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The Singapore Law Gazette

INTELLLEX: Take Control of Your Knowledge

A.I. and the Intelligent Repository

With clients becoming more demanding and their matters getting more complex, legal practitioners are facing greater pressures to deliver. This pressure is made worse by the wide-spread adoption of technology, resulting in a surge of information that lawyers must deal with.

While technology has brought great challenges, it can also be harnessed to provide solutions. Besides taming this abundance of data, great value can also be extracted through the managing of such knowledge.

Intuitively, lawyers understand that successful knowledge management is crucial for the modern law firm. However, implementing effective knowledge management is tricky because lawyers find the required tasks burdensome. Artificial intelligence can change that.

Knowledge management tasks currently performed manually can be automated. With an effective knowledge management system, law firms can take full control of their knowledge and discover hidden areas of expertise. Ultimately, this means that lawyers can better deliver efficient and personal service to clients.

Knowledge Management More Crucial in a Digitised World

Law firms are brimming with intellectual capital.1 Intellectual capital refers to the summation of a firm’s expertise, skills and work product. See, e.g., Janine Nahapiet and Sumantra Ghoshal, “Social Capital, Intellectual Capital, and the Organizational Advantage” (1998) 23(2) Academy of Management Review 242. Lawyers channel extensive hours and effort to produce great volumes of court filings, transactional documents and legal research. But abundance without management is merely clutter. Firms struggle to optimise the conversion of existing knowledge products into valuable output for their clients.2 See Stefane M. Kabene, Philip King and Nada Skaini, “Knowledge Management in Law Firms” (2006) Journal of Information Law and Technology (1) 1.

With the billable hour model, there has been little incentive for lawyers to spend time organising work product from concluded cases.3Ibid. Because of billing pressures, lawyers prefer to channel energy towards what they can charge clients for, even if it means spending hours trawling through poorly catalogued content and redrafting documents which their peers may have done before.

While the industry has grown accustomed to such practices over the decades, client expectations are rapidly changing.4 See AGC Partners, “Insights: Legal Technology” (April 2017) 2. Clients are rejecting the billable hour model and are demanding alternative fee arrangements. In particular, fixed-cost models are on the rise.5 See Norton Rose Fulbright, “2017 Litigation Trends Annual Survey” (2017) 22. Law firms face greater pressure to be more efficient.

It is no coincidence that evolving client expectations come with the rapid advancement of technology and the internet.6 HBR Consulting, “How Centers of Excellence Are Accelerating Efficiencies Across the Legal Landscape” (2017) 3. As vast amounts of information become easily accessible for free online, knowledge products are expected to be comprehensive and expediently churned out.

Struggling with the Information Overflow

Knowledge management is not new to law firms. But it has been rendered even more difficult in the digital age, when law firms must deal with the data surge. As cases become more complex and multi-jurisdictional, lawyers face larger volumes of information, in the form of documents from clients or materials required for legal research.

A challenge for law firms is coordinating their knowledge. Information silos are natural in the legal profession as work gets organised by client matters or particular areas of law. This gives rise to knowledge disparities between individuals in a law firm. As the quantity of work product in each silo increases, so do these disparities. The result is duplicative inefficiencies, e.g., preparing documents from scratch when peers have done similar work before. Crucially, domain expertise across the firm is not fully realised and harnessed to satisfy dynamic client concerns.

Apart from coping with the information surge, law firms must also deal with the practical difficulties of knowledge loss. In an industry where workforce attrition at the junior level is the norm,7 Ng Huiwen, “Junior Lawyers Feeling the Strain – and Leaving” (The Straits Times, 10 Sep 2017) ; Amelia Teng, “Many Mid-Tier Lawyers Leaving the Profession” (The Straits Times, 4 Sep 2016) accessed 21 Nov 2017. firms now also face the trend of mid-level associates flocking to in-house positions and partners shifting firms .8 Thomas S. Clay, Eric A. Seeger, “2017 Law Firms in Transition: An Altman Weil Flash Survey” (2017) 1. Without a proper method of retention and reutilisation, the work products of those exiting the firm effectively “leave” with them. Other lawyers are not able to tap on these documents easily. Firms not only lose expertise, but need to expend resources getting the replacement lawyers up to speed and recreating lost work product.

Big international firms are increasingly adopting modern legal tech tools to maintain their edge in a competitive legal market. A 2017 report on legal tech adoption by US firms showed that more than 50% of the large firms surveyed have begun to adopt A.I. technology tools, while about 80% of the large firms that had not were already exploring opportunities to do so.9 Ibid 84. In the UK, legal tech adoption has been on the rise as more clients are demanding technology-based solutions for handling large legal matters.10 Richard Tromans, “AI Now: The Growing Adoption of Legal AI” (2017) Thomson Reuters 3. Clearly, in the digital age, clinging to the status quo is no longer a viable approach for practice.

