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Sep 5, 2018

Legal Tech: Key Takeaways from a Unique Secondment from Aird & Berlis LLP to Diligen, a Legal Tech Company

By Aaron Baer

Aaron Baer, a corporate/commercial associate with Canadian law firm Aird & Berlis, recently completed his secondment with Diligen, a Toronto-based legal tech company. His well-publicized secondment with a startup that provides artificial intelligence technology for due diligence and contract review was the first known secondment between a leading law firm and a legal tech company.

Q: What did you hope to get from this secondment?

A (Aaron Baer): My secondment with Diligen was a unique opportunity to peek under the hood of a company supplying advanced technology that many of our lawyers are leveraging to augment the legal services that we provide. I was able to gain a different perspective into how technology is changing the practice of law and enabling lawyers to offer more efficient service to our clients. I was also given the opportunity to join a group committed to its development. I really enjoyed being part of the entrepreneurial spirit of an AI firm, even for a short period of time. By helping train the Diligen platform on new clauses using machine learning, I was able to help deliver a product that is truly valuable to the way legal professionals work to better serve clients. I gained valuable insight and perspective on how broadly legal tech can be used, as well as the possibilities and implications it has on the future of legal services. I loved the energy at Diligen, and being able to help out on the business side was really exciting.

Q: Lawyers tend to work predominantly with other lawyers. What was it like to work so closely on a day-to-basis with other professionals?

A: It was eye opening for sure. Most internal interactions for lawyers at law firms are typically with other lawyers; rather than with developers, experts in AI or machine learning, or marketers. At Diligen, these groups come together, and the result is a sharing of ideas and perspectives that you wouldn’t be able to get with a homogenous group of lawyers. The traditional way of solving problems has been to throw more lawyers at the problems, but the future of legal service delivery involves a diverse group of professionals who leverage technology, bring different skills to the table, and understand their data. There’s been a big divide historically between lawyers and non-lawyers (the term that, thankfully, is beginning to be replaced by “other professionals”), but this separation is breaking down as the legal profession begins to better understand that other professionals bring so much value to the table. For the field to truly transform to a more holistic delivery of legal services, lawyers need to serve as a piece of the puzzle, but not the complete puzzle.

Q: How did this experience impact your perspective on the delivery of legal services?

A: The way that legal services are provided in the future is going to look a lot different than it does today. There is a real appetite for products leveraging AI to help improve the delivery of legal services. And when these products can add additional value (for instance, project management) in addition to their main focus (for instance, contract review), then there is even greater appeal. Lawyers aren’t exactly known for their penchant to adopt new technology, so when legal tech products allow lawyers to provide more efficient legal services without having to master new skills sets, it makes it much easier for these products to be adopted. To be able to provide competitive legal services, many firms are going to need to embrace these tools or else they will find themselves unable to compete with their competitors (both new and old).

Q: The scalability of technology often changes the game by globalizing industries. Do you see it creating a more global legal field?

A: Traditionally, the practice of law was very localized. Client communication took place in person, so clients tended to be based in one province or state, or even more localized by city. The widespread use of email and the internet have increased the ability for lawyers to serve clients no matter where they are located. And now technology is changing the game by allowing legal tech companies to build products to serve their clients (law firms and other providers of legal services) all over the world. Given the complexity of many of these products and the incredible amount of expertise required to build them, it simply wouldn’t make economic sense to create these products if they were only able to be used locally. One of the things that I learned during my secondment is that lawyers in countries all over the world are training Diligen to analyze contracts in their local languages – which is something that still fascinates me. The fact that one platform can be leveraged by lawyers in any country and in any language is an incredible example of the power of legal technology to augment the practice of law. Many of the challenges in the legal sector are global in nature, so it only makes sense that legal tech companies are building technology that can be leveraged on a larger, global scale.

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