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Legal IT innovation: slow burn not tipping point, says ‘Susskind’ following the British Legal Technology Forum 2016

The pace of change in the legal IT sector remains a “slow burn” affair, and has not yet reached a “tipping point” of rapid change, according to legal IT innovation guru, Professor Richard Susskind. Professor Susskind reached this conclusion after seeking informal feedback from the 1,200 attendees at the British Legal Technology Forum in London (BLTF2016), held in London earlier this month.

The Netlaw Media event saw a broad cross section of the legal IT community come together to discuss the current state of legal technology, and how it was likely to evolve in the next few years. In total, more than 50 speakers, including those working for law firms, in-house legal functions, academics and legal IT suppliers took part in the day’s proceedings. Held at The Old Billingsgate in London, BLTF2016 also played host to 84 suppliers of legal and commercial technology which exhibited a wide range of cutting edge technology and solutions.

As Europe’s largest legal technology conference and exhibition, the event delivered three keynote presentations including Professor Daniel Martin Katz, who teaches entrepreneurial lawyering at Chicago-Kent College of Law in the US, who suggested that the legal technology sector could learn from innovations in the financial technology sector space, who had embraced both of these technologies in recent years. For example, he suggested that the legal profession might seek to offer predictive services based around likely US Supreme Court decisions, which would then enable investors to trade shares on the basis of those anticipated decisions. At present, he said, the legal sector had largely left this potentially huge market “on the table”.

To compliment the nature of the event, a large number of technology suppliers were also on-hand at BLTF2016, demonstrating real-world AI-driven technology which legal IT managers could deploy today in their own firms. In the fee earner assistance space, RAVN demonstrated its applied cognitive computing engine, which can be used to automate the extraction of key data from documents to assist with due diligence exercises. In relation to legal operations support, Darktrace was promoting its “enterprise immune system” cyber security solution, which used machine learning to detect anomalies on computer networks. In terms of applied big data, Aderant was promoting its new Spotlight Analytics solution, a customisable business intelligence tool for law firm managers, whilst Informance was promoting its ability to help law firms make data-driven operational, HR and recruitment decisions. Tellingly, none of these solutions bore any resemble to the “robot lawyer” of popular mythology, and were instead intended to help address specific real-world challenges currently affecting the legal sector.

Another popular topic of discussion throughout BLTF2016 was process improvement, often assisted by the deployment of new technology. Among those speakers from legal practice, representatives from Riverview Law and BT provided an overview of their recent focal points of process improvement investment, while presenters from and Weightmans explained how they had crowdsourced suggestions for improvements from within their workforce. In the supplier space, a number of providers were actively promoting their workflow enhancement solutions which in the case of BigHand, the company’s voice-based command system was in big demand.

Reflecting on BLTF2016, Netlaw Media’s Managing Director Frances Armstrong says, “The event showcased just how quickly ideas which were previously regarded as radical, such as legal AI or big data, could be transformed into a wide range of tangible products and services, and then adopted by the legal profession. Some of the products being demonstrated at BLTF2016 may well prove to be transformational, while others may simply mean that law firms can be more efficient, or more profitable,” she said, referring to Professor Susskind’s two alternative visions of the future of legal technology. “Hopefully, everyone who attended BLTF2016 now has a better understanding of the scale of which technology-led legal practice innovation is currently evolving, and also of the additional possibilities that are yet to be fully exploited.”

The British Legal Technology Forum 2016 was the 13th successive major law conference organised by Netlaw Media to reach a full capacity.