By Stephen Turner, founder – Lawyers of Tomorrow
This is the second part in a five-part series looking at the question, “Will lawyers be replaced by AI?”
In this part, I look at how new technologies already being developed and deployed by Innovators and Early Adopters in the legal sector will eventually lead to a dramatic and rapid adoption of similar technologies by the majority of the legal market. I’ll also look in a little more detail at the big question: how long will it be before the new technology sweeps through the majority of the market and how quickly will things change when this happens?
“The Future Has Arrived — It’s Just Not Evenly Distributed Yet”
The above is a quote from William Gibson, author of the 1994 seminal cyberpunk novel, Neuromancer, and it’s a quote that Chrissie Lightfoot used in her ground-breaking book, The Naked Lawyer, published in November 2010, which sets out a blueprint for all lawyers to become ‘entrepreneurial’ in the way they approach the business of law. In the follow up, Tomorrow’s Naked Lawyer, published in November 2014, Chrissie urges the legal profession to prepare for and to embrace the huge changes that will come once the technological revolution in the legal sector really picks up pace.
Chrissie recently told Lawyers of Tomorrow:
“AI and robot automation technologies are available right now that could do 80-90% of a lawyer’s current role today. Fact. So why aren’t lawyers and law firms doing something about it? Why aren’t law firms and the Law Society preparing junior lawyers better?”
Suspicion, disbelief and lack of understanding
Unfortunately, many lawyers remain unaware of the recent developments in technology and have no understanding of what is going to happen once the technological advances currently in development have been fully adopted by the legal sector. I’ve spoken to a number of practising lawyers and law lecturers over the last month and all were unaware of the advances in technology now being made. When I explained the current state of the art in technology (e.g. capabilities of AI self-learning platforms, natural language processing, the capacity to search vast quantities of unstructured data, expert systems etc) and the likely advances that will be made in the next five to ten years (e.g. reasoning and judgment capability) I received – without exception – surprised looks. A couple thought my view was interesting but doubted that technology had moved on as far as I suggested and doubted my account of the likely future capabilities.
So how do we explain the widespread suspicion, lack of awareness and relatively low adoption rates? How can it be that commentators such as Chrissie Lightfoot and Professor Richard Susskind are giving clear and detailed warnings in well-researched books and articles about preparation for the changes to come and yet the profession as a whole appears to have its collective head in the sand?
Well, my explanation is that this is how the majority always behave on encountering a new technology. What we are seeing is entirely predictable and can be understood via the theory of Diffusion of Innovations, which explains why some of us accept new technology whilst the majority initially resist it. The theory can also help us understand when the technological changes might sweep through the legal market and how quickly things will happen when they do.
Diffusion of Innovations and the Tipping Point
The theory of Diffusion of Innovations was introduced by Everett M. Rogers in his 1962 classic work ‘Diffusion of Innovations’. To aid our discussion of the theory, I created a graphic which shows that, when considering our acceptance and adoption of a new technology, each of us can be categorized into one of five groups.
The theory states that of our populations, the first 2.5% are Innovators, the next 13.5% Early Adopters, the next 34% Early Majority, followed by 34% Late Majority. This leaves the final 16% Laggards – or as I like to think of them, dinosaurs. As Simon Sinek says of the Laggards in his glorious Ted Talk: How great leaders inspire action: “The only reason these people use touch-tone phones is because you cannot buy rotary phones anymore”.
What the theory of diffusion of innovations says is that if you wish to have mass-market acceptance of a new technology you must reach somewhere between 15%-18% market penetration, known as ‘crossing the chasm’. Once you cross the chasm, you have reached the ‘tipping point’ – the point when the market makes a fundamental shift towards adoption by the majority of the technology. At the tipping point, those who have already adopted the technology – the risk taking Innovators and the visionary, trend-setting Early Adopters – are seen by the Early Majority as a sufficiently large body of social proof to convince the Early Majority that the new technology is proven, reliable and will deliver worthwhile enhancements and should therefore be embraced.
And once you hit the tipping point, to quote Ferris Bueller:
“Life moves fast”
Whilst the process of adoption by the Innovators and the Early Adopters can take quite a while, what happens next always happens very quickly relative to what has gone before.
On reaching the tipping point, the pace of adoption – known as the ‘S Curve’ due to the shape it forms on a graph (see above) – becomes very fast compared to the pace of adoption before the tipping point. At the tipping point, the Early Majority swarm into the market for the new technology, convinced that the Early Adopters where right all along and have now shown the market the way.
The Late Majority then follow, playing catch up, as usual – forced by circumstance into taking action. Finally, the process of adoption will slow again as we get to the tail end of the Late Majority and the Laggards.
For a good example of how rapidly a new technology can be accepted, consider the adoption of the Internet in the 1990s – which spread more rapidly than any other innovation in human history. Another good example is the rapid adoption of social media.
So where are we on the adoption curve?
