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What tech tools can offer you

What tech tools can offer you

By Karin Derkley

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Today's legal tech tools are providing lawyers with ways to scale up their offerings, solve problems and streamline processes.

Tech tools that can triage thousands of legal problems through to the right service agency, help project manage a deal, or find and fix errors in a 100 page contract in under a minute – legal technology has come a long way in the past few years.

Three years ago 75 per cent of legal tech firms didn’t even exist, says the founder of the Australian Legal Technology Association (ALTA) Jodie Baker, who also heads up legal operations management platform Xakia.

“This is a booming area,” she says. “There are so many firms out there building things, and that’s encouraging others to come on to market and take risks and build the companies and technology that will do things like increase productivity and improve access to justice.” Ms Baker says the growth of legal tech has evolved out of a combination of need and the development of technologies such as cloud computing and artificial intelligence that can help deliver that need.

“We’re all working within an increasingly complex and demanding regulatory environment. You have to find ways to streamline, automate or identify ways to resource differently the different types of work that are often seen as being at the bottom of the value chain. ”

Justice Connect’s manager of digital innovation strategies Kate Fazio says she’s watched the legal tech landscape change dramatically since she started in her role two years ago.

“When I started doing this work we were a long way behind places like the US, Canada and UK in this area. But we’ve taken a big leap in recent years, which is really good news for access to
justice.”

The development of new legal tech tools like Justice Connect’s Legal Help Gateway has been a godsend for a sector that has to stretch its offerings across the needs of increasing unmet legal
need, Ms Fazio says.

“Technology is the tool that I see as the best way to achieve impact. There are huge opportunities to improve access to justice by using technology to scale legal assistance services.”

Former commercial lawyer at Allens, Michael Pattison, who runs legal document automation company Contract Probe, says Australian lawyers are becoming increasingly interested in what
technology has to offer. He credits the growth in interest to developments in technology such as artificial neural networks or “deep learning” that in turn has been enabled by the huge boost in computer
processing power. “That has allowed deep learning to become a practical technology for all sorts of interesting problems.” But Ms Baker argues that while developments in artificial intelligence are “super exciting”, cloud computing has been the biggest driver of change in the market. “Cloud gives you a completely different market to be talking to versus five or 10 years ago. It means you can provide software as a service that means that even the very smallest teams can access very sophisticated technologies. So suddenly you’re talking about mass market.

“Irrespective of who the audience is, cloud fractionalises the cost so that it is appropriate to the end user. That accessibility of software for the mass-market is what is really going to drive a huge shift to the use of technology tools.” So where does the lawyer stand in all of this? Firmly at the helm, says Julian Uebergang managing director of Neota Logic, which has been providing artificial intelligence based
software tools to the legal industry for the past six years. Tech tools are all about productivity gains, he says. “It’s about removing the routine repetitive tasks and allows lawyers to be more efficient. “You can’t remove the lawyer from the process.”

Access to Justice

Kate Fazio

Legal Help Gateway

Justice Connect’s manager of digital innovation strategies, Kate Fazio, says the organisation has a suite of digital tools in the pipeline, all of which seek to cater to an increasing need in the community for legal assistance. Its headline product is the Legal Help Gateway, an online guided application process to triage requests for legal assistance. The web-based application, which was built in-house by Justice Connect’s three person digital development team, applies algorithms and formulas to information that is input by the user.

“The primary function is for the user to give us all the info we need to help them and speed up the process of getting an indication of whether they’re in the right place,” says Ms Fazio. The service reduces the need for Justice Connect’s lawyers to do what has essentially been data entry while they’re talking to someone over the phone. “That is not the best use of our lawyers’ time, and it is also not always convenient for users who often would prefer to make their application outside of work hours.”

In the works is a pro bono portal that matches matters in the system to firms whose preferences align with that matter. Other tech tools in the pipeline include a website for people in
financial stress and at risk of becoming homeless that contains self-help resources such as a letter template to negotiate with a landlord that includes the applicant’s rights under the Victorian Charter of Human Rights.

Mobile-optimised web apps are preferred over mobile apps Ms Fazio says, because while many people at risk of homelessness may have access to even a basic smartphone, mobile apps are
data hungry for those with pre-paid phones, and web apps are better for transactional functions.

Streamline Fines

Digital tool collaboration between Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) and community legal centres to bulk process applications to have parking, toll and public transport fines revoked on the basis of circumstances such as family violence or mental illness.

JobWatch Employment Rights Information App

Tool built by students of the Law Apps subject taught as part of the Melbourne JD course which gives users an insight into their rights under employment law through a series of structured questions. The tool is built on a platform provided by software provider Neota Logic.

Legal matching services

Dom Woolrych

LawPath

Dom Woolrych describes his firm LawPath as the Airtasker of the legal industry. “This is a high volume, low margin service that lets lawyers market themselves to clients who want to find and
compare a lawyer to carry out a specific brief.”

The service is aimed at small to medium businesses, including those setting up their business from scratch with a DIY document automation service. “The idea is the platform can solve any legal need, starting with basic legal tasks, and then as their needs become more complex they can consult any one of our lawyers.” LawPath has around1000 lawyers on its platform, and takes a percentage of new advice charges. Its document automation system took two years to build, with the firm’s team a combination of lawyers, including Mr Woolrych, and IT specialists.

Mr Woolrych says that legal tech has exploded in Australia over the past 18 months, with the emphasis now on creating efficiencies for clients after having seen a focus on tech led efficiencies for lawyers.

