AS WE ENTER A NEW YEAR, I WANT TO LOOK BACK ON 2022 AND TRY TO SUM UP SOME OF THE KEY THEMES THAT STOOD OUT.
Last year we continued to grow as a legal technology team, with headcount now reaching 50. This was driven by our continued investment in graduates, with the second round of our graduate scheme that added 6 new Legal Technologists to the team.
We have continued our investment in technology, with several new vendors onboarded to support various areas of the firm. We have also been part of a range of initiatives across the industry and have been able to give opportunities to our Legal Technologists to speak about their experiences and deliver sessions to a variety of client and peers.
KEY THEMES FROM 2022
- There has been a concerted move towards understanding the value of data and investing time into collecting it, whether this is through the emergence of tools that help that manual process, or just a way of storing and tracking the information that comes through.
- There has been an increased appreciation and adoption of data visualisation tools and trend analysis. Clients and our lawyers now have an expectation that reporting will be done in a visual manner rather than being text heavy, and many now show the willingness to structure information in a way that makes this easier.
GENERATIVE ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (AI)
- GPT-3, DALL-E, Midjourney etc. have pushed AI into the mainstream and given people a glimpse of a future where these tools can do tangible things. Whilst this is still very early days, the sheer number of LinkedIn posts about this indicates it hit a nerve. There are people on both sides of the divide as to whether the robots are coming to takeover or that it's just another gimmick, with some interesting write ups from both camps, as well as ethical considerations to think about.
- Some vendors are making inroads by leveraging this tech on top of legal data and being able to provide a much more tailored (and possibly trusted) tool for legal. The lower-level work of law is beginning to be eroded away by some of these tools, basic negotiation, drafting, comprehension and extraction is now all possible and pretty accurate.
- My usual answer to the question from NQs, Trainees and Law Students, "Will I be replaced by AI?" is slowly changing from "If all the work you do can be replaced by AI, we wouldn’t have hired you in the first place…" to "If you don’t think about how you can apply technology within your work, then someone who does this effectively will.".
- Continuing themes of consolidation, partly driven by Mergers & Acquisitions (M&A) and by a receding pool of available cash within legal tech aligned with the wider economy. The bigger players are still looking to pick up start-ups, ideally at a discount, with Della joining Wolters Kluwer, Litera continuing their wider M&A agenda and Thomson Reuters abandoning building its own AI solution in favour of acquiring ThoughtTrace.
- Investors in start-ups have possibly started to put pressure on vendors and begin to expect returns, some of the main players in the market are over 7 years old now and starting to look at a plateau of growth. This trend seems likely to continue into 2023.
CONTRACT LIFECYCLE MANAGEMENT (CLM)
- 2022 saw a continuation of the CLM hype, but with more focus on process and delivery (finally). We have seen clients take a much more sensible approach, coming prepared for conversations with vendors, having a wider strategy and dedicated time and resource to delivering on CLM projects.
- We are still seeing botched implementations out there, but the industry might be beginning to learn from its mistakes, as well as clients becoming more wary about taking on projects of this size.
- There is now lots of literature and thought pieces out there about what not to do in relation to CLM, with most of it centring around "do the boring stuff first". I would echo this and add - do not underestimate the size of a CLM project; if you want to start small then that is fine but at least have a plan for budget and time as you try to go bigger, if you start small and stay small then you do not get very far.
PROCESS AND TECH TAKING OVER BIG MATTERS
- Last year was a bit of a tipping point for the impact that our team had on large projects. We have always been heavily involved in the majority of the firm's large matters, often being key to applying technology to their delivery. But last year, with the growth of our team, earlier involvement in pitching and scoping projects, and focus on templating some of the standard projects we support on, we have managed to increase our reach and impact.
- There were some key projects last year that have brought significant revenue in which we either wouldn't have won or wouldn’t have delivered as successfully without the implementation of some sort of tech solution. Ranging from large disposals, property portfolio risk assessments, LIBOR reviews, re-papering projects; we have been able to take a data driven approach and get teams to stick to an efficient process. Some of this is through more engagement with Partners and our track record, but it's also an indication that our lawyers are starting to embrace tech.
ADOPTION OF TECH IN BUSINESS AS USUAL (BAU) WORK
- As to be expected, day-to-day BAU work still moved at a slower pace compared to a big project or tech enabled matters. The challenge we have as an industry is balancing the need to innovate and get lawyers using new tools against the underlying pressure of legal service delivery. We still see growth potential for technology we have that can solve pain points for the smaller tasks that can slip under the radar.
- There are some divisions in the firm where we have seen adoption and growth far beyond our expectations. Real Estate, for example, has made huge inroads using technology for the day-to-day work they perform. This seems to be due to a mixture of technology hitting the sweet spot, commitment from some of our lawyers to use and push the technology, as well as having a dedicated Internal Efficiency team to partner with our lawyers when using a new technology.
LEGAL TECH VENDORS TARGETING 'CLIENTS'
- As mentioned in the consolidation point, the contraction in tech spend coupled with investor expectations means vendors are looking for new clients. Frustration at slow sales cycles for law firms and lower R&D spend means vendors are looking to corporates for new revenue streams. This is not a new development, but we have seen this grow in 2022.
- Law firms aren’t Software as a service (SaaS) providers; however we do understand what the client needs and some of the difficulties within legal teams at corporates when onboarding new technology. To counter this, we are focused on supporting our clients through consultancy services, both in scoping out requirements for internal tech projects and also on actual implementation. We are also looking at potential partnerships with vendors which means we can approach the market together.
WHAT'S AHEAD IN 2023?
I see 2023 as being a continuation of the past few years and maybe a bit of a consolidating year to focus on the success we have had, increasing our engagement across the firm and trying to double down on key areas ripe for change.
With the wider economic forecast looming, the market may slow down a little, but with the resources and team we have now it gives us a real opportunity to capitalise on growth areas and to continue delivering projects.
The three main themes I would pick out for this year would be:
- CLM will continue to be a big theme throughout the year. Whilst things have moved on over the past 5 years, we are now seeing more and more clients taking this seriously and more entrants to the market trying to capitalise on it as a potential investment or growth area.
- At AG we are thinking about, and looking for, partnerships that enhance our ability to deliver more for our clients. This ranges from working with vendors and software engineers, to partnering with industry bodies. Some firms are already taking these steps, but I think 2023 will bring more of these partnerships out as some parties look for security in the market and other parties look for ways of pushing innovation without increasing headcount or resource.
"AI" OR MACHINE LEARNING
- The release of GPT-4 will be huge for a range of industries, and I think we will start to see companies investing in AI integrations to enable people to access the key features of these tools; this may be a longer term vision but I can see several cases within legal where this will help but only if adopted with thorough guidance, managing expectations and heavy supervision. No AI uprising in 2023 I am afraid…
My to do list is as big as ever so hopefully lots to come from us in 2023…