This is not to say other firms have not been trying to tackle these problems. One common approach is the use of Document Management Systems (DMS). However, firms still struggle when their current system is ill-suited for knowledge management.

Potential Issues with Using a Legacy DMS for Knowledge Management:

Legal knowledge is not captured:

A DMS often organises files by client matters. This does not help knowledge sharing as the legal issues reside only in the heads of the lawyers involved. This knowledge is not captured electronically for further use by others in the firm. Valuable time can be wasted when rummaging through the clutter to find something which ends up not being there.

Lack of useful classification:

Files are nested in folders and sub-folders according to each team’s practice. Classification based on file extensions (e.g. ‘.pdf’ or ‘.doc’) or user-names fares poorly for navigating this maze. A standardised taxonomy that allows file search and retrieval according to legal subject matter or document types (e.g. submissions or basic ordering agreements) is far more helpful.

Rigid access control:

DMS access control settings often take an all or nothing approach to file sharing. Either the rest of the firm has access or no one does. The former results in too much shared information, resulting in clutter, or worse, confidentiality issues. The latter results in curtailed knowledge discoverability. Neither scenario meets a firm’s knowledge management objectives.

Knowledge Integration: From Silos to an Intelligent Repository

Knowledge integration is imperative for a firm to cope with the information overflow and meet challenging client demands.11 See Heidi K. Gardner, “The Collaboration Imperative for Today’s Law Firms: Leading High-Performance Teamwork for Maximum Benefit” (2014) HLS Center on the Legal Profession Research Paper No. 2014-23. Knowledge integration means coalescing the firm’s knowledge and augmenting its utility through active engagement with the resultant knowledge repository. For smaller firms, this frees up scarce labour for value-generating work. For larger firms, this enables the synergy of expertise required to handle multifaceted client matters.

The initial step is to progress from information silos toward a single pool of knowledge. This reduces duplicative efforts and establishes an institutional memory which far surpasses the recall ability of individual lawyers.12 Richard Susskind, Tomorrow’s Lawyers (first published 2013, OUP 2013) 64. While silos can be forgotten or lost, the pool will always be reachable to future users, thus facilitating inter-generational knowledge transfer. In the digital age, the pool need not be stagnant. With the right software, the pool can become an accessible repository of knowledge that grows when continually fed fresh streams of information.

To create an intelligent repository, the knowledge pool must be responsive to the requirements of the lawyer, fetching the most useful results. To achieve this, the pool must draw upon the collective wisdom of the law firm. Lawyers can also add their personal insights to resources in the pool. For example, lawyers can expressly mark out the most useful precedent for a particular transaction.

  • Example 1 – A piece of legal research done on the latest developments in financial technology regulation can be used as the base research to address queries from a variety of clients – from banks to entrepreneurs.
  • Example 2 – An arbitration partner highlights that a particular arbitration clause can be used in contracts handled by the firm’s transactionary departments.

Existing work product is not only efficiently utilised, but has its meaning augmented by drawing upon the experiences of each lawyer in the firm.

The Machine as Curator: Creating the Intelligent Repository with A.I.

Admittedly, lawyers do not have the time to actively manage and curate their knowledge content. That is where A.I. technology comes in. A.I. automates the tedious and repetitive tasks involved in knowledge management, allowing lawyers to focus on delivering true value to clients.

A.I. is simply the science of getting computers to perceive information and perform tasks like humans.13 See generally Peter Stone, Rodney Brooks, Erik Brynjolfsson, Ryan Calo, Oren Etzioni, Greg Hager, Julia Hirschberg, Shivaram Kalyanakrishnan, Ece Kamar, Sarit Kraus, Kevin Leyton-Brown, David Parkes, William Press, AnnaLee Saxenian, Julie Shah, Milind Tambe, and Astro Teller, “Artificial Intelligence and Life in 2030.” One Hundred Year Study on Artificial Intelligence: Report of the 2015-2016 Study Panel, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, September 2016. accessed 20 Nov 2017. A.I. has risen above its massive hype simply because it gets things done. We already use A.I. applications on a daily basis: A.I. is working to automatically correct typographical errors we make on our mobile phones, and can recommend us things to buy when shopping online. These examples tap on the machine’s computing power to rapidly process large amounts of information to complete a task. A.I. can be improved by providing it with more relevant data. With machine learning, the same task can take a shorter time and be more precisely performed.

A.I. technology has been driven into the mainstream because of its utility as a tool to organise and extract real value out of large volumes of data. It can do the same for law firms. While humans drown in giant pools of information, A.I. thrives. A.I. helps to structure and navigate large pools of a law firm’s data because these quantities of data improve the machine’s capabilities. Better search results are generated and content is organised in more meaningful ways. For lawyers, this means first, existing work products such as model document formats are easily retrievable. Second, and more importantly, A.I. treats dormant work product as valuable fuel for training the machine to become a better curator of legal content.

