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The role of AI pre- and post-pandemic

5 October 2020 | Luminance

Last week, Luminance hosted a webinar with Oz Benamram, Chief Knowledge and Innovation Officer at Simpson Thacher, and global leader in legal Knowledge Management. Oz spoke with Jason Brennan, acting CEO of Luminance, on what innovation strategies looked like pre-pandemic, how the use of AI has changed during Covid-19 and why the old adage of ‘knowledge is power’ has never been truer.

Knowledge is power

Oz outlined the two schools of thought on lawyers’ access to information in firms, describing both ‘pessimistic’ and ‘optimistic’ attitudes. According to Oz, the ‘optimist’ believes: “let’s give everyone access (other than those who shouldn’t have access), with the belief that giving people access to information will just help.” Oz stressed the unpredictability of the future legal landscape; by exposing lawyers to a variety of other cases and the wealth of information already learnt from other legal professionals within the firm, lawyers can draw insight from these other areas of legal practice and apply this to their own work. Indeed, technology can help foster this sharing of key information among team members working on a project, with Luminance including features such as automatic report generation so insights from the work can easily be extracted for use in other areas. A recent article featured in The Law Society titled, ‘Information is Power’, echoes this sentiment, noting that the ability to gain shared data insights in an effective, simple and clear manner is crucial in not only improving profitability of firms but also allowing them to assess the output and overall health of the organisation in real-time.

On the other side is the ‘pessimist’, which Oz describes as having the belief of “not giving anyone access to information unless they worked on the matter.” In Oz’s view, pessimistic models often prevail due to the legal industry being “risk averse” – indeed, lawyers can face paying a high price if something goes wrong. Yet technology is aiding secure information sharing, slowly turning ‘pessimists’ into ‘optimists’. Improved security standards (such as Luminance’s ISO 27001 certification) give lawyers the confidence to use the best available tools without compromising their information. At the same time, Luminance allows levels of access within projects, ensuring that lawyers can only share what is necessary, or perhaps allowing a team member more access to certain areas of the project over time.

Innovations strategies pre-pandemic

When recalling the pre-pandemic approaches to innovation within firms, Oz remembers the primary driving force as improving the client experience. Oz says that advanced technology such as AI is of course useful as a tool to drive profitability, but the ability to provide clients with rapid feedback ‘is more valuable”. As Oz put it, “if it’s between minutes from the clients sending a document to be reviewed and it being sent back, you have value beyond money – it’s the fact that the service is better.” Luminance’s acting CEO, Jason Brennan, concurred, saying the ability of advanced technology to help lawyers comprehend large deals quickly and thus optimise their negotiating strategy is invaluable: “when is it the best time to renegotiate? It’s as early in the process as possible”.

Adapting to the ‘new normal’

Oz believes crises can be a great time to invest in building teams and pushing cultural change - in his experience, “during ‘boom’ eras where life is ‘easy’, it’s very hard to get people’s attention to try something new and to think differently. But during crises, people are open minded because the current model might not be fit for purpose.” Oz cautions about “moving too fast” – this could easily overwhelm workers who have already had to face a physical change in working from home among many other adjustments. “Firms must be careful in how they roll out systems” with those platforms which are “obvious” and intuitive to use most likely to thrive in the current climate.

The pandemic and shift in working has no doubt caused disruption to established employee development opportunities, and Oz laments the inability to engage in person with trainees as something that could potentially hold back the development of a new wave of legal talent. Technology could at least go some way in assisting junior lawyers to learn faster and in a more motivated manner. Jan Smit, Knowledge and Innovation Manager at Slaughter and May has previously discussed with Luminance the importance of supporting young lawyers, “We need to have the right legal tech resources in place to show prospective trainees we are an innovative firm that cares about the way they work. If we don’t have these resources in place, we might lose that talent”. Technology also facilitates effective remote working – for example, Luminance’s project management and collaboration capabilities allow for work to be completed seamless across locations or offices. In a recent case in India, Anant Gupta, Associate at PSL Advocates & Solicitors said, “we wouldn’t have done better if we were physically in the same office”.

Looking forward

When asked if we will see a reversal of some of these trends when the pandemic subsides, Oz noted that the assumption that you must be in the room with someone to successfully complete work is being eroded – the legal world has continued despite social distancing and remote working, and as a result we will “most likely never go back” fully. The likeliest outcome in Oz’s opinion is a “half and half” approach, whereby firms work in the office on certain days or are on-site for specific projects. Indeed, some firms such as Eversheds have made public announcements that funds previously allocated for real estate expansion are going to be put forward to invest in technology. Drastic lasting changes to working practices look set to be considered across the industry; as a Partner at a UK Top 30 firm that Luminance recently spoke to notably put it, “nobody is going to be going back to doing it as we were a few months ago.”