It would appear that we are in the early stages of the S curve, where the pace of adoption is slow. During this period, the Innovators, appreciating the technology for its own sake, embrace risk and are motivated to be agents of change. Although the innovators are few in number, they inspire the Early Adopters, who are visionaries, intent on altering the competitive rules of their industry and attracted by the potential for considerable reward. This is where we are now.
In part three of this series, I’ll look in detail at those firms that have already adopted some form of AI technology, including natural language processing, cognitive computing and automated expert systems.
For now, I’ll note that there is a distinguished list of Innovators and Early Adopters of the new technology in the legal and accountancy sectors, including: Riverview Law, Denton’s/NextLaw Labs, Pinsent Masons, Berwin Leighton Paisner, Linklaters, Taylor Wessing, Norton Rose Fulbright, DLA Piper, Clifford Chance, Baker McKenzie, KPMG, Deloitte, Ernst & Young and PwC. Google each of them along with the suffix “and AI” and you’ll find a press release or media piece complete with buoyant quotes about how great the firm is feeling about embracing the possibilities presented by the new technology.
Early Adopters love being first, breaking new ground and then telling everyone about it – and as well they should, this is exciting stuff. We are in the run up to the tipping point and the big question is: when will we get there?
How long until the tipping point?
The short answer is that no one knows for sure. Whilst the pace of adoption always moves fast after the tipping point, the build up to the tipping point can vary in length depending on the characteristics of the innovation and the market sector itself – the process can take years or it can take months.
In February 2016, Mitratech published a comprehensive survey of the US legal technology landscape in order to understand the trends impacting the legal technology landscape, the size of the legal technology market, and the growth rates across each segment of that market. The survey canvassed 353 law firms and legal department decision makers in order to understand how much law departments and law firms spend on technology. The figure Mitratech reported for the total technology spend was $3bn and growing.
The survey concluded:
“The legal technology market is burgeoning and just at the tip of its growth over the next five years.”
“Adoption of various legal technology solutions is still minimal, especially in smaller and mid-sized legal departments and law firms. “
In terms of adoption of legal technology, the U.S. market is widely acknowledged to be ahead of the UK market, so the above findings indicate that the position in the UK is going to be less advanced in terms of adoption rates.
A February 2016 study by Deloitte: ‘Developing Legal Talent, Stepping into the future law firm’ identifies 2020 as a likely ‘tipping point’:
“when individual firms that do not prepare for change are no longer sustainable. If past trends continue, this tipping point risk for businesses could occur around 2020. However, this depends on how law firms respond to the challenges outlined, both collectively and individually”.
The study predicts a profound transformation due to:
“the quickening pace of technological developments, shifts in workforce demographics and the need to offer clients more value for money.”
Professor Richard Susskind said in April 2016 that:
“‘We as a profession have about five years to reinvent ourselves to move from being world-class legal advisers to world-class legal technologists.’
However, might the tipping point come even earlier? Chrissie Lightfoot wrote very recently:
“I predict we will experience a more measured approach and gradual warming to the evolution of AI in the legal world throughout 2016, which will then lead to a tsunami deployment within a couple of years; similar to the social media warming but on synthetic, exponential steroids.”
…and all the technology needed to facilitate such a massive deployment is already available:
“Today, in 2016, smart cognitive computing and artificial intelligence technologies exist that are available to pervade every aspect of fee earning and business processes within a law firm; including marketing, business development and customer relationship management.”
All that remains, therefore, is for the market to adopt the technology. So far this process has moved slowly. As Chrissie says:
“It still remains a huge challenge for the vast majority due to the same suspicions and cautious approach that lawyers and law firms hold towards anything that may promulgate change or cause major disruption – or they simply do not understand”.
Time to make plans
Lawyers are trained to identify and assess risk. The real risk here is in not taking action until it is too late. Post tipping point, when events will move very quickly, if firms are left playing catch up at this stage then they risk being edged out of business by firms way ahead of them in terms of planning and execution. Therefore, all firms and all lawyers should take action now to ensure that when the big wave of tech-change comes they are surfing on top of it and not being pummeled into the seabed under it.
All lawyers and law students need, as a minimum, to educate themselves as to the capabilities of the new technology and then to enter into strategic planning. What roll will I perform in the new legal landscape and what skills will I need in this roll? If I do not have these skills now, how will I acquire them?
In part 4 of this series, I’ll look at the roll of the future lawyer and assess the skill sets they will need.
Training today for the Lawyer of Tomorrow
I set up Lawyers of Tomorrow in order to focus beyond the purely technical legal skills that students learn at university and law school and towards the developing the soft skills that will be essential to all young lawyers, towards building their commercial awareness, their business relationships and a drive to innovate in their legal practice – including embracing the developments in legal-tech and understanding how to harness these technologies to their advantage.
Will Artificial Intelligence Replace Lawyers? Part 3 – Legal Technology Overview A look at legal technology in overview, identifying recent technological innovations and the drivers behind them.