Digitization at law firms

As the volume of compliance and other legal requirements increases across industries, tools that can ease the legal burden are in great demand

When Vaishali Lotlikar joined Wanbury Ltd’s legal department sometime in 2014, little did she know that locating a particular contract or assembling a legal brief would involve sifting through piles of documents, and wastage of precious hours and money in the process. “There was a lot of employee churn in the legal and marketing departments. Nobody really knew where the contracts were kept and what was there in each for the company to keep an eye on,” she recalls.

To streamline operations, Lotlikar and her team gathered all the contracts, digitized the same and put them into a document management system after tagging them for keywords, so that they could be easily searched when accessed from the firm’s servers by authorized personnel. The tool was purchased from PracticeLeague Legaltech Pvt. Ltd, a specialized provider of software and cloud-based solutions for law firms and corporate legal departments.

“I had used their technology at Glenmark and USV,” says Lotlikar, adding that the familiarity helped her get up to speed. “Today, if our international business head wants to know the particulars of a contract, I can get those details within minutes on my laptop—irrespective of the city I’m in.”

This is simply a case in point. As the volume of compliance and other legal requirements increases for companies across industries, technology tools that can ease the legal burden are in great demand. Khaitan and Co., for instance, has been experimenting with technology for quite some time now, according to its chief operating officer Nilanjan Ghose. “We were the first among law firms in India to use software for accounting. Around 2007, we started working with PracticeLeague to develop our own time and billing solution, which is core to our operations.” Over time, he says, the billing solution morphed into what is now known in legal circles as practice management software (PMS). He likens it to an enterprise resource planning software used for operational management by a majority of companies.

For Khaitan and Co., PMS helps in all kinds of processes including accounting, billing, collections, administration and human resource functions. The company is now integrating new modules into it—an attendance module, for instance.

Digital tools are also helping law firms expand in size or scope. “Many of our clients acknowledge that it is because of technology that they could grow from a 50-60 person law firm to one employing 500-600,” says Parimal Chanchani, founder and director of PracticeLeague. And while there are several technology providers operating in the legal space—LexisNexis, LegalSoft, Thomson Reuters (ProLaw), Jurisnet and dozens of others—Chanchani says “nearly 60% of the corporate law departments and over 40 top law firms in India” use its software.

“You cannot manage a compliance workflow through Excel sheets; everything is now getting automated,” says Chanchani. “What we have is a complete, cloud-based solution sitting on Microsoft servers (Azure cloud). Customers can simply start using any module by just plugging into the platform.”

Role of artificial intelligence (AI)

PracticeLeague has also begun embedding AI into its software. For this, it has opted for Watson—an AI tool developed by International Business Machines Corp. Praveen Kulkarni, who heads technology design and delivery at PracticeLeague, says Watson is implemented if a client wants to analyse a contract sent to it by, say, one of its suppliers.

For instance, if a firm wants to become the supplier of a pharma company, it will be required to submit several documents. Based on these submissions, the pharma company will send it back several documents to sign such as a non-disclosure agreement or a supplier registration agreement. If done manually, a person from the legal department would need to pick up the relevant content (from the submitted documents) and “draft and redraft the agreement that would take several hours”. With PracticeLeague’s Document Assembly, a Web link is sent to the supplier. “Once the required documents are uploaded through the link, the tool starts asking questions such as the category of supplier, payment terms, etc. After these questions are answered, a ready contract is automatically prepared through the system for the legal department to review and approve,” says Kulkarni.

However, if the pharma company wants an analysis or summary of the multiple documents it receives from suppliers themselves, the documents are exchanged by both parties for signing for which, PracticeLeague uses Watson. What Watson does, explains Kulkarni, is “extract certain portions” of the agreement—for instance, contract type, liabilities or jurisdiction, or a termination clause. “So instead of manually picking up these details, they appear on the screen in front of the person reviewing them,” he adds.

But what if the system fails to understand any particular detail? For such situations, PracticeLeague has built an interface through which the reviewer can feed additional information back into the system so that the same can be picked up correctly by Watson the next time. “AI gets better with more and more data fed into it,” says Kulkarni.

Wanbury and Khaitan and Co. are yet to start using the AI tool, but acknowledge the role AI can play in further improving efficiencies for them. “While I have not used the AI tool, I believe it can automate repetitive tasks performed by legal professionals and also suggest the possible options to be taken in a legal case,” says Lotlikar of Wanbury. Nevertheless, she adds that while all of that can be done in the legal field, “strategies thought of by human beings are also important and cannot be fed into a system”.

“AI can help us in faster turnaround times for cases and in due diligence on contracts,” concurs Ghose of Khaitan and Co., but adds that human intervention and checking will also be required. “For example, certain words could be misspelt and thus be unreadable by the machine, or certain clauses could be interpreted differently. So you need somebody to go through the clauses manually,” he adds.

Other law firms using AI include Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas which signed up with Canada-based Kira Systems for the latter’s AI technology in January 2017. On its part, PracticeLeague is now working with Google and Amazon to integrate their AI technology into its solution and, after that, plans to work with Microsoft as well.

Source: How digitization, Artificial Intelligence are easing work for law firms

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