AI and the law: friend or foe? - Event summary

LegalTech in Leeds







On Wednesday 25th October, LegalTech in Leeds hosted its latest seminar, focusing on the subject of AI across legal services - ‘AI and the law: friend or foe?’.

The event was held in partnership with disruptor law firm rradar, hosted by Bruntwood SciTech at the Platform building in Leeds.

After networking over breakfast and coffee, attendees joined together to explore the popular topic of AI, drawing together a packed room with standing room only, hearing from experts across three panel discussions as well as opening and closing keynotes from Gary Gallen, CEO at rradar

To kick off the event, Julian Wells, Director at Whitecap Consulting/LegalTech in Leeds welcomed all attendees and thanked our hosts and the speakers. For those in the room that were new to LegalTech in Leeds events, Julian gave a brief overview of the initiative, recapping on the three overall aims: 

·      Help drive digital adoption across the legal sector.

·      Support tech entrepreneurs to engage with the legal sector.

·      Improve access to legal services.

He walked us through the recent activity and progress including the number of sign-ups and speakers across the events so far, stats on speaker diversity and a snapshot of current social media following. One key update from Julian was regarding the recently published LegalTech in Leeds Annual Report 2023, which he encouraged the room to download for free. 

Next up, Gary Gallen, CEO at rradar, set the scene for the event by making the point that Leeds region has a diverse legal sector which over the last 18 months, has started to come together and collaborate, stating “there’s something special brewing in this region”. 

Gary reflected upon the title of the event ‘AI and the law: friend or foe’, explaining that across the world, technology is having huge impacts on society from improving processes to saving lives and that technology is not something that should be feared, rather it is a tool to enable you to do your job better and more efficiently. 

More specifically Gary stated, “technology is a tool that enables lawyers to deliver legal services better, smarter, faster and rradar has been built from the ground-up with this in mind, with technology welded to its core.” 

Gary also touched upon the investor perspective, a key discussion theme of one of the upcoming panels, expressing the importance of being able to demonstrate your value to investors through using tech to create internal efficiencies across your business. For example, through marketing or customer service tech. 

Gary concluded his opening talk by encouraging the audience not to fear AI or technology more broadly, stating “AI is a friend, unless you ignore it, then it becomes a foe.” 

Panel 1

We then moved on to the first of three panel discussions, focused on the impact of AI on skills and career paths across the legal sector. 

Chaired by Chloe Thompson, Consultant at Whitecap Consulting/LegalTech in Leeds, speakers on the panel included Patrick Grant, Senior Tutor at University of Law, Eleanor Anderson, LPC Student at University of Law,, Julia Ingram, Solicitor at Weightmans and Michela Resta, Trainee Solicitor at Weightmans.

Chloe kicked off the discussion by asking Patrick what changes he had seen across the profession and how the university is preparing lawyers for the future. 

Patrick answered with, “The University of Law first started looking at tech in 2017, when the focus was on things like deep learning and NLP. Technology can help lawyers to do things differently, and to be innovators, but it also opens up broader opportunities in the legal sector than being a lawyer.” 

Paddy said, “the legal sector is very old, and it’s important that it modernises and is able to engage with and appeal to young people today. It’s not about training people on specific technology, it’s about understanding the role technology can play in legal processes, and the impact this can have.” With regards to AI, Paddy explained that the university aims to give students enough knowledge of the underlying processes and technology to be confident in discussing and using these tools.

Chloe asked Ellie for her perspective having studied AI as part of her course. Ellie said that had she not had the opportunity to study AI and innovation, she didn’t think she would have known what to expect when entering into practice, stating, “I feel very positive about AI coming into the legal sector.” 

Ellie is currently looking at training contracts and is actively looking for firms that are embracing technology, stating, “it’s definitely something that students are more aware of”.

Chloe then asked Michela for her thoughts on the topic to which she replied, “I hadn’t experienced AI before joining the innovation team at Weightmans, and it wasn’t part of my studies. At Weightmans, there is a big focus on document automation and other tech tools.” 

She highlighted that getting senior buy-in is important and talked about some of the specific initiatives in place at Weightmans including a chatbot. Michela reflected that many law firms now have an innovation seat for trainee lawyers, and that this seat is very desirable, which would not have been the case a few years ago.

Julia added to this by talking about the different perspectives of people within Weightmans, highlighting that there is a generational gap and more senior colleagues are more keen to understand the impact this could have on the profession, given the risks at play. She also felt that there is a piece to do around upskilling within law firms but that it needs to apply to the whole firm, not just specific departments.

The role of technology in law firms has many angles, but Paddy called out customer service as a key component. Law firms needs to ask themselves how they should best deal with the clients of the 21st century and consider the impact of this on their billing models. For example, if letters are increasingly AI-driven, then it’s harder to justify billing on a time-used basis. Paddy said that within legal education, it is important to find the right balance between using technology to make things easier and ensuring that the lawyers of the future also experience an appropriate amount of challenge and problem solving during their studies.