We believe that the result of applying A.I. in such a manner would result in a better-equipped knowledge arsenal for lawyers to tackle complex legal problems. Adopting A.I. technology in a law firm turns the challenge of information overflow into an opportunity to take full control of the firm’s intellectual capital and improve the quality of its lawyers’ services.

“[L]awyers are knowledge workers. They want to work, and their clients want them to work, on interesting, high value activities, rather than re-creating the wheel. [Mary] encourages her legal partners to design smarter knowledge management and collaboration systems and to automate routine activities.”

Interview with Mary O’Carroll, Head of Legal Operations at Google14 Mike Walsh, “How Google Runs Their Legal Team” (Field Notes from the Future, 25 Aug 2016) < https://fieldnotes.mike-walsh.com/how-google-runs-their-legal-team-344095b74a14> accessed 6 Nov 2017.

The INTELLLEX Knowledge Repository

INTELLLEX understands that knowledge management can be burdensome to a lawyer. Managing your intellectual capital should be an intuitive experience. To achieve this, we developed SOURCE and STACKS: two powerful tools on one user-friendly interface.

STACKS is a platform that consolidates and automatically organises your knowledge products based on your firm’s requirements. Using STACKS’s smart categorisation system, lawyers can identify beneficial resources and specify their utility. Our A.I. algorithms can classify useful document types by their characteristics and can taxonomise files based on the legal concepts they contain. Precedents can be shared with one another seamlessly using a simple interface.

SOURCE is an advanced search engine tailored for legal searches. As you use STACKS to construct your firm’s knowledge repository, SOURCE keeps your information pool current with new content from regulators, courts and law firms.

SOURCE and STACKS integrate and streamline the work processes of legal research and knowledge management. We think that the most efficient way to cultivate a knowledge management culture in a law firm is to ensure a continuous cycle between legal research and the legal work product. Knowledge generation is initialised with legal research. But legal research should not always start from scratch. It should, when possible, build on the existing intellectual capital of the firm. With a dynamic knowledge repository, law firms can reduce research inefficiencies and increase the quality of their work product, delivering greater value to their clients.

INTELLLEX aims to help firms construct a modern law knowledge repository, where knowledge works for the lawyer. We are building something lawyers have wanted for awhile. Artificial intelligence is merely the tool that has emerged to finally enable that goal. The Tech Start for Law grant, which provides 70% funding of the first-year cost of adopting INTELLLEX, is available up to 28 February 2018.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Intellectual capital refers to the summation of a firm’s expertise, skills and work product. See, e.g., Janine Nahapiet and Sumantra Ghoshal, “Social Capital, Intellectual Capital, and the Organizational Advantage” (1998) 23(2) Academy of Management Review 242.
2. See Stefane M. Kabene, Philip King and Nada Skaini, “Knowledge Management in Law Firms” (2006) Journal of Information Law and Technology (1) 1.
3.Ibid.
4. See AGC Partners, “Insights: Legal Technology” (April 2017) 2.
5. See Norton Rose Fulbright, “2017 Litigation Trends Annual Survey” (2017) 22.
6. HBR Consulting, “How Centers of Excellence Are Accelerating Efficiencies Across the Legal Landscape” (2017) 3.
7. Ng Huiwen, “Junior Lawyers Feeling the Strain – and Leaving” (The Straits Times, 10 Sep 2017) ; Amelia Teng, “Many Mid-Tier Lawyers Leaving the Profession” (The Straits Times, 4 Sep 2016) accessed 21 Nov 2017.
8. Thomas S. Clay, Eric A. Seeger, “2017 Law Firms in Transition: An Altman Weil Flash Survey” (2017) 1.
9. Ibid 84.
10. Richard Tromans, “AI Now: The Growing Adoption of Legal AI” (2017) Thomson Reuters 3.
11. See Heidi K. Gardner, “The Collaboration Imperative for Today’s Law Firms: Leading High-Performance Teamwork for Maximum Benefit” (2014) HLS Center on the Legal Profession Research Paper No. 2014-23.
12. Richard Susskind, Tomorrow’s Lawyers (first published 2013, OUP 2013) 64.
13. See generally Peter Stone, Rodney Brooks, Erik Brynjolfsson, Ryan Calo, Oren Etzioni, Greg Hager, Julia Hirschberg, Shivaram Kalyanakrishnan, Ece Kamar, Sarit Kraus, Kevin Leyton-Brown, David Parkes, William Press, AnnaLee Saxenian, Julie Shah, Milind Tambe, and Astro Teller, “Artificial Intelligence and Life in 2030.” One Hundred Year Study on Artificial Intelligence: Report of the 2015-2016 Study Panel, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, September 2016. accessed 20 Nov 2017.
14. Mike Walsh, “How Google Runs Their Legal Team” (Field Notes from the Future, 25 Aug 2016) < https://fieldnotes.mike-walsh.com/how-google-runs-their-legal-team-344095b74a14> accessed 6 Nov 2017.

INTELLLEX