Law Firm of the Future – The Trinity of Forces: Infinite Processing Power, Memory, and Machine Learning

By Joseph Raczynski

In ten years, it is predicted that 40% of the Fortune 500 companies will no longer exist1. This forecast originally cited in Fast Company is from a Babson Olin School of Business study.  This notion is nearly incomprehensible, but may have a significant impact on the legal business.

Why is this happening now, and what impact might it have on the law firm?

We are at an extraordinary moment in time with the evolution of technology on three fronts.  The trinity of forces are colliding at once, propelling change with everything around us.

Gordon Moore, an Intel chip scientist, formulated a well renowned technical law.  Moore’s Law states that roughly every 18 to 24 months, the processing power of computers doubles. That is, the ability for a computer to perform calculations is increasing exponentially.  For some perspective, if you were to buy a $1,000 computer in the year 2000, it would have had the processing power of an insect brain. Buy a new computer in 2010 and you would have the processing power of a mouse brain.  Fast-forward to 2024 and the expectation is that a new computer will be as powerful as the human brain.  In 2045, a $1,000 computer purchased from Amazon.com will process as fast as all of humankind.  The implications of this are staggering.

In the second of the three forces, we couple what amounts to unlimited processing power with the advances to storage and memory for computers. In 1965, IBM built a computer with 5MB of storage.  It was as big as a bedroom and cost $120,000. In 2004, a memory chip the size of a fingernail cost $99 and held 128 MB.  Ten years later, we can purchase a 128 GB chip for $99.  This is the hockey stick picture of momentum with exponential growth accelerating rapidly up the graph for both processing power and memory.

The third and last piece of this triumvirate of significant change is programming and algorithms.  We are at a state where computers are beginning to teach themselves.  Machine learning is becoming an increasingly important part of many businesses.  Through an algorithm, a programmer builds a foundation from which the program can learn and continue to adapt and grow.  There are a plethora of examples that are starting to take hold.  IBM Watson has the most buzz right now with its cognitive computing platform.  Uber uses machine learning to price rides, location drop-offs and pickups. Amazon can couple complementary products with your purchase.  In the legal space, WestSearch®, the fundamental algorithm behind WestlawNext®, learns as people conduct research.  It surfaces up the most pertinent content and good law for the researcher.  Other legal examples include e-Discovery where many products utilize predictive analytics to help reduce the number of eyes necessary to review documents.

The blending of these three forces – processing power, memory, and algorithms – is a mixture for infinite growth and transformation at law firms.  The opportunities are immense.  Here are some possible changes afoot as the trifecta take hold over the next 10 years.

  • As predicted that 40% of the Fortune 500 companies will no longer exist because of these forces, law firms will likely mirror this as some who do not adapt and embrace these technologies will struggle to survive
  • In the next 10 years, because of unlimited storage and processing power, most document review will be completely automated and computerized.  No longer will the first years or contract attorneys be reviewing documents for 18 hours a day
  • Workflow solutions will reign over the next five years, but beyond that the trifecta of forces mentioned will push these solutions into complete automation so that drafting documents will be computer generated.  This is actually happening now with 20 percent of Web news articles written by computer
  • We are in an interstitial period with the Cloud.  Currently, security frightens many firms from taking advantage of its scale and low cost.  In the coming years, most firms will move everything they can to some type of Cloud, including private or hybrid
  • Everything will be outsourced at the firm.  Phone systems, HR systems, back office, administrative and technical support, where the portal will be hosted, office tools like Microsoft® Office, and all things technical will likely be moved away from the firm and managed by vendor experts.  This will greatly reduce costs for the firm as they tap into the three forces
  • As a result of the above, most attorneys will work remotely, and law firm office space will be dramatically smaller
  • Big firms will get bigger and the medium may get smaller.  The mediums who adapt will find their niche as a regional player, local generalist, boutique, or litigation specialist
  • The impact on speed and adaptability on new attorneys will begin in law school.  Some schools have already begun a two-year program with the third focused on technology, lawyer tools, and recalibrating how the attorney will work in the new firm

The law firm of 10 years from now will certainly be different from what we have today.  In this extraordinary time, with the evolution of technology and trinity of forces, firms will have to adapt rapidly.  This fundamental shift will be an opportunity for the firm to become more efficient, create new opportunity, and ultimately serve their clients better.

