App Development
Legal Services

Apps, AI, & ALSPs: Digital Progress in the Legal Industry

Molly Gardner
April 26, 2019

When it comes to sitting atop the paper throne, the legal industry is king. But is it really resisting the tidal wave of change created by digital progress, connectedness, artificial intelligence, etc.? From Insurance to Healthcare to Financial Services–even the most sensitive, regulated, and often antiquated industries are buying in. And Legal is following suit.

Leading Questions and Assumptions

Despite the fact that legal technology (LegalTech) has been a significant business for decades, there remains a locked perception around the legal industry’s ability and appetite to “get with the times.” This perception is often as a result of and justified by the end user: lawyers and law firms.

Do you know any lawyers who dedicate time to R&D? Maybe patent lawyers who used to be engineers back in their wilder days, but otherwise, probably not. For high-profile professionals who hire other professionals to bill and track their time in 6-minute increments, testing new digital tools is pretty low on the totem pole. So there are some open questions to consider:

Even if you’re familiar with eDiscovery and digital documentation processes, how well has legaltech proved (and evolved) the overall value of its products and services?

What can be expected a little further down the road in legal’s digital journey?

LegalTech: Hiding in Plain View

As the bell of the ball, LegalTech headlines New York’s annual Legal Week Show. Why? Clients. Businesses operate in a fast-paced global arena, and they expect “value-driven, efficient, cost-effective, data-reliant, predictive, proactive, interdisciplinary solutions to legal challenges,” says Mark Cohen, Distinguished Fellow at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law. He goes on to observe, “Law is morphing from a lawyer-centric guild to a customer-centric marketplace.”

Although lawyers and in-house legal professionals are often the technology users, clients (businesses) are the ultimate end user who need a solution. To better understand the workflows, growing expectations, and digital transformation of this industry, it’s helpful to take a closer look at Alternative Legal Service Providers (ALSPs).

They’re not Law Firms–They Just Work with Them

These companies (which are NOT law firms), use AIThomson Reuters notes that more than half the nation’s law firms use ALSPs for at least five functions. Most commonly:

  • Litigation and Investigation Support
  • Legal Research
  • Document Review
  • eDiscovery
  • Regulatory Risk and Compliance

In addition to offering upfront cost savings, ALSPs work to add continuous value. For example, they promote algorithms that can consistently unearth evidence human researchers miss. Once ALSPs establish a partnership, they use this data to reinforce the purpose and longevity of their services. For this reason, many large law firms create their own in-house ALSPs.

The primary goals behind this staffing are to:

  • Build customer satisfaction
  • Access specialized expertise
  • Save money

ALSPs as Disruptors

The legal industry is losing some of its traditional gatekeeping power as digital alternatives become available. The startup ShelterZoom shows us one example of this disruption with its blockchain real estate platform that brings buyers, renters, sellers and landlords together. Right now, it’s expanding services to include real estate contracts, making these entirely transparent and secure.

Trustbot, meanwhile, generates non-disclosure agreements, customizes them, and manages their use within companies. This is only the beginning, as inevitably new apps will be pushing the envelope of what constitutes legal services.

Research Leads to Strategy

Strategy is based on research. The unprecedented power AI lends to research alone is substantial. The website for Fastcase, a comprehensive legal research service provider, states, “Fastcase puts the entire American law library in the palm of your hand with free mobile apps for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone.”

Legal research products build arguments for lawyers and assist them with developing strategy. Lex Machina, for example, claims to have originated the term “legal analytics,” and they state that their app “delivers instant answers to strategic questions.” While this may seem like a reach, LexisNexis–a household legal brand–didn’t seem to think so when they acquired the company in 2017. Lex Machina now boasts a client list, including: Cisco Systems, Google, GlaxoSmithKline, HP, IBM, Microsoft Corp, and Nike.

Expanding the eDiscovery Tradition

eDiscovery is the most well-known legal + digital intersection, and it has been around for decades. However, this field is also seeing changes, especially with increasing AI integrations. A technology known as “predictive coding” uses machine learning to sort and label electronic documents compiled as evidence. Human reviewers “teach” the predictive coding AI by providing it with a “seed set” of documents, so it can identify the right materials.

Now, deep learning techniques extend the abilities of predictive coding applications. Intelligent applications increasingly teach themselves, by undergoing an observation period with human reviewers. They go beyond the original limits of predictive coding, dictating more and more of the entire e-discovery process. This includes both recognizing relevant concepts and information custodians, and providing explainable results. Explainable AI–now we’re getting somewhere.

Trusting Explainable Artificial Intelligence

The concept of “explainable artificial intelligence” is gaining prominence, as machine learning gets better at autonomous decision-making. To be successful, these decisions, and the reasons behind them, need to be clearly and properly communicated to human beings.

Transparency is a prerequisite for AI applications (also known as “algorithmic accountability”) and it is particularly pressing in legal environments. Christian Dirschl, Chief Content Architect at Wolters Kluwer Germany, states that “Explainable AI will highly support the uptake and exploitation of AI within the legal domain.”

Litigation Management

Along with research, scheduling is another key area to digitize. Legal cases revolve around filing deadlines. Products like Fastcase’s “Docket Alarm” streamline these historically manual processes by including deadline displays and alerts in their litigation management suite.

Document automation software also changes the workflow and the traditional structure of relationships with clients. Natural language processing captures key information from emails, even on mobile devices, and recover billable time. LegalTech News notes, “Manual time-entry will go the way of the fax document.” Good riddance.

Translation Conversation

Languages, both human and coded, require translation in the global practice of law. Today’s legal environment is increasing in scope, and e-discovery can still hit obstacles related to multilingual datasets. Similarly, the explosion of data means there are formats not searchable by many e-discovery tools. These formats, sometimes called “dark data,” require new, different technology to access. The AI Translate Plug-in integrates natural language processing and machine translation into Relativity, an eDiscovery translation tool that allows users to save time by performing work within the Relativity environment.

Lawyers: The New Generation

In an app-driven legal services environment, there is hyper-awareness around personal health information, personally identifiable information and payment card information (abbreviated as PHI, PII, PCI). Compliance and building privacy regulations constantly create new challenges for all businesses. Legal teams must capture and analyze massive data sets while keeping the highest level of security and data integrity.

In a recent survey by Relativity, 80% of respondents stated “lawyers’ lack of technology competence was a problem for the profession.” Over half of all state bar associations have adopted a “Duty of Technology Competence,” which includes awareness of cyber security, e-discovery tools, and AI capabilities. Northwestern’s law school is teaming up with its engineering school to shape legal technologies that will help reinforce, and not dismantle, the justice system workflow. Stanford University offers a joint law and technology degree, and law firms in general are screening new associates for tech knowledge. Success for legal institutions will be based on the ability to not only creatively adapt to the new digital environment but to also become a working part of it.