Legal Conferences and Artificial Intelligence

Brian Inkster having a laugh about AI at the Legal Practice Management Conference 2018
Brian Inkster sharing a joke about Artificial Intelligence with a fellow delegate at the Legal Practice Management Conference 2018

Just a few weeks into 2018 and my predictions about legal conferences and Artificial Intelligence (AI) appear to be coming true.

I predict that in 2018 AI will continue to be a de rigueur slot in legal technology conferences. But delegates will continue to leave none the wiser as to what they are actually supposed to do with AI in their own legal practices or how much it might cost them.

Last week I watched from afar (Scotland) the tweets surrounding a Legal Technology Conference in New York City by following #LegalWeek18. This week I was in London for the Legal Practice Management Conference #LPM18.

Here are some of my tweets and re-tweets from last week:-

Just as well I have AI in my name then even if it is the wrong way around: BrIAn!

Yes, it is crazy. But it shows how crazy AI and blockchain is to many if not most lawyers.

Bringing some sense and reality to proceedings for our American Cousins was a speaker from the UK, namely Stephen Allen of Hogan Lovells.

Hear, hear!

Unfortunately, Stephen Allen was not at the Legal Practice Management Conference in London the following week to give delegates there the same dose of reality.

Relevant tweets from #LPM18:-

Chris Marston was watching from afar on Twitter and, taking up the Stephen Allen role from #LegalWeek18, let #LPM18 know his thoughts on AI:-

N.B. Remember that we learned earlier that it might cost you £200,000 to get the answer!

We never found out who the law firm was, who they were paying or what they were getting for £200,000 on research to find out what they could be using AI for in their firm.

The three delegates who claimed their law firms were using AI gave examples from the floor that sounded like basic process automation to me and not necessarily something that would actually involve or have to involve AI. Automation and AI often appear to be one and the same in the eyes of lawyers. They are not.

Yet again we didn’t have real life, properly explained, use cases of AI in practice in law firms. Use case examples are needed that delegates can assimilate and decide from whether or not such use would be beneficial to them and their law firms. Delegates need to know how much it will cost. Being told they might need to spend £200,000 just to find out what AI they might need will just frighten them.

I have yet to attend a legal technology conference where this has happened. I will let you know when I do. If, in the meantime, you have any real life AI in law firm stories to share please do so in the comments section below. If you think AI in law is over hyped let us know that too.

Reactions on Social Media

In addition to the comments in the comments section below there have been reactions to this post on Twitter and LinkedIn. To keep these together with the post itself I have copied the tweets and comments here:-

And on LinkedIn:-

Nir Golan: all kidding aside, I think that there are some great technologies out there that are solving real needs and problems and can make and are making the work of lawyers and legal departments much more efficient and allowing  them to spend more time on high-value work, problem-solving, and advice. I do agree, however, that the AI buzzword is being used excessively in order to grab our attention to describe any and all new “disruptive” legaltech out there. I don’t think we should underestimate and undervalue some great tech that is out there just because the word “AI” is being used to describe it. Just my humble thoughts.

Alex G Smith: We don’t underestimate – we have already used these tech over the last decade … we are being mis sold tech. Much of the AI is search so call it search and tell us the use case … we may have already done it or we may go cool, this adds nicely to what we’re pushing. We’re already doing this stuff without the hype.

Alex G Smith: When a legal tech company does something good like the Panama/Paradise Papers then I’ll be impressed! But it’s about tying the tech(s) to the people, process and then technology use cases that the magic happens.

Nir Golan: sounds like a big generalization to me.

Brian Inkster: The problem is being able to actually estimate and value the legaltech available. If it is not ‘AI’ it shouldn’t be labelled ‘AI’. A legaltech vendor who clearly explained that their tech was not AI, didn’t need to be AI, was not as expensive as AI but would do the job I needed as good as or better than something with an AI label on it is more likely to get my pounds, shillings and pence (or dollars) than the AI salesman.  Most lawyers would do well to spend their time , energy and money on non-AI legaltech that will and can make them much more efficient. However, much of that tech has been around for a long time (although always improving) but with little real uptake from most lawyers.

Nir Golan: I fully agree with you that it is about what the tech does and the problem that it solves for us that matters and not whether it is AI or not.

Alex G Smith: I’m seeing so many reinventions of the wheel at present that I like to attach to the exceptions. The exceptions are good including going to open source and doing ourselves on the baseline tech for everyone. The hype media seems to like generalisations.

Nir Golan: Brian Inkster also not sure that all the tech you are talking about (at least not the one I am thinking about) has been around for a long time. Some of it is very new and interesting with real use cases for lawyers. I am not here to defend the tech just don’t like generalizations. I believe in staying open to new things and not ruling them out because they call themselves AI etc.. let’s stay open.

Brian Inkster: My point was simply that often lawyers are not adopting legaltech that would have made their life much easier that has been available for some time. There are always iterations of the original tech that sometimes can appear new but isn’t really. However, I would never discount genuinely new legaltech if it helped out with a problem at hand or increased efficiencies. Indeed my law firm has often been the first or amongst the first to adopt new tech in Scotland.

