Billy Last CEO LexisNexis SA

Technology is transforming the information landscape and rapidly changing the workplace. The generally conservative legal industry has in no way been spared, with new technologies and innovations disrupting – and enabling – the practice of law, demanding that law firms and in-house legal teams transform the way they operate in order to meet new workplace and client demands. 

For a number of years digital search tools have aided the legal practitioner’s productivity by offering improved legal research, referencing and collaboration technology. But today, newer concepts like Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Cloud, Automation, Augmentation, Blockchain and Smart Contracts are also becoming more mainstream.

Leading law firms are implementing AI solutions to deal with exhaustive and voluminous legal paperwork that is normally assigned to paralegals and junior associates. With this potential, the question is – can legal technology ever completely replace people? 

Billy Last, CEO of content and software solutions provider, LexisNexis South Africa, says that while new technology is exciting, it should never overshadow the fact that law is an industry built around people. 

“The field of law is built on a strong foundation of respect for traditions and rules. The actual practice of law has remained essentially the same, but it is the way legal professionals work that is changing and at the heart of this is the need to adapt from what firms want to sell, to what clients want to buy,” he says. 

“While robots may not be taking over the legal world any time soon, the use of AI and other new technologies is undoubtedly proving valuable for law firms who are investing in it,” adds Last.

The benefit of AI and other technologies, according to Last, is that they stand to empower legal and business professionals to make more informed, data-driven decisions. “Instead of replacing lawyers, these technological advances will impact the way professionals work, and more specifically, increase their productivity, and improve decision-making and outcomes,” he says.

He added that the cost and time-saving qualities of legal technology solutions will certainly bring about a larger, more diversified client base including new clients, who would previously have been discouraged from seeking legal advice due to the cost.

As a company that began operation in South Africa more than 80 years ago, LexisNexis has been intimately involved in the technological journey of the legal profession. 

The company’s ongoing commitment to developing technologically advanced platforms that will enable time and cost-efficient business practices is further evidenced by its involvement as an Innovation Partner of the inaugural Legal Innovation & Tech Fest on 11 and 12 June 2018 at the Hyatt Regency in Johannesburg.

“This conference was a must for LexisNexis to partner with, thanks to challenging topics that seek to demystify artificial intelligence, address data-driven decision-making and understand the legal ecosystem and the lawyer of the future,” says Last. 

Legal Innovation and Tech Fest 2018 demonstrates how legal innovation is being enabled by technology through a combination of case studies, thought-leader presentations, discussion groups, product demos and panels. 

LexisNexis is showcasing some of its latest legal solutions and the conference includes a must-see presentation by Johannesburg advocate Michael Laws on Monday, 11 June between 11h05 and 11h50 around ‘Legal Research – Advancing the Future’.   Laws unpacks how to use technology to overcome the challenges of case law research and conduct thorough and time-efficient case law research in South Africa.

Creating Value

LexisNexis sees this new legal technology ecosystem as one worthy of significant investment because it will create more value for the lawyers who embrace it.

“As we work to support our clients’ success in new and exciting ways, we are monitoring and acting on several next generation concepts to further improve our offering to the legal sector, with a major focus on AI and Big Data,” says Last. 

“Just some of the innovations we’re working on include using legal bots and process navigators in data preparation and content enrichment. Other new and highly innovative features include our Judgment Writing Tool which builds a template and does all the legwork for writing up a judgment, as well as a visualisation tool which gives a visual representation of the results of a search,” he adds.

Innovation inspiration is drawn from LexisNexis’ global developments, such as the United States, where LexisNexis Legal & Professional introduced Lexis Answers in 2017. This new, AI enhancement within the Lexis Advance legal research offering combines LexisNexis’ comprehensive datasets with machine learning, cognitive computing and natural language processing technologies and streamlines legal research. In addition, the company’s Lex Machina mines litigation data from millions of pages to provide litigation predictive models based on the area of law, presiding judge and representative counsel.

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