But it’s not about tech taking jobs from lawyers en masse: “We thought initially that LawPath would be replacing lawyers, but what we’re seeing now is that it is just a change to the way we work as lawyers.”

Law-Whiz

Custom designed platform that helps solicitors find available barristers with the right level of expertise. Matters are entered into the platform by solicitors. Barristers then browse matters that are within their area of expertise and can choose to apply directly or wait to be invited.

New law firm

Amritha Thiyagarajan

Legal Vision

Legal Vision started in 2012 as a service that allowed people to download standard templates. When clients made it clear they wanted advice around the documents, it evolved into a network of lawyers. “Then the issue of quality control arose, ” says Legal Vision senior lawyer, “so we moved into becoming an incorporated law firm.”

Now the New Law firm combines a fixed fee legal service for its clients with a bespoke document automation service that can incorporate machine learning into dealing with more complex requirements.

Ms Thiyagarajan says advances in document automation in recent years means the documents the firm can create and review are far more complex than when the firm first set up. “We’re able to build a lot
more logic into the technology and that means we’re able to offer more bespoke solutions.” But at the same time, the offering is being informed more than ever before by legal expertise, she says. “We’re definitely getting more advanced in terms of just how much technology can contribute to the creation and review of documents. But when it comes to understanding or interpreting a particular clause and how it would apply in the context of a particular transaction, it’s essential to have the legal input into that.”

That’s borne out by the fact that what was initially a solely online firm now has around 80 lawyers, who work with its half a dozen or so developers to produce its various offerings. “We see the technology as allowing us to leverage our services as lawyers rather than replacing lawyers,” she says.

ANIKA

Online platform that connects people in need of legal advice with law students who use artificial intelligence and supervision by human lawyers to provide free, high-quality advice.

Legal tool developers

Julian Uebergang

Neota Logic

If you’ve come across a nifty new legal tech tool lately, it’s likely that Neota Logic will be behind it. The Melbourne-based, but now globally oriented tech company provides the software platform for a host of tech tools.

Originally set up to provide tech support for big law firms, it is increasingly working with the not-for-profit legal sector and smaller law firms. It has a partnership with University of Melbourne Law School to develop legal apps for the not-for profit law sector, and provided the framework for Justice Connect’s Not for Profit Law service. Neota’s managing director Julian Uebergang says a recent focus has been on small practitioners who want to scale up their services but don’t have the technology skills to create their own web-based applications.

“What it allows is for sole practitioners and small firms to turn their advice service into a product.”

The platform uses artificial intelligence in the form of logic and reasoning that is embedded into the process. But you can’t remove the lawyer from the process, Mr Uebergang says. “This is purely about productivity gains, and sometimes there’s a significant level of complexity that needs analysis and interpretation judgement provided and that’s where the lawyers really come into their own and deliver value.” Also:

Josef Legal

Platform that allows legal practices, including not-for-profits, to build legal chatbots to help clients resolve their legal problems, and draft personalised documents such as a letter or agreement. Among its recent chatbots is Health Complaints Australia which helps users make a complaint about health services.

Document automation

Michael Pattison

ContractProbe

Formerly a commercial lawyer at Allens, Michael Pattison says his firm Contract Probe arose out of his frustration with much of the “drudgery” of commercial law. “I realised that a lot of the work I was doing was capable of being done much more efficiently through the use of computer tools.”

Having done a masters in computer science in the late 1990s, Mr Pattison says he kept up to date with the legal tech world. “It felt like there was a real opportunity to improve the efficiency and remove the drudgery from the work you do as a commercial lawyer.”

Chief among that is the work of reviewing a contract for basic issues that can cause problems for clients or other stakeholders.

“In large commercial contracts there are often a lot of basic fundamental errors that a human will make as a contract gets longer.” Yet a computer can spot those problems very quickly, he says. “A computer can review a 100 page contract in 30 seconds.” ContractProbe uses a combination of natural language processing techniques and expert systems to teach the tool what particular clauses should look like. “What it does in effect is to replicate some of the reasoning process used by lawyers.

For instance, based on the other contracts I’ve seen and the causes that are present in this one, I think this is a problem of this severity and suggest an approach to remedy that.”

The result is a reduction in the kind of work that is essential for risk minimisation that “equals boring time that clients don’t think adds a lot of value”, Mr Pattison says. “By removing that from the shoulders of the lawyer, you end up with a result that is better and quicker and cheaper.” Also:

Smarter Drafter

Founded by ex-Baker McKenzie and Clifford Chance lawyer David Lipworth. Draws on legal decision making and drafting ability of expert lawyers in combination with artificial intelligence to draft documents for mid-sized and small law firms.

Practice management systems

Jodie Baker

Xakia

After helping to set up New Law firm Hive Legal, Jodie Baker moved on to create the online in-house practice management system Xakia. The startup grew out of demand, she says. “At Hive Legal we did a research project with corporate and in-house counsel to understand what was missing from their suite of products. What they told us was that they lacked visibility about who was working on what and with
whom within their legal team.”

Ms Baker, who is one of the co-founders of the Australian Legal Technologies Association (ALTA), built a practice management system for in-house teams that captures information, creates a workflow, and tracks the work for reporting and data analytics. Launched in 2016, the company has picked up 60 clients over three continents and has a team of 11.

In effect the practice management system allows in-house teams to operate like a mini law firm. “It means they can triage, manage and keep within their own team’s work that would otherwise be briefed out.” Also:

Thedocyard

Deal management platform for transactions, combining collaboration and project management with secure file sharing and workflow.


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