The impact of innovative technology is undoubtedly going to radically reshape the delivery of legal services in the years ahead. To help consider the extent of this impact within the legal industry – and indeed, the current state of play, Legal Insights UK & Ireland spoke to Technologist and Futurist at Thomson Reuters, Joe Raczynski.
Tell us something about Joe Raczynski. You have been labelled as a ‘super geek’. How did you achieve this unique status?
It’s actually ‘Sir Super Geek of the Square Table’—as the Queen kindly bestowed recently. More seriously, I am very fortunate. My personal passions and professional career have spectacularly collided. Since I was young I would tinker with electronics, including building a home security system from spare computer parts, penetration testing networks as a white hat hacker, building websites and eventually fiddling with all things computer and technology related. For me, pure satisfaction is derived from being an early adopter of a technology, immersing myself in it, and then sharing that with others—ultimately seeing their eyes grow in amazement, interest and most importantly extrapolation. I still recall describing ‘digital cash’, e.g. Bitcoin, in 2011 to friends and seeing their awe and scepticism. On the other side, I bought Google Glass and trumpeted its potential, until the overwhelming collective societal shame forced them back into their box. The technology in a more robust form will return in a few years, I promise.
Tell us about your role at Thomson Reuters.
I oversee a wonderfully nimble team of technical client managers. Our collective goal is bifurcated. Part one is to assure that all our (80-plus) Thomson Reuters Legal products and services work well for our customers. Part two, which is ever growing, is sitting down with our customers across law firms, corporations, and government agencies to understand their technology initiatives. We are able to see the trends across the various facets of our legal customers, and serve as technology evangelists to share those insights with our customers. Historically, we have also listened to them about where ‘tool gaps’ lie, and either code those solutions ourselves, or work with the larger Thomson Reuters to build solutions.
Does the progressive development of AI and robots threaten your job or anyone else’s? If so, how soon?
AI will threaten most jobs at some point soon, mine included but a tad further out. Anything repeatable, routine, or even easy to adapt to ‘if then’ statements, will be impacted. Many of the traditional services positions will fade away first: drivers, wait staff, store clerks, and then some professional positions, such as project managers, will be next. Mentally, we all need to prepare for this eventuality. The positive is that new industries will evolve which haven’t been invented yet, which will spur new jobs.
How is AI currently disrupting the legal industry?
In the legal space, you can already see it on the eDiscovery front. Eight years ago, new lawyers might be tasked with document review spending 80 hours a week. Now law firms need far fewer eyes reviewing documents, because of AI infused tools. Document automation tools like Contract Express or Drafting Assistant make law firms much more efficient by replicating and modifying exemplar documents with ease. Those firms that adapt soonest, will be best positioned moving forward.
What do you make of law firms engaging more directly with incubators/tech start-ups?
There are several things afoot. Law firms traditionally were technology risk adverse, but that is rapidly changing. The first tug on the law firm are clients asking for them to be more agile forcing new mindsets. Another pull is that law firms tend to be a highly profitable industry, and for that reason small companies have now cast their gaze on their large margins. You have hundreds of new start-ups seizing upon niches of the legal business, be it the practice or business of law. Lastly, law firms are seeing the above and deciding to band together with start-ups to test the waters on new products and services. This has a secondary purpose, it also better positions the firm as forward thinking for new clients.
How do UK and US large law firms’ attitude differ in their receptiveness to new legal technology, and willingness to invest?
I have seen a wide variety of responses on adoption of legal technology at US law firms. Recently one firm stated, ‘we are not going to invest in AI because we are an insurance firm and it will not help us’. Conversely, I have seen several large law firm tossing millions of dollars at internal initiatives to develop new tools. My experience with UK firms demonstrates a real tilt toward innovation perhaps more universally than in the US. It seems that currently the push to be more efficient in the UK surpasses that need in the US. Despite major transformative landscape changes in the US, there are clusters of firms that will not change—until forced to do so, which will likely happen within five years. In general UK firms are thinking more like a business.
Does the growing necessity to adopt time-saving, efficiency-driven legal technology put pressure on small and medium-sized law firms to invest? What will likely happen if they don’t?
Personally, I believe the medium sized firms could be best positioned with new efficiency driven legal solutions. To that end, I am starting to see medium sized firms competing against the biggest law firms. Five years ago, this wasn’t as feasible. No matter the size of the firm, they must have a keen eye to investigate the latest legal technology trends, tools, and service models. If they don’t, they will miss opportunities—and a streak of missed opportunities will lead to significant risk of survival.