Nir Golan: Alex G Smith understood. Important feedback.

Alex G Smith: Hi Nir – end of a long week so slightly jaded by another week of hype – so to be positive at the start of a brave new dawn/week:

The things that excite me in tech (potentially for legal):

(1) data visualisation is getting awesome – lawyers and clients like visual approaches to advice & data
(2) the return of exciting search technology – elastic search & similar are meaning search is making a comeback.
(3) big graph data – see the Panama Papers – are applicable to legal as they are to driving the recommendation engines taht rule our lives
(4) the emerge of drag/drop configuration of tools – so dynamic process flows, ML models, decision logic so lawyer don’t need to code
(5) the agile revolution and attitudes coming to every industry – yet to land in legal but coming.
(6) a re-humanising of user experiences (after a generation of terrible online meetings) into technology to drive adoption of change. – check out virtual reality for business.

Interested in what new that interests you?

Of course that is using what you already have and have had for a long time (document automation) in a clever way  that drives system level adoption and change.


Nir Golan: AI in legaltech. Hype/buzzword for something that does not yet really exist or real present innovative tech creating real value and solving real life problems in legal?

This started out as a post by Brian Inkster and was then followed by an interesting discussion about the applications of AI for law firms. Brian Inkster and Alex G Smith, thanks for the open and candid discussion. It is great to be able to speak frankly and exchange different views and opinions. Another small step towards change and innovation..

If you are interested in legaltech and AI, this “practical” discussion amongst lawyers/innovation people could be interesting for you.

Having worked with a few legaltech AI companies and seen what their technologies can and are doing, my humble opinion is that AI in its current form is already solving some real problems for lawyers and legal departments, especially in the legal docs arena. My guess is that we will be seeing many more use cases in the year to come.

Any additional thoughts/experiences with AI in legal?

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  1. To paraphrase a great quote, at least people are talking about us rather than not talking about us 😉

    However, I think this is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel, and if I’m honest not very accurate. But that’s the difference between blogging and journalism – balance.

    At LPM 2018, an event I’m responsible for, I feel the approach was way more balanced than Brian’s view would suggest:

    – We mentioned in our audience polling that we have published research in our Legal IT landscapes research (link below), which would have gone to every delegate prior to the event, in which we asked smaller law firms what they were really using any kind of AI/ML system for and north of 70% said ‘nothing at all’. So we know that many firms openly admit they have zero experience of it, and those that claim to probably aren’t actually using anything that could claim to be ML/AI.
    – We restricted the ‘chatbots’ bit to one question in the audience engagement/polling section out of 12 questions, all the rest of which were around legal market rune-reading and people/resources – and we only asked this because a) we asked it last year because i’m trying to track the trends on attitude in small firms to non-human client interaction and b) it seemed fun compared to the ‘how do you feel about the future’ stuff.
    – 90% of the agenda was about business management and people management, plus some (inevitable) GDPR, security, risk and other non-AI things.

    LPM 2018 really wasn’t filled with AI toss, but to have ignored it completely would have been stupid and bad publishing/events practice – because in our LPM Legal IT landscapes research of >80 firms, ‘AI’ was off-the-scale the highest mentioned tech area they think is going to have an effect on legal. But of course, they’re not really using it.

    We did ask the tech panel (which didn’t spend all its time talking about AI either) on the day to try to outline where such tech is really being used. And I think they did try, but obviously that didn’t come across well. And we can’t be responsible for what delegates say! And you shouldn’t automatically mock them either – they’re people like you, perhaps you should have sought them out at the event and found out for yourself what they were talking about.

    The reality of nearly all ‘in-play’ ML/AI systems in legal right now is that they are purely automating ‘normal’ processes. They are automation tools. Just very smart ones. Almost anyone talking about ‘using AI’ right now is basically going to be talking about automation, especially in the LPM market.

    Of course ML/AI beyond automation is out there and in use in legal – and once again William Gibson’s famous quote is applicable – the future is here, just really, REALLY unevenly distributed.

    So when we talk about it with smaller firms, we’re only at the stage of described what it kind of is. They tell us they can’t afford it anyway, and I think that’s often true – even if they did know what to do with it.

    Don’t tar LPM conference with the brush of other nonsense events that spew tons of AI crap into the market just because vendors want them to and they know if they just say ‘AI! AI! AI!’ then people will show up. We really didn’t do that, and almost everything on the day wasn’t about that.

    I want Brian to come to every LPM we do 😉 and I am sure there were moments when the eye-rolling was justified. But don’t forget the market segment it’s for isn’t the one Alex et are in. And just because AI was on the agenda doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be. And just because we didn’t get into deep nitty gritty about it, doesn’t mean we’re ‘just like everyone else’.

    Peace out!

    1. Thanks Rupert

      I, as usual, enjoyed the conference and will come again. Of course AI was only a small part of the day and indeed that, I thought, came across in my blog post.

