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Process automation, the meeting point between companies, start-ups, and legal firms

Eugenia Navarro, Professor at ESADE Law School, chaired a debate on the relationship between start-ups, law firms, and companies in the burgeoning LegalTech field. “No less than 80% of what a junior lawyer does can be automated”, warned Carlos Álvarez of the law firm Gómez Acebo & Pombo

Process automation, the meeting point between companies, start-ups, and law firms. Those attending the workshop on innovation in the legal field (LegalTech) all agreed on the phenomenon. The event was held by ESADE and Lefebvre at the ESADE Forum. The workshop was the last this academic year in a cycle of gatherings on innovation and technology. Carlos Álvarez, Director of Innovation at Gómez Acebo & Pombo; Mercedes Blanco, Vice-President of the World Council of Developers and Investors of FIABCI International Real Estate Federation, and Alejandro Esteve de Miguel, CEO of Bigle Legal, together with Eugenia Navarro, Professor of Legal Strategy and Marketing at ESADE Law School, debated the common ground and synergies that work best for players in the LegalTech sector.

“No less than 80% of what a junior lawyer does can be automated”, warned Carlos Álvarez, citing repetitive tasks that computer programmes can now do better than humans. These tasks include things such as transcribing meetings, or ‘cutting and pasting’ clauses in contracts. “If a start-up is snatching clients from a legal firm, that means we should not be offering that service because it can be automated”, he added, recalling that “we should focus on the tougher tasks in which lawyers provide more added value”. Mercedes Blanco agreed with him, noting that “We work with people. If automation of other tasks lets us sharpen that focus, all the better”.

One of the things worrying law firms is that companies are undergoing technological transformation. Many firms already use ‘Agile’ methodologies and need fast-paced solutions. “This is forcing law firms to change and adapt to companies’ needs and their faster tempo”, noted Carlos Álvarez, who argued that “the way lawyers have worked over the last 20-30 years has changed very little”.

In this respect, Alejandro Esteve de Miguel stressed that “Lawyers have many tools they can use in their daily work. However, technology is changing at an ever faster pace. At Bigle Legal, we change our technology every two years. Law firms that try to hang on to their legacy software and hardware will become obsolete”.

A sector in transformation

“There are 3,000 start-ups in the legal field yet the market is not big enough for all of them”, warned Carlos Álvarez, who reflected on the focus taken by many of these new firms. “Many start-ups are trying to understand how lawyers work and to automate these tasks. A much better approach would be to change the way lawyers work”. That said, he admitted that lawyers were averse to change.

Bigle Legal, for example, offers a service for automating documents for lawyers, notaries, and real estate firms. Alejandro Esteve de Miguel said, “We are shifting towards a model in which the standardisation of services will give greater weight to traditional legal advice”. Innovation in the sector and the emergence of new players is making law firms take up new tools and review the presentation of their services.

Dual training

All of the synergies and changes that will occur in the sector are already reflected in the profiles of the people being recruited by law firms in general and by LawTech start-ups in particular. “At Bigle Legal there are five lawyers but most of the team are computer scientists. When recruiting, we take excellence and innovation into account and candidates’ willingness to work outside their comfort zone”, noted Alejandro Esteve de Miguel. Mercedes Blanco and Carlos Álvarez concurred, stressing the need to find “people with a lot of potential and both a legal and computer engineering background”.

“Should lawyers programme ‘smart-contracts’?” asked Carlos Álvarez rhetorically before answering “definitely not”. He noted that such programming is the job of computer engineers, who are best-qualified to ensure these mission-critical tools never fail. “However, lawyers do need basic knowledge of the tools that the engineers use to programme applications”. Here, he stressed the importance of basic training in LegalTech tools — something that is already a ‘must have’ skill in the sector.

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