By LE Desk

April 2: Technology and fresh thinking—boosted by the coronavirus—are finally bringing reform to law firms across the world. 

“Changes you saw in HR 10 years ago, and finance seven years ago, are finally getting to the general counsel’s office,” says Cornelius Grossmann, Berlin-based global law leader at EY. “The pandemic is truly an accelerator,” he said, as reported by Global Finance.

The first fruits of change already look abundant and global. A few examples:

US freight railway Norfolk Southern squeezed $2 million out of its annual legal budget, mostly through a more scientific approach to outside law-firm costs. “We are really focused on using data analytics for bill review and pushing for flat-fee arrangements,” says April Savoy, head of legal operations.

Kennedys Law, a UK-based firm specializing in insurance, has cut its clients’ lawsuits 50% by routing claims through a self-designed automated system, KLAiM, rather than argumentative human attorneys. “We’ve seen litigation halved because we are using software instead of lawyers,” partner Richard West says, as reported by Global Finance.

Indian law firm Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas recently graduated the first class of startups from its legal-tech incubator. One of the promising projects: an artificial intelligence (AI) system that calculates a suit’s odds of success based on the presiding judge’s past decisions. “AI-based lawyering is the revolution yet to come,” says Cyril Shroff, the firm’s managing partner.

Think of it this way, says Wendy Butler Curtis, chief innovation officer at the Orrick firm in Washington: Law has been stuck in the rough equivalent of a bank-teller paradigm. Clients reflexively “call the lawyer” for anything entailing a signature. It’s now moving, laboriously, to an ATM equivalent. Basic services, from updating contracts to discovery interrogatories, will increasingly be automated. 

These changes in process will change the profession for the better, she argues. Attorneys will check fewer boxes and be less segregated from the businesses they serve. They will be more integrated into C-suite strategy on M&A, technology adoption, government relations and other exciting matters. “We’re entering the age of the T-shaped lawyer, who has technical and business expertise and practices at the top of their license,” Curtis proclaims.

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