LONDON — The British Legal Technology Forum 2017, Europe’s largest event focused on legal technology, was held recently at the exquisite Old Billingsgate along the Thames River. The event showcased 55 speakers on five stages, with more than 1,400 in attendance. Event organizers use a TED Talk-style of shorter presentations, each between 15 and 45 minutes, held in rapid succession to keep the audience engaged. It was refreshingly unlike any of the major legal tech events held in the U.S.
None other than the world renowned legal futurist and author, Richard Susskind served as the master of ceremonies for the event on the main stage. (I had the good fortunate to speak on a panel, Blockchain in the Legal Sector – Taking the Smart Approach, which I will write about in a future post.)
Current State of Legal Technology
With standing room only, Prof. Susskind spoke about where he sees the legal industry today. In what may have surprising for some to hear, he described the space as “thriving”. He went on to state: “It may even be booming”. In almost a giddy state, he surmised that, “There’s a level of engagement, a level of activity, that we’ve never seen before.” His observations set the tenor for the day.
Susskind spent his initial comments in his address focused on what turned out to be the dominate theme at the event, Artificial Intelligence. The wide-spectrum, legal-focused audience leaned in when he stated that, “People are probably over-estimating what AI can do in the near term, but unfortunately [they] are underestimating what its impact is going to be long term in the industry.”
With all of the hullabaloo from larger vendors on AI, two young law students from Cambridge University made the biggest splash — and also caught fire over social media. Rebecca Agliolo, Commercial Director, and Nadia Abdul, Head of Legal Research, of LawBot, created the “chatbot” — an AI software program that assists you in determining whether you have been a victim of a crime. Using the application, the user explains in plain English what happened to them. The bot then begins to ask questions to help narrow down the possible offenses. It the first iteration it covers most of the criminal offenses in England. In version 2.0, the company will likely use the Facebook Bot platform so that the LawBot can conclude if a crime occurred. Further out there are thoughts of moving beyond the UK and into other jurisdictions. Once this augmented intelligence is provided to the user, they can choose to report it as a crime if it is deemed as such.
“There’s a level of engagement, a level of activity, that we’ve never seen before.”
Speaking of augmented intelligence, there were numerous examples from various presenters talking about the greater efficiencies that are being wrought through AI. Clearly the phraseology “augmented intelligence” has been chosen carefully by vendors and speakers alike to not create discomfort for the general audience. In one clear example of automation that struck the audience, Emily Foges, CEO of Luminance, spoke about the speed of their due diligence software, stating that their contract clause detection software can spot anomalies far better than most associates. In reviewing tens of thousands of 400-page contracts, the typical human will miss the distinction between the terms “limited” verses “unlimited.” Which begs the question, why are law firms still hiring top notch talent out of school to review documents when humans are no longer really needed for these exercises?
Clearly the British Legal Technology Forum 2017 was a great success based on the heavy attendance, as well as the level of participation and engagement. Certainly having Richard Susskind act as emcee helped people understand the impact and importance that technology is having on the legal industry and how topical this discussion has become for the legal industry.