The idea is to make sure the right people are doing the right things with the right tools. Through Ashurst Advance, the firm is also establishing an R&D capability - this team will evaluate and develop new ideas and will also work closely with legaltech startups.
- We have to keep evolving our approach to meet and guide client needs and the commitment to this area is a clear signal of Ashurst's intention to take a lead on service innovation. A key priority has been aligning ourselves with the very latest developments in legaltech, which is fast becoming an industry in its own right, following on from the rapid growth of fintech since 2008, says Mark Higgs, director of Ashurst Advance and former banking lawyer and management consultant.
How can lawyers learn from the developments in fintech?
- Legaltech is starting to gain some momentum. Financial institutions invested in fintech, partly for visibility and to hedge their businesses, and there may be increasing opportunities for thoughtful law firms to do the same, says Higgs.
In what ways can technology help lawyers deliver services more efficiently? What kinds of solutions are the most interesting ones today in your opinion?
- There is a broad range of new technology reaching the market now – we probably see one new proposal a fortnight at the moment. Document automation has been around for a while but is becoming ever more sophisticated. Neota Logic is starting to get some real traction.
- Search has the capacity to change the industry, as do some of the document negotiation platforms, but further investment is required yet to make them really viable. We work in close partnership with our core IT team to ensure that we make the most of the opportunities that we identify.
Are you looking at artificial intelligence? How can machine learning etc be implemented today?
- AI requires definition. We continue to look at a range of search and logic solutions, but for many they are yet to identify a broad range of affordable use cases.
What about tomorrow? Do we need to rethink what’s possible considering recent events – such as Alphago’s win over Lee Sedol in Go?
- Alphago’s victory reinforces that in the long run, computers will always beat humans at games with clear and fixed rules.
- The real challenge for lawyers, judges and technologists is that many areas of the law are shaped by subjective concepts such as equity, public policy and risk which are difficult to translate into clear and fixed rules.
There's been much talk about machines replacing humans, even in the legal vertical. Are you worried about that, or about having to adapt new business models?
- Law firms will need to continue adapting, and technology will have an increasing role to play, but there will still be significant demand for the skills and judgment of lawyers for the forseeable future. What is changing is the employee mix – we have increasing numbers of project managers and legal technologists, for example, who are crucial to our services offering.
You’re obviously taking steps to take advantage of technology. What will happen to firms that don’t invest in innovation and that insist on relying on old business models?
- Clearly clients are focused on driving efficiency in their legal engagement. Technology is one solution to that, as well as providing transparency and reducing risk. It is hard to imagine firms that underinvest in technology prospering in the medium term, but then all the top firms are aware of this.
There's little buzz about legaltech in Sweden, so far. Why do you think that is? Is it easier to innovate in bigger markets, or in English-speaking jurisdictions?
- Legaltech is only just beginning to emerge as an identifiable industry. Given the prominence of the UK in the global legal market it is unsurprising that some legaltech firms focus there, and Ashurst Advance has prioritised building relationships with the early stage tech community to stay at the forefront of change. The UK still has some way to go to match the pace of legaltech development in the US, but through this community there is a focus on making UK a great place to start a new legaltech business.
- There is a flourishing legaltech group in Holland, so it’s not just english speaking countries that are focused on this space.
How ambitious is this undertaking?
Ashurst is very serious about matching clients’ focus on efficiency and creating real innovation in legal services through resourcing, process and technology. Ashurst Advance is the core of that strategy. We believe we are the first firm among our peers to create such an integrated, identifiable team to address this area. The team reports to the managing partner, has full board and executive backing and should be a key differentiator for the firm.