      At the end of the day you asked:-

      “I’m betting we didn’t do too bad on your AI ‘swear jar’ counter”

      I replied:-

      “Not too bad. At least you avoided having a dedicated session on that topic. You did very well re “blockchain” with zero mentions :-)”

      That is in the blog post. As is the timings of the mentions on AI as per my “AI ‘swear jar’ counter” via my tweets. The first was at 10.17am, the second at 2.06pm and the third at 3.46pm. A move away from the third mention is recorded at 3.57pm before a very short return and fourth mention at 4.15pm. Thus it should I thought have been clear from my blog post that AI probably took up no more than 15 minutes of the day if that. But those 15 minutes were, in my view, a poor representation to the delegates of AI in legal practice but an accurate one of the hype that surrounds it.

      If there had been a concentrated amount of AI sessions on your agenda I probably would not have come to the event. Indeed there are other events I am purposefully staying away from this year for that very reason.

      My blog post was about AI at legal conferences (not about AI conferences) thus I was just concentrating on the AI elements involved. I might do another blog post about sessions on millennial lawyers at legal conferences (there was far more covered on that topic than on AI on Tuesday).

      I tweeted more from the event than any other delegate and anyone following #LPM18, which I linked to in my blog post, will see the variety of subject matter covered. Most of which did not receive the same critical twitter interaction than the ones on AI did.

      Overall the approach at LPM18 regarding content was of course very balanced and I have never suggested otherwise and I can only apologise if more is being read into my blog post than was ever intended. In the same way LegalWeek18 covered much more than AI as the #LegalWeek18 twitter feed demonstrates (a lot going on there about millennials too!)

      I previously (in 2015) did an in-depth review of your conference. Then I criticised the cloud computing element given that as many myths surrounded that back then (and to some extent still do) as now surround AI. None of that is your fault. It is how things are. As you say you cannot control what the speakers say but you can control the agenda and try to tailor it to shatter the myths and give your delegates the reality.

      I am not suggesting, for one minute, that Legal Conferences should ignore AI completely. What they should and could be doing is being more realistic about the sessions concerning it and bringing out the points that I assert are sorely lacking in any AI discussion at any legal technology conference that I have been at to date. I am certainly not alone in that view. That Rupert is your challenge for next year’s conference (along with the one about having actual millennials on a panel which you have already agreed to take up). And that certainly doesn’t have to involve “deep nitty gritty”.

      I look forward to attending next year and perhaps being able to blog about the first legal conference I have attended that has addressed AI with a dose of reality. Happy to chat offline with you regarding what that session could look like and who you might have on the panel.

      Best regards, as always.


      1. Well I probably should have put more emojis in my rant to ensure no one thinks I’m *really* shouting. Sorry Brian 😉 I just want to defend our work because I feel it is better and more thoughtful.

        Aside – I do think that there is currently a contingent in legal who seem more interested in mocking the 99% off for their lack of understanding of AI etc than trying harder to help everyone understand its potential and application.

        But CHALLENGE ACCEPTED. We can and will try hard to have case studies and/or use case analyses around ML applications in legal in future LPM conferences (if research shows people want to hear about the area) that try to get to the ‘how’ not the ‘why’.

        And obvs i enjoyed the analysis!

        1. Thanks Rupert

          Your work is better and more thoughtful than most. That is why I regularly return to your annual conference. When I reviewed your 2015 Conference I wrote:-

          “I had been attracted by an interesting programme with many of the speakers being coal face practitioners with tried and tested knowledge to impart. I prefer conferences like that compared to the ones with the big keynote speakers who struggle to know what lawyers really are or do. I was not to be disappointed. It was an enjoyable day with some interesting insights.”

          That comment applies equally to your 2018 conference.

          But there can and probably always will be little blips. AI is undoubtedly a tricky area to cover given that it is in its early stages of development and I am unsure how many SME law firms (the target market for your LPM conferences) will actually be using or considering using it in any way. Maybe they just really need to be told not to worry about it at the moment but keep an eye on developments for when/if they should join the bandwagon. It will be interesting if you can locate SME law firms that can be used as case studies and/or use case analyses around ML applications. If you can’t then that is an important indicator in its own right.

          I don’t think it is a question of “mocking” 99% off for their lack of understanding of AI etc. I think those that are getting mocked (although I would suggest criticised as a better term for what is actually happening) are a very small percentage (well under 1%) who are setting themselves up as AI law industry gurus (I am not saying all of those don’t know what they are speaking about as some certainly will) but often with very little real knowledge of the day to day needs/workings of the practising lawyers that they are preaching to. Some fall into the evolving expert category:-

          The Evolving Expert

          It is again a small percentage (well under 1%) who can see through the smoke and mirrors and that are calling them out. The other 99% or so are actually the bewildered delegates who turn up at conferences hoping to see the wood from the trees but come away none the wiser.

          As part of your challenge you need to locate the small percentage (again well under 1%) who are not the self styled gurus (or necessarily those calling them out) but who have actually been there, done that and bought the T-shirt that says “I implemented AI in my law firm”. You need them to tell us at your next conference what exactly they have done, how much it cost them and what the ROI has been. If you can’t find them then your AI slot is reduced to a couple of minutes explaining that for SME law firms AI is really at the moment Shangri-La.

          I will be following your AI challenge with great interest and wish you the best of luck in succeeding with it.


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