I’m a champion of using AI in the right context and more than happy to tell companies when they’re barking up the wrong tree and using AI as a sledgehammer to crack a nut, that it’s a waste of their time and money.
While others might exploit a natural fear of being left behind, we give both an independent and honest approach to your firm’s needs, cutting through the noise and hype and telling you straight whether you should be using AI or not!
And for small-to-mid-sized law firms, the hype around AI can feel overwhelming – it’s a big investment and it will push people out of their comfort zones. At the same time, AI vendors take a solution-centric approach, which can make navigating the sales cycle a minefield if you have multiple challenges you’re being told can be addressed with AI. Plus, there’s no shortage of concern over the impact of AI on lawyers and on ways of working, which just adds another a dimension of risk.
All of this can make it difficult to know where to start with AI so here are my recommendations and lessons learnt working with law firms on their AI strategies.
The questions I’m most often asked when it comes to using AI in a law firm are these:
- Can AI give our firm a competitive edge?
- Can AI improve our client experience?
- Is it possible to engage employees to be empowered by AI, rather than afraid of it
- Can we actually adopt AI and get a Return on Investment
And the answer to all 4 is of course YES, if you approach it in the right way. And here are my recommended four-steps to get this right:
1) Create a clear vision
I always warn clients not to fall into the trap of “AI-for-the-sake-of-AI”. Just because you’re using AI, doesn’t guarantee competitive advantage, it doesn’t even guarantee that the AI will add any value or generate a ROI and people often get carried away with the excitement of working with this new technology and struggle to take a step back to consider what this means for the business.
So in my experience, the best way to counter this is to define a clear vision for the future. Essentially you need to define your NorthStar – what do you want your firm to be known for in 5-10 years’ time?
And it’s crucial that the leadership team are aligned on this vision for the future, there needs to be a clarity of purpose. And this NorthStar should help drive all decision making. If you’ve got five AI vendors pitching you an AI powered document search tool, then you always come back to this NorthStar to question whether this technology will help you achieve it. If it doesn’t, then it won’t give you a competitive edge, it won’t support your long-term ambitions.
2) Refine your technical landscape
Typically law firms have a complex tech ecosystem of old and new systems, which may or may not talk to each other, often with siloed data sets and time-consuming manual workarounds that help navigate this disjointed landscape.
The easiest way to achieve clarity on what to do is to determine what your technical design principles should be. Here are some examples that I co-created with one of our legal clients:
- Less is more – simplification of the tech estate to create a streamlined and manageable tech stack
- Maximise core systems. Always start with core system functions before exploring additional systems needed.
- Optimise Microsoft as a core system with expansive capabilities to streamline the tech stack and meet user requirements
- Single source of data – having a single source of data will enable a 360 view of clients and employees. It will encourage trust with systems, ensure data validity and becomes a core foundation as you explore the application of AI.
3) Get your employee engagement strategy right
It may sound obvious but it’s often overlooked. Your employees will be instrumental in helping you achieve your vision. It’s crucial you engage them with any technical transformation but even more so if it’s AI. We all know there’s some fear around AI and the role it will have in the workplace and the best way to tackle this is head on.
Key points to include in your engagement strategy:
- Definition of AI – there is so much hype around AI that it can be difficult for employees to understand what it actually is and what it means for them – which is that for the vast majority of AI they won’t even know it’s there and it will simply be working in the background to streamline operations and provide key insights.
- Your intentions for using AI – this is your opportunity to reassure them that you aren’t creating the next Robo Lawyer and to share what’s in it for them. For example, use this as an opportunity to emphasise that you’ll be using AI to augment their roles, removing the daily frustrations and bottlenecks they encounter so that they can focus on doing the skilled, client-facing work they enjoy the most.
- Your AI principles. Which principles will you adopt and adhere to when designing, evaluating and deploying AI? There are multiple frameworks out there that you can look to for inspiration, but core principles tend to be around:
- Transparency – being clear when and how you’re using AI, how it works and how you’ll measure success
- Safety – developing and deploying AI with the right safeguards, risk assessments and contingency plan in place in case something does go wrong
- Contestability – where an algorithm makes a recommendation or impacts an employee, there should be a clear and accessible process in place for that employee to contest or override the result, and for that learning to be captured
- Your Communication Plans. So often we fall at the last hurdle, so plan what and often you’ll be sharing with employees, from relevant materials about use of AI in the sector, to the outcomes of POCs with AI software, to the availability of training so they can be upskilled to use Ai systems themselves.
4) Understand and improve your user journeys – that means customers AND employees
Start by mapping out the user journeys, where they interconnect and pinpointing the pain points for your clients and employees – where are there time consuming, manual tasks that cause friction in the journey that impacts employee and client sentiment? Understand your client and employee experience so you can identify opportunities for improvement.
Then you can look at how best to address process improvement, or take an innovative approach with technology and explore what can be done with AI. For example, you might discover that a client pain point is response times to basic email requests but also that Partners are overwhelmed with those basic email requests and prioritise billable work. This is a manual task that the partner doesn’t want to be doing, so it may be that triaging and automating the response with the correct attachments would resolve this pain point for both users.
By taking these four 4 steps you are setting up parameters to be successful with AI. This will ensure that you aren’t going to implement an AI solution unless:
- It will support or accelerate you towards your NorthStar vision
- You have a streamlined and optimised technical ecosystem in place, including a single source of sanitised data to power AI solutions
- It adheres to your AI principles within your employee engagement plan
- It addresses a known pain point in the user experience for employees and/or clients.
Adopting this approach, will give you a competitive edge in the market from using AI to accelerate towards your NorthStar, you will improve your employee and client experience, you will engage your employees to be empowered by AI, rather than afraid of it, you will see a ROI on your investment in AI because it will be delivering long-term value.
After all, AI is just a tool. It’s not a silver bullet but when designed, embedded and utilised in the right way, then it can supercharge the ambitions of your firm.