Panel 2

After a short coffee break, we reconvened for our second panel of the day, focused on innovation and AI in the legal sector. Chaired by Gary, panellists included Ian Jones, Managing Partner and Chloe Whalley, Marketing Consultant at Backhouse Jones, Alan Buckley, Lead Solution Engineer at Salesforce and Tom Clark, Chief Technology Officer at The Ardonagh Group

Gary started the panel by asking Alan how salesforce demystifies tech and AI across its client base, particularly in the legal sector. Alan replied with, “we’ve been using AI for the last 7 years and for us, the most important thing is trust. Trust is absolutely key given the associated risks of AI and at Salesforce, we have to live and breathe this value. For the legal sector specifically, data has to be secure and so that trust layer is really important. You have to make sure that all data is secure, so we have a prompt defence and zero-retention policy on the data that comes back in. We also make sure we have human intervention integrated into the process so that everything is monitored and controlled. This allows us to use AI with a low amount of risk.”

Gary turned to Tom to expand upon the topic of data protection and AI. Tom explained that any data that is inputted into publicly available AI tools such as Chat GPT is retained within it and therefore, not secure. Tom stated that Language Learning Models (LLMs) need data and information in order to learn, “the more information and data you give it, the better it can learn” but explained that building your own internal LLM which hosts private data is much more secure. Tom finished by talking about the importance of building in safety and monitoring to any AI project saying, “it is a fundamental part to any AI pilot”. 

Gary then asked Ian for his perspective on the role that technology plays in running, designing and building a successful law firm. Ian stated, “the legal profession has always been held to a higher account and so there’s a responsibility to keep ourselves ahead of tech. I see AI simply as a tool to help us do our jobs better. It doesn’t have the compassion or empathy that lawyers have, and it is never going to replace us, it will just elevate the legal services we are able to deliver.” 

Chloe joined the discussion, giving her thoughts on how receptive lawyers are to tech. Chloe stated, “over the 10-years I’ve been working in a law firm, I’ve seen major changes. We used to host in-person events which involved manually sending out invites, now we use technology to do all of that for us. Tech has also had a huge impact on training which has had mixed reviews across the firm, some lawyers are really scared of technology. We’ve also had to do a lot of training for our client-base on tech, for example, we host webinars twice a month and we’ve had to teach people how to access the webinars.”  

Gary concluded the discussion with asking for closing thoughts from the panel: 

“The human intervention part is so important when talking about AI, it’s one of the guardrails that needs to be in place until we learn more about its capabilities.” 

“The democratisation of AI will be key for the smaller law firms being able to adopt it. Large law firms are all investing a lot of money into it because they can see its future value, but we don’t want SMEs to get left behind.” 

“As lawyers our job is to push the boundaries.” 

Fireside Chat

In the final session of the day, Gary hosted a fireside chat with Alexandra Fogal, Partner at EY and Head of EY Private in the North which has strong engagement with the investor community. EY is active in the legal sector as a service provider, supporting businesses of all shapes and sizes, to support growth and is very active in the M&A space with strong engagement with the investor community across the North and UK. EY is also a technology business launching last month as well as having EY Law, which has over 3,500 legal professionals in over 90 countries.

EY’s interest in the legal sector revolves around technology, processes and data. Investors look to see these things being leveraged, and they are particularly interested in how progress can be tracked against KPIs using data. Alex reflected on rradar’s journey as a strong case study, as an organisation that saw a gap in the market and used an innovative technology-led approach to successfully exploit it.

Investors are very interested in AI, but they are also wary of it and how they can track its impact on a business or market, particularly in terms of whether AI will be a one-off sale or a source of recurring revenue. Gary commented that applying technology to repeatable services that are linked to recurring revenue is what firms should be aiming to do and this is where investors will be very interested. Gary also pointed out that investors do not consider revenue to be recurring unless it is bound by a contract.

It's challenging to sum up an event that has covered so much ground, but it is clear that AI will change the skills and careers within the legal sector and will drive down the cost of delivering legal services. These developments will present the sector with challenges in the way it has traditionally operated, particularly in terms of career paths and the pricing of legal services. The continued growth of technology-driven organisations in the legal sector will be attractive to investors, and this creates an opportunity for entrepreneurs seeking to build businesses in this market.

Julian finished by thanking the LegalTech in Leeds sponsors and partners for their continued support: Addleshaw GoddardBruntwood SciTech,  Barclays Eagle LabsBarrister LinkCalls9Cyber Security Partners (CSP)DAC BeachcroftFinTech NorthFounders LawJungle ITKatchr,  Leeds City CouncilLeeds City Region Enterprise PartnershipLeeds Law SocietyLawtechUKLeeds Trinity UniversityrradarPage White FarrerPEXASYKEThe University of LawTocaUniversity of LeedsWalker MorrisWhitecap ConsultingYorkshire Legal (If you’re interested in getting involved in LegalTech in Leeds or becoming a partner or sponsor, please get in touch!)

Our next event is on 9th November, when we’ll be focusing on a problem-first approach to using technology in the legal sector, hosted in partnership with DAC Beachcroft - Sign-up here.