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Legal Technology at Shearman & Sterling
Technology fundamentally aimed at the legal environment, or “legal technology” as it is usually referred to, is commonplace in 2023 in the majority of firms, albeit at varying levels.
But what do we actually mean by “commonplace”?
What are the technologies we are talking about, to what level of usage or adoption do we see these technologies, and fundamentally, why is it even important?
In the past 10 years, we have seen an expediential growth in the number of technologies aimed at law firms, driven by a perceived lack of efficiency and transparency in general lawyering practices.
A full revolution has been promised many times (thankfully less so recently) with thoroughly life-changing technology. Alas, this hasn’t largely been the case with a number of lawyers starting to turn their backs on what they perceive to be an over-hyped and potentially short-term change.
Thankfully this isn’t quite the case and whilst there is certainly no single piece of software that will encompass every aspect of a matter from start to finish, a greater focus on tasks and commoditisable effort in legal work provides a more realistic goal.
So, what exactly are we using at Shearman and why?
Initially, we would say that one of the large drivers of a number of new products that we have adopted globally is the security that they offer. This of course has to be alongside better functionality than any current process can provide, but with client expectations for security around their documents and any wider data on matters (such as industries, locations, key contacts etc), it’s a given (but also a challenge) that any law firm can provide this.
As regards documents, here at Shearman we use iManage to securely store and categorise work product.
Foundation is used in a similar respect for matter information and whilst these may seem like quite dry subjects, the abilities that this provides the firm around secure and efficient workflows on the document side and major analytics on the matter side are truly exceptional.
The culmination of these two products will hopefully be a new search tool, developed to allow a lawyer to easily see matter information, financials and documents. This is something that is not as easily achieved as one may assume.
Areas of Focus
Particular tasks at the firm that we now approach differently due to legal technology, can be categorised into a few specific areas:
Whilst undoubtedly there are definite drafting skills that lawyers should understand and develop, it is not an efficient or consistent approach to insert basic and repetitive information such as party names or jurisdictions or have to pluralise terminology throughout a document. Technologies can easily assist here to leave the lawyer free to lawyer, and there are also straightforward workflows for alerts and authorisations.
Similarly, a heavily amended document should be easily compared to previous versions systematically, items such as defined terms should not have to be analysed by the lawyer and case and legislation citations should have the ability to be checked against external products such as Westlaw and Lexis.
Document sharing internally or externally can obviously now be undertaken electronically (although we do still have a fax machine somewhere in the office). However, to meet client requirements, we have to ensure that platforms utilised are secure whilst possessing efficient yet advanced functionality. This may be in the case of a pressurised deal closing, standard sharing of documents and transaction bibles or tailored client portals to allow an organisation to easily interact with their own documents and financials.
Inherent to transactional sharing is the ability to use electronic signature, something which is heavily utilised at Shearman.
A global firm will require a large number of document translations and rather than being reliant on a purely human translation, the firm employs a mixture of certified person translation with machine translation and learning.
4. Contract Analysis
Due diligence can be a time-consuming and costly practice, particularly if matters are operating on a fixed or capped fee basis. Using automated contract analysis platforms can significantly reduce the time taken to review client documents.
There have been huge advances made in recent years to the quality of machine learning and a first pass review of hundreds, sometimes thousands of documents can now be done in a fraction of the time with high quality results. At the very minimum, using a contract analysis platform can provide insights into a larger document set using the most basic of review criteria to highlight flags that would ordinarily fly under the radar using human review alone.
Shearman were early adopters of machine learning-based contract analysis platforms and now has a number of years’ experience in day-to-day usage on matters, alongside insightful knowledge of how automated contract analysis can be used to contribute to an increase in overall matter productivity.
Whilst we have focussed on security and efficiency, there is also a huge interest and focus upon data analytics. This may sound a little dull to some, but having a thorough understanding of the sorts of work the firm are undertaking, alongside its profitability (not only of the deal itself, but also of any related work) puts Shearman in an envious position.
Fundamentally this allows for more efficient and specialised staffing of matters, relevant growth in certain markets and definitive pricing. It’s an area that has become very interesting to a number of firms and having the technologies to support such analytics is paramount. Thankfully Shearman has been at the forefront of lawyer analytics for some time and is well-positioned to develop this area further.
Legal Technology Evaluation and Proof of Value
Shearman takes a holistic approach to onboarding legal technology by understanding the rapidly evolving legal tech landscape and matching up solutions to solve day-to-day pain points experienced by lawyers.
The firm has a centralised legal technology onboarding process overseen by a team dedicated to understanding this ever-changing environment. They also understand what practice groups require implemented in order to increase efficiency, reduce risk and minimise repetitive manual processes that take focus away from high-value legal work.
The evaluation process includes understanding if the solution exists within the current Shearman legal tech toolkit. If it does not, is there a solution on the market? Most importantly does the solution solve the problem, and does it have application to the specific work type undertaken by the practice group?
Shearman looks to run Proofs of Value (POV) to get a full understanding of the product in practice. This is not only to see if the technology works and that all security requirements are met, but to see if it solves the problem, fits in with existing solutions, is user-friendly and intuitive and very importantly if it will add value.
POVs can vary in length according to the vendor and type of legal technology but it’s crucial that the right people are involved from the very beginning. Engagement with the right practice groups, and continual communication with existing and potential users is central to the process and later onboarding if the product is selected. The type of work and area of law should dictate which stakeholders should be involved. For example, if a litigation tool is being evaluated then disputes lawyers should be involved from the beginning. Likewise, if the tool addresses a specific type of work undertaken as part of an infrastructure deal then PDF lawyers should be involved to road test from the outset.
The POV process provides an opportunity to gather usage data alongside thoughts and opinions from the users themselves. Sometimes POVs are run to evaluate multiple solutions of the same type to make sure that the best solution for a specific set of firm needs and requirements is implemented.
Central to the evaluation process is the following question: would the solution increase revenue, decrease cost and decrease risk? Only if these driving principles are satisfied then the solution can be considered for implementation.
To summarise, legal technology is by no means a silver bullet to solve every bad practice or process and is certainly something that takes patience, expertise and skill to deliver. At Shearman we have tried to instigate a process that examines business requirements to deliver technological solutions, and whilst not perfect, we are delivering benefits to our lawyers on a regular basis and strive to better our understanding and delivery.