“AI in legal is just like sex in school – everyone is excited about it but no one has actually done it.”
This quote from Artem Goldman, co-founder and CEO of Visabot, seems like a good catch-phrase to start our review of the first annual conference of the European Legal Tech Association (ELTA) in Berlin. This is not because sex sells, but because it might be true.
ELTA was formed as an official association at the end of 2016 and now, after a few months, has hosted over 200 participants in Berlin, one of Europe’s most thriving startup-hubs. It is a vibrant community with great diversity and all interest groups of the legal tech community involved. Nevertheless, there is still a need for further expansion. With the success of this first conference, we are sure that ELTA will gain more members, especially outside of its founding country Germany, and attract more in-house counsels for further events. The small number of the in-house counsel present urged Kai Jacob, SAP’s Global VP Legal Information Management, to talk about embedding tech in legal advice, recommending to lawyers that spending more time with customers is positive. This is a point that Yerra Solutions fully supports as being client-centric is one of its core principles. We are very happy to be part of this newly developing community. ELTA is an initiative that is duly needed to advance the European legal tech market.
Hariolf Wenzler, president of ELTA, mentioned that about 80% of investments in legal tech go into solutions that are developed for the common law market. Therefore, the title of the conference was “What’s European in Legal Tech?”. This remains an unanswered question. Here are a few take-aways:
- Lawyers and Innovation: It is not news that technology is changing the legal market and it is also no surprise that the legal profession is found to be resistant to accept such change. Regarding the question about who in the industry will lead the process of change, most speakers and panelists seemed to agree that the law-firms will not be driving this. The customers must be the ones to push for change. For now, and this is worth noting, the traditional legal market – at least this was the perception for Europe – is still working too well to spark the need for lawyers to change. However, Kai Jacob makes the point that the law-firms clients, i.e. the in-house counsel, are eager to use technology to improve their processes and become rising stars in their organizations. For lawyers, it is therefore time to jump on the train or be left behind.
- Legal Education: Given the change to the legal profession, another common solution is to argue for a change in the legal educational system. It was mentioned in the conference that of the students going through university, only about 20% end up practicing traditional legal services. However, most universities will only teach traditional legal skills. There is barely a notion of project management classes, courses on legal operations or education on technology. Today, universities are basically producing lawyers for a profession that will no longer exist in the future. Despite this general view, the speakers at the conference agreed that there is no reason for hope as universities are usually even more conservative than law-firms. This results in the somewhat bizarre fact that the recently graduated young professionals tend to be even more resistant to accepting technology than their more experienced peers.
- Innovation is Legal Tech: As previously mentioned, law firms are under attack for not being innovative. However, as Jean-Luc Delli from Innovation.Law in Switzerland mentioned, innovation is not exclusive to digitalization, automation and technological developments. Innovation goes beyond that and it should not be a lawyer’s goal to throw technology at his or her operations to appear innovative. To add value, the legal profession is challenged to reinvent itself, which includes the use of technology.
Continuing, for people working in the legal tech industry or are interested in automating legal processes, they should be aware that the tech-landscape is big. A point made by Richard Seabrook, Managing Director in the UK for Neota Logic, is that looking beyond what we call Legal Tech, pays off as there might be technologies used in other industries that could equally be applied in the legal market with little transformation.
- Careful Use of AI: Coming back to the initial quote at the beginning of this article, there was also talk about AI. The panel with the title “Working with AI”, which included representatives from Neota Logic, Visabot, Clocktimizer and Lexalgo, seemed to agree to not overestimate the use of AI in legal. Richard Seabrook mentioned that in his experience, customers often approach him with the request to develop an AI tool for a certain task of their workflow. This mostly happens without the customer thinking about the potential of a different problem that is causing the issue at the task they are trying to automate. In another statement, Artem Goldman concluded that it makes more sense for lawyers to start small and to not focus too much on AI. It is his view that lawyers should think about the repetitive tasks that consume a lot of their time which they could potentially automate (even without AI) to save time but still make some money. This can help them to focus on the truly relevant aspects of their work.
In summary, it can be stated that we have not yet found what is European in Legal Tech. Clearly, the continental European Legal Tech market is not as advanced as its common law counterpart. From a European perspective, the UK seems to be ahead of other countries. Of course, the many different local languages make it more difficult for companies to develop products that are internationally tradable. It has also been a point made by several representatives of smaller countries that the size of the legal market in their country does not incentivize the progress enough.
Nevertheless, technology knows no boundaries and it is hard to imagine that language will be the reason for Legal Tech to be held back in the long run. Even in continental Europe, it remains a question of time before more and more customers will ask for changes in the legal profession. ELTA can become the platform for European professionals to exchange and help the development of European Legal Tech in the future.
Tobias Steinemann, Legal Director at Yerra Solutions