1 John M. Olin School of Business study

ILTACON – “Watson, I Need You!” Augmented Intelligence for Legal

By Joseph Raczynski

If you were to imagine the researching aspect of a law firm of the future, what would that look like? Kyla Moran from the IBM Watson Group led a discussion down the path of what we could expect. In what seemed like a shock to many in the room, Moran described an office similar to today, with one difference: Watson will work in tandem with lawyers, listening to queries and providing natural language feedback with an enhanced ability to understand the tone of the question or conversation. Moran termed this augmented knowledge or intelligence, noting this service will be your personal savant, ever-ready to assist with a wealth of knowledge.

What started as a million dollar investment, IBM Watson now has the ability to process 700 million pages of data in one second. As the system continues to develop, it is likely that in the future many, if not all decisions, will be influenced by cognitive computing.

Moran also spoke about the pivotal moment that shifted the cognitive computing industry. The game show Jeopardy thrust IBM onto center stage with the computer beating the best two players of all time. Moran said that the company learned some valuable lessons from that experience. First was the importance of memory. Watson had a treasure trove of information and metadata, but new in this sphere was the ability to enhance and understand contextual information. Watson could interpret Jeopardy’s tricky language like, “Chicks Can Dig Me,” a category about female archaeologist on the show. Lastly, Watson could see more than black or white, but rather an array of a thousand shades of gray. This important nuance allows the system to rank possible answers rather than a single answer. Ultimately these learnings have allowed augmented intelligence to now aid in human decision making.

While Watson has made much hay outside of legal market, medical, financial and now cooking; where does Moran see it helping law firms?

Moran said that one-third of an associate’s time is typically spent on research with 52 percent of associates conducting a free web search as the first step in their research process. She insinuated that this is one huge area that she expects augmented intelligence assisting. She also mentioned that this will accelerate the vacuums of law where 80 percent of Americans who need legal services are unable to acquire or afford it, while large numbers of lawyers are unable to find clients. This mixture is primed for the use of augmented intelligence to assist.

While the current state of legal adoption of IBM Watson is relatively low, there is no question that such technologies are set to explode over the coming years. With the rapid expansion of both structured and unstructured data, these tools will have to be utilized to better understand the enormous data surrounding legal professionals.

ILTACON – Legal Technology Innovation: Bolstering and Destroying the Legal Profession

By Joseph Raczynski

The Napsterization of the legal industry is growing more plausible every day. The innovation and disruption seen in the music business around digitization and file sharing is happening right now to the legal industry.

Ryan McClead of Norton Rose Fulbright led a panel discussion, “Legal Technology Innovation: Bolstering and Destroying the Legal Profession,” at ILTACON 2015. Looking at the current state of the legal market, McClead drew a comparison to Napster and record companies circa 1999. The music industry thought their customers were interested in the CD and the packaging. The reality was all customers wanted was the music. Napster saw this and without intending to do so, used common technology to disrupt the record business.

McClead then applied this logic to the legal industry. His premise: law firms think that they are selling a lawyer’s time. However, if you ask a lawyer’s customers, they are most interested in the outcome, not the time itself. Law firms must adopt new technologies which focus on the outcome, not the time spent billing or even fixed pricing. With automation, firms can begin to replicate processes; establishing a faster, better, cheaper solution for their client.

McClead stated to the audience that the legal industry is partaking in its own version of the Napster event, adding “We have a choice to restructure our firms, rebuild our processes or the industry can do nothing, maintaining the status quo and see what happens.”

Stuart Barr, Chief Strategy Officer for HighQ, had an equally riveting discussion. He spoke about the real fears and promises of what is coming in legal. He noted that the advent of cognitive computing will see white collar jobs being eliminated. Using various examples, Barr cited how the revolution started with blue collar positions being jettisoned and will shift to white collar workers soon.

While jobs are being eliminated, new opportunities are emerging. Eight years ago, the mobile app industry didn’t exist; now it is a $100 billion business. Barr suggests that the legal industry will shift and lawyers will have to become more technical. He calls this new lawyer a hybrid legal engineer who knows both the law and technology.

The last discussion of the panel focused around M&A and contracts. In this arena, the panel saw huge possibilities leveraging cognitive computing. Currently a firm might review only the top 300 of 10,000 contracts for a large corporation’s pending merger. The firm may charge $500,000 for this work. The corporation is taking a gamble by not having the other contracts reviewed to save some money. With contract reviewing software, a law firm could offer to review 1,000 contracts for $750,000. In this scenario, both the corporation and law firm win.

The panel left many jaws agape after their rapid fire predictions. There is little question that many of these technologies are going to have a significant impact on the legal industry in the months and years to come.