in rewatching the panel discussion? Always by your side. Here’s the link to the recording