Blog Post

Thinking about new tech? Here are six things worth knowing before you do anything

March 4, 2019

Before we all get carried away, before we all retrain as carpenters and electricians, and before depression sets in about how technology might leave half the global workforce unemployable by next week, let’s just take a reality check.

It’s undeniable that the bourgeoning legal tech sector is thriving, that technology is already impacting our jobs today, tomorrow and in the future.  You are using Artificial Intelligence (AI) every day.  Use Google to search? That’s AI.  Use Siri or Alexa? That’s all based on AI.  Even the portrait mode on your smartphone is based on AI.  Social media feeds, music streaming, gaming, sat nav – all used in daily life and all based on AI.

But what’s missing is a sense of reality.  AI is still (for the most part), single domain – it can only focus on a single task.  And, while multi-domain AI is in development, we are still light years away from developing anything with a general intelligence level (like humans).  AI has seen one major breakthrough in 60 years and according to the experts, it will take many more breakthroughs before we even get close to  AI thinking like humans.

The second reality is that AI, blockchain and other buzz words flourishing in the technology hype cycle are there not as employment thieves.  They are there to augment the work lawyers and GCs are doing, and help them do it more effectively.  

With our feet back, in reality, this is an unprecedented era of technology for law firms and GCs.  But with such a plethora of information out there and a confusing array of technology, what’s worth knowing before you start investing?  Below are six things to consider before embarking on your own forays into the latest era of technology.

1. It’s all about the data and how you train that data.  

Amazon found this out the hard way. Back in 2018, the online retailer had been using an AI recruitment tool to help it sieve through the thousands of resumes it receives.  Except for the AI training data – the previous 10 years’ worth of resumes – had been dominated by males.  The recruitment team soon realized the machine had taught itself to be gender biased in favor of male applicants because of the initial data it had been fed.  And therein lies the challenge, the ‘garbage in, garbage out’ database analogy is even more applicable when it comes to today’s data-fuelled technology.

2. AI and blockchain are for the business, not just for the legal department.

One of the biggest benefits of this era of technology is that it’s breaking down the silos within businesses.  AI is not a single application that can solve all your inefficiencies.  There are multiple applications and multiple uses that span the entire organization.  The idea is that AI and blockchain can help realign your business units to work together on shared goals, rather than operating in silos working towards departmental goals.

3. Know what you’re buying into.

While the glitter and the sparkly wrapping make for an attractive package, it’s vital to know what you’re getting.  Ask questions about business outcomes, speak to previous customers and make sure you understand the ROI on the technology.  The CFO is bound to ask in fiscal terms, but what about the legal department itself, exactly how will it change the day-to-day lives of your team? What is the ultimate outcome for you – to use a cliché, it’s important you know what success looks like.  
For example, will smart contracts actually mean less work, or simply less management time? What will spend analysis help you achieve from a budget standpoint?  Understand the answers before showing your dollars.

4. The hardest part will be change management.  

The technology implementation regardless of what it is or what you’re using it for will be tricky.  The reality is they always are, simply because they incite change.  However, more challenging, and riskier is people management around this change.  Helping prepare, equip and support your team around the changes that technology brings, to ensure they embrace new ways of working will mean the business benefits you expected from the technology can be realized. Managing people change management effectively will drive team efficiencies, ROI and most importantly ensure your new technology doesn’t become expensive shelfware.

5. Take your clients on the journey, or they’ll leave you behind.

People support what they help to create, that’s true whether it’s family, employees or clients.  So before you embark on using AI for eDiscovery or blockchain for contract management, talk to clients and tell  them what you’re doing and why.  Given the lackluster adoption rates of the latest technology in law firms, your clients could have already developed their own blockchain strategy and be undergoing AI trials.  By getting clients involved at the early stages, it demonstrates your willingness to change, your ability to be open and seek others’ opinions and most vitally that you are ahead of the curve when it comes to investing in new technology.  

6. Make security front and center.  

According to the PwC’s Law Firm’s Survey 2018, 86% of Top 10 law firms, 80% of Top 11-25, 92% of Top 26-50 and 86% of Top 51-100 firms are either extremely concerned or somewhat concerned about cyber threats.  They’re more concerned about being hacked or experiencing a data breach than they are about new entrants in their sector, a recession or their growth projections.  This is with obvious good reason; cyberattacks are inevitable and how your firm recovers will denote the ongoing success of the company.  Before any new technology is implemented, find out the cybersecurity implications, get the board involved and check cybersecurity training has occurred across your team.  

Given the innumerable articles on GCs and legal technology, you could be forgiven for thinking that IT investment was now the sole responsibility of lawyers.  It isn’t and nor should it be.  But, whether we agree or not, technology had infiltrated every crevice of our careers.  From a legal standpoint, lawyers are more heavily relied upon to understand rules around data, cybersecurity, and regulations, particularly in light of GDPR.  From a departmental perspective, by putting the onus on the legal team to get involved in technology choices, to understand how it could benefit you and what it could help you achieve, means the change management aspect will be more successful.  So while the IT team might be an obvious choice to lead the way when it comes to AI or blockchain, taking some responsibility for ensuring the right technology is adopted can only help the legal team demonstrate value  back to the business and the board.  Wouldn’t you rather blaze the trail than be a passive recipient of whatever technology your IT team deems fit to impose?

Download: GC's Guide to Making the Case for Technology