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AUTEUR : Steven De Keyser

DATE : 2 mai 2018

Artificial intelligence and medium sized law firms

Want to know what your firm really should be doing in light of the current artificial intelligence developments for the legal market ? Are you part of a mid-sized law firm in mainland Europe ?

Be sure to read our guidelines below.

“What should we do about artificial intelligence ?” is one of the most frequent questions we get asked when meeting partners from mid-sized law firms in mainland Europe.

“Today, artificial intelligence really matters to all law firms and its importance will increase”

Let us be absolutely clear about one thing : Today, artificial intelligence really matters to all law firms small or big. Its importance will only increase. However, the “how” and “what” of what a law firm should be doing in light of today’s artificial intelligence developments will differ very much from firm to firm, from legal system to legal system and even depending on the language of the jurisdiction.

We have therefore decided to share the following 5 key and simple guidelines on the “how” and “what” that will be relevant to those law firms in mainland Europe with an annual turnover below 50 million Euro or with less than 100 lawyers.

Our guidelines do not pretend to resolve all questions or issues you may have with artificial intelligence. They will not tell you all that is currently used or available on the market. The guidelines will not put your firm at the forefront of artificial intelligence. The guidelines will however ensure that your firm does not get off track and really prepares itself to capture the full potential of many artificial intelligence developments as and when they become available.

In many ways they are essential steps towards artificial intelligence that you will want to focus on while market-wide tools are being developed. It will help you focus on what prepares you to be ready when accessible tools are there and avoid that you invest in tools that will be outdated while not being prepared for the market. We have seen too many firms buying or developing sophisticated CRM tools while not focusing enough on sharing the data and the necessary change management to really benefit from it. The guidelines below help avoiding some of these pitfalls.

Guideline 1 – Do not develop your own tools

Unless you are a very specific niche firm focused on a narrow field of law, you are most likely too small to develop your own artificial intelligence tools.

The investment in money and time will typically be substantial if you do develop your own tools and the developed products will be quickly outdated. It may provide your firm with a nice project, but in most instances, it will drive you away from your core business and avoid you to focus on what really matters (see guidelines hereafter).

“Costs ?

Will be substantial if you do develop your own tools, unless you limit yourself to a marketing tool that may cost 15 to 30 K Euro in capex and some limited internal”

Do however monitor what becomes available in the market, invite providers to present their tools and discuss with your peers so that you are very well aware of what is available on the market and what is being developed.

Rather than building your own full-fledged artificial intelligence systems or tools, consider building a smart marketing intelligence tool that will highlight your positioning in the market. For example on trade secrets or to automatically document labor contracts.

This may be part of a particular app that your clients and prospects find especially useful and helps them gain time. It will normally be a project with a limited cost and life-span. A smart marketing or business development project, not an artificial intelligence tool.

Guideline 2 – Get your data sorted

Far too many mid-sized law firms still do not manage their available data effectively. From no good document management systems or the absence of client relationship data to poorly complying lawyers : it is all happening.

While this may have been acceptable in the past, it is essential that you tackle this now. Take some time to decide what data your firm has : client data, prospects data, contacts data, financial data on files, content data on files, research data, precedents data, external data, newsletters, minutes of meetings…. Bring structure in the data and decide how you will file it. In fact, it is not only necessary for artificial intelligence reasons, but also to comply with GDPR.

“Cost ?

This may require substantial time and effort from lawyers and paralegals. It may require investment in some tools. Count on 50 to 100 K Euro in capex”

Inform yourself about the IT tools to structure, file and consult the data. Make all your lawyers comply with the data gathering and structuring you have decided.

Guideline 3 – Get your templates and standard documents right

In mid-sized law firms the quality of templates and standard documents is often not good enough. There are no templates or they are not shared throughout the firm.

Some of the templates are outdated or there is no guidance on how to use them.

“Cost ?

Time of your lawyers and paralegals, but the impact will be limited if they are well steered and priorities are set. If not, it will (substantially) affect billable time”

You will want to ensure that you know which templates and standard documents your practice requires, develop them to the best possible quality, develop the guidance tools and make sure you keep them updated.

Look at what is available in the market and potentially pool with other firms for the development.

This will require resources and so you will want to ensure these are available.

Again here, consider the IT tools that you will want to use to support the filing, updating and making available of these templates and standard documents.

Guideline 4 – Build or develop your client portal now

Make sure to develop or acquire a virtual area/tool where you can grow transactional contacts with your clients.

A client portal where you can privately share information with your clients, but where you can also interact with your client. Ideally the client portal is connected to your data warehouse and will allow the client to pull by himself all relevant information.

Clients having direct access to free standard documents and templates, to all relevant memo’s and documents in a file and to billing information and data recorded in timesheets of the lawyers.

“Cost ?

This can be expensive if you develop yourself. Consider building with others and/or some tools as part of knowledge management systems. A capex between 200K to 500K Euro is to be considered depending on ambition and how much is tailor-made”

By ensuring all data in your firm is effectively sorted (see Guideline 2), your clients will be able to get access by themselves to all their relevant data.

It will create long term relationships and save you tons of administration and unbillable time, while providing your clients with a lot of transparency and valuable information. Do not believe that you will be able to stay away from such transparency going forward, but make sure it does not cost you time and money to provide it.

Guideline 5 – Involve IT people in business and strategy decisions

How pleased are you with your current IT people or IT service provider ? Make sure to find the right people. If necessary, share them with other firms but invest time and money in having good IT professionals at the table when you discuss business and strategy at your firm.

Identify those IT professionals who are willing to invest in getting to know your business and who can creatively think with you about how to further your business involving IT. Unfortunately, only a very limited IT providers are experienced and familiar with typical issues of mid-sized law firms.

Of course, you wish your current operations to run smoothly, but you also want to get access to smart forward IT thinking that will support your business and client needs today and tomorrow. Invite them to participate in all key business and strategy discussions.



May 2018