I recently interviewed Richard Tromans. Richard Tromans is the founder and editor of the popular legal tech website Artificial Lawyer. He is also popular on Twitter. He is also the Founder of TromansConsulting, a London-based consulting company for legal service providers and law firms. He is quoted frequently at conferences and law firm events, especially on the topics of artificial intelligence and smart contracts. 

1) What has been the most surprising development you have seen when it comes to legal innovation?

I was initially expecting, as most did, for some lawyers to be doubtful about AI technology. However, every firm I meet I always find partners who are 100% behind the better use of technology to make a difference for the firm’s clients. The biggest challenge they face us building a consensus internally to put money into R&D, pilots and developing internal capacity to make change real through the use of new tech, such as machine learning systems. So, it’s fair to say that there are a significant number of lawyers who do not feel motivated to make a change, but there is now a growing number who really do want to see change and ‘get it’, when it comes to the new wave of legal tech.
2) In your view what is the biggest misconception that lawyers have about legal technology?

That legal tech, at least the new wave of legal tech, is ‘a thing’ that they buy and plug in and that’s it. What is happening now is that data analysis tools, such as AI doc review, process automation and expert systems are integrating with the working lives of lawyers.

It’s an organic relationship, where people and technology are both vital. Tech is not a separate thing, it’s part of the legal world now. Lawyers need to ask two questions: what problem do I want to solve; and what problems can I solve with this new technology? It’s a double challenge. Lawyers need to focus on what they are trying to do, who for and why; but they can’t really make a good choice there unless they can see what is possible. I.e. they need to know what AI systems can do. They may then decide they don’t need anything fancy to solve their client challenges they are focused on. But, if they’d don’t know what can be done then they and their clients may be missing out.

3) Innovation seems to be becoming a buzzword. How would you define the term innovation?

To me innovation is very simple and it is this: finding a new way to solve a problem.  Whose problem it is will vary. Innovation for one person may not be seen as innovation for another. It’s all very relative to the person or business that is trying to solve something.  A chef could call a new cake recipe innovation. A lawyer in an in-house role may see using an LPO as innovation. And a start-up will naturally see their AI review system as innovation. Innovation is in the eye of the beholder.

4) A lot has been written about Artificial Intelligence. What are your views on its role within law practice?

First, AI in a law firm is very limited, even if it’s powerful in that limited focus. There are at least 8 branches of legal AI, and more will grow. What I am seeing is firms initially experimenting with AI tools, then often realizing they need to get their broader tech strategy in place, such as getting a better handle on legal data and processes. They also need to think about not just efficiency, but finding areas to deliver new value to the client. Despite all the headlines, we are really at a very, very early stage in legal AI development. Much needs to be done before it is used widely across every firm, even if in a few years every firm will soon have experimented with an AI system.

5) How would you advise an attorney who wants to be “practice-ready” as the practice of law continues to quickly evolve? What can law schools do to better prepare their graduates for today’s legal world?

This is a very popular question!!! The answer is to know what ’is out there’. You can’t hope to help a client with leveraging legal technology if you don’t understand what can be done. You also need to think about legal data, processes and linking technologies together. Having lawyers who understand a bit of code and statistics would be great too, but this is never going to become a core issue for most lawyers. The key is learning how to use data and tech, you don’t have to be a coder to use an AI system. But, to create a new service line or product via AI tech, you do need to understand what the tools can do. But, I return to the point above about the double question: what problems do I want to solve; and, what can technology now do for me and my clients? This is the way to go.