By Joseph Raczynski
INSOL Europe 2017 Annual Congress
Warsaw, Poland – Sofitel Victoria. Before the full contingent of 400 attendees at the INSOL Europe Annual Congress a panel of three stepped into the future of legal technology and its impact on insolvency and the courts in Europe. The panel consisted of Judge Erik Boerma – Court of the Nertherlands; Gunther Theis – CEO, STP Informationstechnologie, Germany; and Joseph Raczynski from Thomson Reuters, US; with Moderator – Joanna Goodman, United Kingdom.
Goodman introduced the session by discussing Internet 4.0 and AI, which is described as the fourth industrial revolution. The concept is that we are now in a new era which will be as impactful as the machinery that was introduced to the assembly lines of the first factories. She went on to mention that each panelist offered various perspectives on technology transformation to insolvency cases in different ways. Erik Boerma as a judge is involved in digitizing courts in The Netherlands; Gunther Thies is a tech pioneer, whose software is used by 80% of German insolvency practitioners and (since 1991) to improve coordination between practitioners and the courts, and Joseph Raczynski works on emerging technology at Thomson Reuters, specializing in assisting law firms in understanding AI and Blockchain and how they can be applied to legal services.
Goodman set the stage for the first question by stating an important event within the industry, “In the past decade – since the UK’s liberalization of the legal market via the Legal Services Act – legal services delivery everywhere has changed beyond recognition.” Goodman noted that until recently the courts were lagging behind, with arcane processes and procedures, including inflexible schedules for court dates and piles of paper. “Now at last all that is changing and many jurisdictions are involved in courts modernization projects, which include taking documentation and administrative procedures online.”
The panel first turned toward court digitization. Theis, described the current state of most courts, which are in general still struggling to deal with the pace of change and how to handle documentation and workflow. He spoke about his organization STP Informationstechnologie which develops software and related services for insolvency administrators, insolvency courts, and corporate law firms. Judge Boerma mentioned one of his projects in The Netherlands where he cited how the obvious benefits of digitization around access to justice, legal advice and information, and some less obvious challenges around ensuring that automation does not compromise human needs. That is, he attempts to adopt “a holistic strategy that balances economic, environment, and social access to legal advice, access to justice, and the human considerations in insolvency space. Goodman surmised that, “It’s about opening up information and not taking a blinkered view of cases that focuses only on the detail.”
The conversation then turned to what may be just ahead for Europe as they deal with insolvency. Goodman posed the question about how the world in general is moving online and asked Raczynski, “How personal assets, which are now going digital – from tangible to virtual – will be handled with documents in the cloud, AI technologies that improve productivity and cryptocurrencies?
Raczynski launched into an impassioned discussion around the rate of change that is happening for all of us personally and professionally. He briefly discussed the impact of algorithms which are becoming more sophisticated and intuitive. Saying these could help service up better information for attorneys and judges alike around bankruptcy. He went on to state that there will be a clear push for change in the next several years for the courts, which are lagging behind. The efficiencies, transparency and access for all will make this all but a necessity.
Goodman pushed on the digitization of assets and inquired about the Blockchain and cryptocurrencies and the impact of those on insolvency. Raczynski first described Blockchain to level set with the attendees having asked by a show of hands who felt comfortable defining the technology – not many hands were raised. Once that baseline was established, he dove into what he sees as the first “killer app” for Blockchain technology, cryptocurrency or tokens. “In the not too distance future every asset with be represented by a digital token – saved to the Blockchain.” He sees the full “tokenization of the world’s assets” including, cars, real-estate, collectibles, and these things are starting to happen now.
Clearly this struck a chord with the audience as this will be a monumental shift in how they handle insolvency cases with their clients and within the courts. He went on to discuss the positives of the Blockchain showing a history of ownership which could assist with rights to property and creditors. However, he noted, “there are challenges ahead as some of these tokens or digital coins are specifically developed to hide assets.” He summed it up by stating this is going to be a wild ride into digitization which will certainly impact the insolvency landscape.
Closing out the session, Goodman asked for final thoughts from each of the panelists. The takeaway was that everyone in every role needs to think about how technology will impact the legal industry. There are a myriad of opportunities to be had, but Judge Boerma emphasized it has to be done in a way that humans are still at the center of the equation – we have to develop systems that are reflective of our humanity and enable access to justice for all.
Some quotes and notes above from Joanna Goodman who has written Robots in Law: How Artificial Intelligence is Transforming Legal Services is now available from ARK Group https://www.ark-group.com/product/robots-law-how-artificial-intelligence-transforming-legal-services-0