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How to Survive in the Era of Digital Darwinism

9 December 2021 | Eleanor Weaver

Over 150 years ago, Charles Darwin published his seminal work On the Origin of Species, in which he first recorded his theory of evolution. Lately, I’ve been thinking about just how many of the ideas in that text hold true in today’s digital world. Though Darwin studied the natural world, it is now global industries that are experiencing an evolutionary phase.

Survival of the Fittest

Digital technology and its effects on society are evolving at a faster rate than many organisations are properly prepared for. Crucially, Darwin understood that it is not necessarily the strongest who survive, but those most adaptable to change. And what about those that don’t? Well, the mighty do fall. It is a sobering statistic that half of the companies that made up the Fortune 500 at the turn of the Millennium are now extinct. Not just gone from the Fortune 500 – gone from the scene entirely. Fast-forward another twenty years and those organisations that fail to adapt to the latest advances in technology today, not least Artificial Intelligence, will also likely fail altogether tomorrow. The era of Digital Darwinism has arrived.

Much of the challenge comes from inexorable growth of data. And among all industries, the legal profession is only too aware of this existential challenge. The exponential rise in data generation has placed an enormous strain on lawyers entrusted with reviewing the volume of data before them. With manual review alone, the task is often no longer feasible. Increasingly, lawyers risk missing key information buried within gigantic datasets. More than that, this can limit the work they are able to pitch for, as well as diminish the breadth of services and counsel they can offer clients. This is without even mentioning the mental toll inflicted on the junior lawyers attempting to complete this work in the first place.

Other industries have already changed radically thanks to new technology – you only need to look at the banking industry and the meteoric rise of fintech for proof of this. Now the legal industry stands at its own crossroads. But to coin a phrase, necessity is the mother of invention, and AI gives lawyers the power not merely to manage impossible workloads, but also to analyse vast datasets with speed, confidence and insight. Such capability enables lawyers to re-focus on the essential, people-centred aspects of legal practice, not least client engagement.

This year, a survey published by Wolters Kluwer found that over three quarters of lawyers recognised the increasing importance of technology within their trade. This bodes well for a profession often characterised as traditionally conservative and slow to embrace change. Fortunately, advances in research and development of AI over the last few years mean that sceptics are now pretty quickly convinced. After all, businesses want nothing more than to do more of what they already do, more effectively. Anything that allows instant efficiencies and additional insight into highly complex datasets will be seized upon, which is exactly what AI offers.

However, enhanced efficiency gained through AI is not enough to guarantee survival in the high-stakes legal world. Legal professionals also need a competitive edge. Too often, the potential dealbreaker or ‘smoking gun’ is buried within volumes of complex data, leaving lawyers to manually wade through documents, or perhaps use rudimentary search tools no more effective than a CTRL+F search. All too often, this means the crucial nugget of information is only found at the end of a due diligence or ECA exercise, by which point the window of opportunity to negotiate or ask for more information has often closed. To remain competitive, lawyers must deploy AI that cuts through their data on day one. AI is simply unrivalled when it comes to identifying key datapoints and providing an essential structure to reviews, giving lawyers a rapid overview of what is important within their documents and therefore allowing them to prioritise key areas and resources accordingly. The lawyers who choose to adopt AI will get to the heart of their information more quickly and undoubtedly emerge in a stronger position to negotiate, advise clients or deal with opposing counsel.

Adapting for the Future

And so, in the age of Digital Darwinism, doing things ‘the way we always have’ is no longer a a strategy for survival. The legal industry must embrace innovation and change to remain competitive, particularly as clients become more aware of the benefits of AI and may well be deploying it in other, non-legal functions. As tech-savvy as today’s market it, it is fast becoming AI-savvy too, and the global excitement surrounding the potential of artificial intelligence shows no sign of waning.