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COVID-19: A tipping point for legal tech?

22 May 2020 | Luminance

In the latest Luminance Insights webinar Jason Brennan, Luminance’s CEO, sat down with Robert Webb QC, former General Counsel of British Airways and Rolls Royce, and now chair of Luminance’s board, to discuss the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the legal sector.

The case for legal technology has been proved

In Robert Webb’s opinion, the crisis has been "a real boost to the Young Turks in every team who’ve been asking senior partners for years for better tech and now have had their case proved". Even for lawyers cautious about adopting new technologies, the experience of remote working and dealing with urgent COVID-19 reviews has illustrated the necessity of having the best tools available for their lawyers. At the same time, it has caused many lawyers to question existing assumptions of the profession, such as the need for major, expensive offices. Although in some legal fields - such as criminal law - Robert felt, as a former QC, that the necessity of establishing credibility and upholding the authority of the law required continued in-person hearings, “with M&A and commercial litigation, almost everything can be done remotely”.

What is clear to Robert is that “technophobia” is no longer a viable excuse for lawyers aiming to provide a quality service. Given the power of legal technology and the growing volumes of data lawyers are faced with, Robert suggested that “We’re reaching a tipping point where it will be negligent not to use tech … If you’re not using technology, you’re running a real risk of missing something.” As Shannon Finch, Partner at Jones Day Australia, noted in another recent Luminance webinar “lawyers might be resistant to change but they’re also very conscious of client demands”.

Luminance’s core technology, the Legal Inference Transformation Engine (LITE) uses a unique blend of supervised and unsupervised machine learning to read and understand large quantities of legal documents in quantities and at speeds that far exceed human capacity. With Luminance, lawyers working in M&A, litigation and a range of other use cases can review an entire data set without relying on sampling or extraction-based technologies which risk failing to find ‘unknown unknowns.’

Reasons for optimism

Amid the terrible effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Robert felt that there were signs for optimism in the legal sector. The adoption of legal technology during the current period is unlikely to be temporary and this in itself raises the prospect of expansion for law firms. “Recovery for the legal sector may look not like a U or a V shape but instead like the Nike tick with a short sudden drop followed by a period of long-term growth.” By lowering costs and allowing lawyers to undertake significant reviews quickly and confidently without significant resources, Robert noted that legal technology "will increase the reach of the legal profession, which currently serves some members of society very well but isn’t accessible to all". For law firms “tech is a great leveller and smaller firms are adopting Luminance like there’s no tomorrow”. Indeed, a recent example of this can be seen when Luminance assisted a 3-person team at JAP by quickly reading and analysing nearly 150 documents in a complex real estate review, flagging areas that might need further investigation or were anomalous to the dataset. Using Luminance, JAP could work at least 24 times faster than before, allowing them the option of taking on extra projects, and thus earning additional revenue, in the time saved.

For lawyers themselves, machine learning has the potential to free lawyers from laborious document review and let them focus on providing high-level analysis and quality counsel to their clients. In Robert’s words, “Luminance gives good lawyers the opportunity to do what they came into the legal profession to do.”

Luminance Insights is a series of webinars and podcasts put together by Luminance to enable key conversations in the legal sector to continue, in spite of the impact of COVID-19. You can watch the full recording of Jason and Robert Webb’s conversation here or Register here for the next webinar where Moritz Maurer, Partner at Niederer Kraft Frey and President of the AIJA Corporate and M&A Commission will be speaking to Emily Foges about the future of legal talent.