The past year reshaped the legal landscape, as many South African law firms were forced to adopt new technologies to survive. The transition to remote working, document sharing, automation, and virtual conference calls, changed the way many legal professionals operate. With the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), many law firms are implementing innovative solutions to save time, with impressive results. 

“By harnessing the power of legal tech, firms can use AI to make sense of the huge amounts of unstructured data associated with law practice,” says Dries Cronje, CEO and founder of AI consulting company, Deep Learning Café. “Implementing AI within any business can be a daunting task, but with the right plan of action, it is possible to leverage off new technologies to enhance the way you work.” 

The Johannesburg-based tech-solutions company partnered with intellectual property law firm, Spoor & Fisher, to implement an AI pilot project within the company. With the long-term aim of integrating legal tech into the firm through a phased process, the first project focused on streamlining workflow through automation and generating a new revenue stream. In just six months, the pilot project generated enough revenue to fund the firm’s AI projects over the next couple of years. 

“The legal sector involves working with large amounts of data and spending a vast amount of time on admin-intensive tasks,” says Herman van Schalkwyk, Partner at Spoor & Fisher. “We realised that we could leverage AI tools within our firm to automate these tasks, ultimately improving service delivery to clients, without having to hire more staff. A report that used to go out to clients four weeks after the event, can now be sent off within one week. This has improved our reporting time by 300%, while also enhancing the content of the report.” 

Increased pressure from clients is challenging the way law firms work. The legal industry has been forced to integrate digital solutions to execute innovative strategies. From process automation to processing data, legal tech presents the opportunity for firms to differentiate their services from competitors. 

“Although there might be reluctance to embrace new technology, it’s not too late to take the first step. The key is to select an AI product that can be customised to your needs and that is able to grow with your business over time,” says van Schalkwyk. “Integrating AI into our firm gives us capacity to strengthen client relationships, take on more projects, and compile more detailed reports for both internal and external use.” 

A simple and cost-effective way to introduce AI into a business is by focusing on a three-step model: determine a problem, implement an AI solution, and, lastly, grow and scale the project. The first step involves determining a single problem that can be solved through AI. “From there, you can bring in a team of experts, who will assist with implementing a specific tool to solve your problem,” says Cronje.   

Written by Dries Cronje, Founder of Deep Learning Café & Herman van Schalkwyk, Partner at Spoor & Fisher