Covid-19: A pause for thought

27 August 2020 | Luminance

Last month at a Luminance Webinar, Kim Lewis, Legal Transformation Manager at Australian law firm Gilbert + Tobin, spoke about best practices for firms adopting legal tech, why the current pandemic has actually offered firms a rare time for reflection and the opportunities that legal AI brings to smaller firms, allowing them to compete for larger projects.

Shifting attitudes

Even before Covid-19 pushed many firms into rapid tech adoption, Kim believes that “clients have been getting more sophisticated in terms of acknowledging what AI can and can’t do. Clients are wising up.” Indeed, Kim feels Covid-19 has acted as a catalyst for change - with many organisations having to adapt or face falling drastically behind. As she puts it, “I think [Covid-19 has] really forced everyone to work in a different way and made people rely a lot more on their IT infrastructure.” Traditional methods of working have been replaced by different tools which will help as firms move forward with remote working: “you can try to encourage people to come back [into the office] but safety is the first priority, and legal tech can bridge this gap.”

According to Kim, one previous hurdle was the complication of having multiple platforms which all dealt with different tasks: “much legal tech is in its infancy and not having many integrations is one of the biggest challenges.” Kim highlights the lack of integration with Microsoft Word as a particular factor affecting the successful adoption of legal tech: “It’s not easy to integrate with Word and we’ve looked at a lot of products and they tend to jump out to a different web page”, removing the lawyers from the context of their documents and adding unintuitive extra steps into legal workflows. Conversely, Luminance’s integration with a range of technology providers, from VDRs to Microsoft Word, ensure lawyers can access, review and remediate all of their documents from one central platform.

While many longstanding attitudes around technology are being challenged, Kim points to the danger posed to those who are slow to react and invest in tech solutions: “Covid has hit people hard where they haven’t invested in technology in a long time. With some firms in Australia that haven’t invested in legal tech, we’re starting to see Covid-19 weed a few people out.” For firms that haven’t already invested in legal AI, Luminance is quick to adopt and deploy, with most lawyers up and running within a few hours and typically users see time savings of 50% on the very first day of review. Indeed, Kim sees it as imperative that lawyers keep up with the pace of change, and as she points out, the pressure to innovate is not just apparent from other firms but from clients too – the impetus for change will “come from both directions”, and thus firms must act in order to anticipate client needs.

Level the playing field

In recent years there have been concerns that the gap in investment between the largest behemoths and smaller firms is growing ever wider. Indeed, a Harvard business review titled ‘The Gap Between Large and Small Companies Is Growing. Why?’ looked at the difference in R&D expenditure between large and small firms - in 1981, the difference amounted to $3.5 billion but by 2017, that difference had increased to $8.8 billion. Kim states that Covid has represented “a real opportunity for a lot of smaller law firms” who are not only able to price more competitively, but their flatter corporate structure can often mean that “smaller firms can invest and scale up quite quickly”. Kim hopes that smaller firms use this time to “do a bit of research into legal tech and understand the market out there”. Kim encourages technology adoption across the board, from collaborative chat tools to legal AI. Indeed, for many boutique firms evaluating their commitment to legal tech can mean “starting small but recognising the huge benefits something like AI can bring when used properly”. Kim is passionate about the benefits that legal tech can bring to small firms and thinks technology adoption is key to small firms being able to compete for projects against larger firms. As she concludes, if smaller firms “can make it through this patch, I reckon we’ll see more competitors coming up from places we didn’t expect before. [Legal tech] opens up the floor a bit more.”