Tuesday 6 December 2016

Lawyers told to cut fees or face future led by robots

Published 17/12/2015 | 02:30

Eight out of ten US law firms believe that robots will take over most low level and data- driven procedures within 10 years
Eight out of ten US law firms believe that robots will take over most low level and data- driven procedures within 10 years

EXPERTS have warned that four out of 10 jobs in the legal sector could be redundant within 10 years as artificial intelligence (AI) and alternative business structures disprupt the legal profession.

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Lawyers have also been urged to "drop the clock" by abandoning hourly fee rates and negotiating fixed and value-based fees with clients to share risk - and earn more business.

The inaugural Future of Law and Legal Tech Conference, hosted by Leman Solicitors, was attended by more than 100 in-house and General Counsel from major blue chip companies including LinkedIn, IBM and Docusign.

Senior officials from Nama, Certus, Allianz, Aviva and An Post also attended the conference which heard that AI software and robots are being deployed by leading law firms in the US and UK to handle large quantities of data, analyse contracts and assess which firms are most likely to win costly litigation battles.

Eight out of ten US law firms believe that robots will take over most low level and data- driven procedures within 10 years.

This will leave little or no work for legal associates and assistants - but will free up high level and high fee earning advisory, strategic and business support roles for senior partners.

"It is not that lawyers are doomed, but there is no immunity for lawyers who for too long have benefited from inefficiencies in the law," said Larry Fenelon, managing partner at Lemans Solicitors.

Ireland's first paperless law firm, which gives clients online access to their files and can track case management, Lemans last year switched to fixed fees for all transactions, including unpredictable litigation contracts.

Natalia Faura, LinkedIn's EMEA legal Lead for commercial, procurement and real estate, told delegates that hourly rates are "a thing of the past" and said that the firm prioritises business judgement skills from its outside counsel.

Ms Faura said LinkedIn is willing to take some of the risk and negotiate fixed and capped fees, including monthly billing, to incentivise lawyers during lengthy deals and lawsuits.

The conference heard that the recently approved Legal Services Regulation Bill could in time see lawyers entering multi-disciplinary partnerships, business models that are banned in many countries and have had limited success in the UK.

Solicitor Dominic Conlon said that major accountancy firms will likely exert most pressure to introduce multi-disciplinary partnerships once the new bill comes into force. as other professionals seek to secure a slice of lucrative business opportunities currently enjoyed by law firms.

Legal futurist Chrissie Lightfoot said lawyers must prepare to go to battle with robots and future proof the sector.

"It is inevitable that machines will move up the legal vertical," said the British lawyer, one of the world's top ranked female futurists.

"All areas of law, including corporate and commercial law, will not be immune from the march of AI innovation and robots. Labour intensity is in steep decline. We will need fewer lawyers, but will get increased quality."

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