By: 22 April 2024
AI dominates discourse at LegalTech conference

The third annual LegalTech in Leeds conference, held on 16 April at the University of Leeds by Whitecap Consulting, was a fantastic showcase of the merging digital and legal sectors in the north.

The day consisted of keynote talks and panel discussions with some of the finest that the UK LegalTech sector has to offer. Speakers included Beth Fellner, director of Legal Geek, Gary Gallen, CEO of rradar and Patrick Grant, senior lecturer and project director at the University of Law, to name a few.

 

We can’t get away from AI

As you might imagine from a LegalTech event, AI was the topic on everyone’s mind. As Julian Wells, director of Whitecap Consulting, observed; “AI comes up at every event. There’s an increased level of interest in AI developing.”

Not only is the interest building, but the use of AI is snowballing, as Hilary Smyth-Allen, executive director of SuperTech WM, commented. However, “a lot of the AI that we’re seeing is not actually AI, it’s just software”, she went on, “off the back of the AI ‘hype’ there’s going to be an explosion of startups who have actual legally trained AI.” This will become increasingly important in the future as AI begins to implement itself into the everyday workings of law firms.

Katie Atkinson, panel member of LawTech UK, stated in a panel titled ‘Game changers in legal services’, that whilst people can “see AI opportunities and are jumping on it, regulation takes a long while to catch up.”

It is important that law firms assess their internal policies about AI, Katie goes on: “AI was being used a long time before it was labelled as such. AI hit the headlines and became a phenomenon. There were questions of if AI was just hype, if it was going to pass us by. We’re long past that now.”

It seems that now there is a shifted focus from how AI can be implemented in law firms, to how to regulate the use of AI. Large, established firms are grappling with how far the technology should be allowed to go, whilst startups are focusing on how to leverage the technology to benefit them.

 

Is the lawyer going to be replaced by a machine?

So, with AI seemingly permanently embedded into the legal infrastructure, what comes next? A question which was bandied around during almost every mention of AI was: is there a risk of the lawyer being replaced by a machine? The consensus (thankfully), was no.

During a conversation with Thea Hewison-Robson, a trainee solicitor with Walker Morris, she addressed the importance of the human element of law. Whilst AI is taking over in a certain sense, it cannot take away from the necessity of empathy and human decisiveness in a legal career.

During the ‘Game changers’ panel, Yorkshire Legal asked the panelists how they felt that AI was going to impact the new cohort of young professionals entering the workforce, specifically if it was going to hinder their ability to learn and progress.

David Nash, chief product officer at Dye & Durham, bluntly assured that “The new generation will not put up with the crap that current seniors do. They will push LegalTech forward.” David specifically referred to the fact that the younger generation will not abide by tech that does not work for them and will leverage the tech that makes their lives easier, leading to a more efficient workforce.

 

Technology is our friend

Technology, specifically AI, was described by Gary Gallen as the “faster pen” and later, by James Whitaker, senior manager of innovation and legal technology at Addleshaw Goddard, as a “robotic arm”.

These descriptions suggest a focus on using technology to aid the processes of lawyers, not take them away. It insinuates, as Gary Gallen went on to explain, that “lawyers want to practice the law, not learn how to code.” Suggesting that AI may be able to help lawyers remove some of the many hats they are expected to wear, paving the way for a more streamlined and less stressful legal industry.

 

How will this affect clients?

However, it’s not just the lawyers that are affected by LegalTech. There is also a significant focus on clients. Dr Jessica Guth, deputy head of law at Leeds Trinity University, argued that LegalTech and EduTech are guilty of running away with themselves. She suggests rather than implementing new technologies out of excitement, we should instead be putting the client first and assessing which technologies might benefit them.

Looking back to the importance of human relationships, Adam Roney, CEO and founder of Calls9, examined the idea that with more technology at our fingertips, clients are significantly more self-serving than they were twenty years ago. He argues, now that knowledge is so accessible, the lawyers’ value comes from their relationships. The client is now able to find out ‘how’ or ‘why’ using their own tools, meaning that lawyers are left with no choice but to emphasise their value through their personal relationships, which can only be a positive thing.

 

 

The LegalTech in Leeds conference showcased how technology is changing the legal space. Experts, unsurprisingly, dissected AI, but also emphasised the importance of maintaining the human side of law. The overriding opinion was that technology can help lawyers, not replace them. And it’s not just about lawyers—it’s also about making things better for clients. So, while tech is undeniably important, it’s all about using it to make processes work better for the people in the industry.

 

Image: Yorkshire Legal.
Emma Cockings
Emma is the content editor for Yorkshire Legal News. Emma is an experienced writer with a background in client-centric personal injury law for a major firm. She has attended and reported on numerous high-profile legal events in Yorkshire.