Osler’s Get Smart: Legal Innovation and Technology Expo showcases how tech is disrupting legal sector

Shawn Irving, Natalie Munroe

Mar 7, 2017


Technology is disrupting the legal sector at a rapid pace and is transforming the way law firms deliver legal services. Between automation tools and Artificial Intelligence (AI), legal professionals are leveraging these new and innovative technologies to provide greater value for clients while lowering legal costs.

As part of its own year-round commitment to applying technology and innovation to its legal practices, Osler hosted the Get Smart: Legal Innovation and Technology Expo (the Expo) on February 27, aimed at demystifying and embracing these new technologies that are permeating the industry. The culminating event of Osler’s second annual Innovation Month — which is a month-long focus on innovative initiatives within the firm — the half-day, client-facing Expo was designed to showcase how these new tools, some of which Osler is using, can streamline rather than replace traditional legal services to drive efficiency and lower costs for clients.

While the multitude of new legal technologies can at times seem overwhelming to absorb, Osler Chief Knowledge Officer Mara Nickerson, who spearheaded the Expo and Innovation Month, says these tools are quickly catching on in the legal industry and are key to helping meet clients’ needs in a cost-effective way. Mara believes that Osler is “leading-edge” in its application of technology to drive its legal services, at least within Canada, and that it’s important to apply a filter when deciding on which technologies can help improve efficiency to support clients.

 “We are looking for technology that can help solve our clients’ problems and help us work more efficiently,” Mara says. “Whether or not it has artificial intelligence embedded in it is not a key differentiator for us. Instead, it’s whether the product solves the problem that we’re trying to address.”

One of the main goals of the Expo was to give Osler clients and partners an opportunity to see some of the new legal technology and learn how these systems can help solve clients’ business problems or drive efficiency. Osler Litigation partner Shawn Irving, Chair of Osler Works — Delivery and Innovation, says the Expo reinforces Osler’s commitment to innovation, which is something he says is part of Osler’s fabric.

“What is particularly encouraging is that the firm’s leadership is keenly focused on and encouraging legal innovation within the firm, viewing it not as a threat to our business but as an opportunity to help differentiate Osler from its competitors, and something that will allow us to forge stronger relationships with our clients,” Shawn says.

Osler believes a law firm holding this kind of interactive Expo for its clients and lawyers  is a novel concept in the legal industry. The Expo included 21 technologies showcased  in a product hall, and featured a seminar by the firm’s Osler Works — Transactional  and Osler Works — Discovery  teams on Leveraging the Latest Technologies for Transactions and eDiscovery, as well as another seminar from a leading panel of AI experts on The State of Artificial Intelligence in Law.

Osler Works: Osler’s innovation hub

The Osler Works seminar gave clients insight as to how the firm’s in-house Osler Works platforms — which leverage technology to deliver a streamlined set of due diligence and closing-related services — function. The firm’s Osler Works — Transactional and Osler Works — Discovery teams have been actively using automated document review and machine learning tools in their practices, and these offerings are some of the best examples of how Osler has been solving clients’ problems through the application of technology. Osler partner Sarah Millar, head of Osler Works — Discovery (a service that streamlines discovery and document review requirements), and Natalie Munroe, head of Osler Works — Transactional (a service that streamlines transaction-related matters including due diligence, contract analysis and closings), explained during their seminar at the Expo how understanding the application of these tools to streamline legal workflow — and in turn lower legal costs — is important. But they also stressed that these technologies are not meant to replace, but complement the work done by legal professionals.

One of these tools actively being used by Osler Works — Discovery, and that was showcased in the product hall at the Expo, is Relativity, a document review platform. Sarah says Relativity is automating the discovery process, which in turn can lower legal costs for clients.

“Relativity is a very sophisticated tool and it’s really allowed us to make the discovery process more efficient, quicker and cheaper … and it really has revolutionized discovery,” Sarah tells the audience at the seminar.

Some of the tools that Osler Works —Transactional has been leveraging to streamline efficiency — and that were featured in our product hall — include Docusign (an e-signature tool), Contract Express (a document automation platform), and KIRA Systems, a machine-learning software that streamlines the due diligence process. Natalie says that KIRA is a crucial support system but cautions that these types of machine-learning technologies work best in conjunction with people.

“While KIRA is fantastic and it’s a great tool, you still very much need a person to go in and review, and confirm the extractions,” Natalie tells the audience. “… One of the limitations of all these technologies is they can’t apply judgment, so they can’t understand the transaction itself and extract it in a way that layers in the transaction on top of it. So that’s what humans can go in and do.”

According to Shawn, Osler has institutionalized legal project management through its Osler Works platforms, which he says serve as innovative hubs within the firm.

“Innovation is important in any industry, but this is particularly true in the client-service industry,” Shawn says. “Our clients are rightly demanding that we regularly review and re-engineer our legal processes to determine how we can better meet our clients’ needs. The legal technology that is now available and being used by Osler Works, including in the fields of document review and assembly, contract analysis and artificial intelligence, will help us meet that goal.”

The State of Artificial Intelligence in Law

The second panel of the seminar included three leading AI experts: Ken Block of Ravn Systems (an AI search and knowledge management tool), Ryan McClead of Neota Logic (a decision-tree-based analysis tool that utilizes AI), and Noah Waisberg of KIRA systems.

During their seminar, the panel explained that while some apprehension still exists in the legal sector in terms of the application of machine-learning technologies, AI is on the cusp of exploding. In their address to the audience, the panel deconstructed these perceptions of AI by presenting it as “augmented intelligence,” which is most effective as a complementary tool to the work done by legal professionals, according to Block.

McClead defined AI as “multiple things that solve very particular, narrow problems.” He also stressed that “people working with Artificial Intelligence are actually better than people without AI, or AI on its own,” to drive consistency and accuracy in the final product.

Waisberg explained how AI, in combination with the proper processes and people, “can allow a firm to provide better value to clients.

“…I think that’s one of the things AI opens up,” Waisberg says. “There are a fantastic amount of legal needs now that large companies have that are not being met, that might be met if we were able to provide a compelling solution for them.”

Clients find experience at Expo beneficial

Between the product hall and the seminars, clients and vendors found their overall experience at the Expo to be rewarding. Ninety-five clients and Osler lawyers attended the live event, and another 40 clients participated via webinar. Clients were excited about the opportunity to learn more about the products and how they’re being used.

“It’s good to see a law firm that’s taking this really seriously and really taking this forward with momentum,” one client said. “For me, this event helps categorize and explain the functionality and practicality of these technologies.”

Another client lauded the overall event as a great learning opportunity and a way to look into where the legal sector is headed.

“This event was very thorough in that Osler really canvassed a lot of the legal technologies that are available, and that really gives you an opportunity to talk to the providers and really understand what the technologies are in a non-sales-pitch environment,” the client said.

Patrick Fuller of Neota Logic — who participated in the Expo — says the level of client engagement he experienced was unprecedented and that the legal sector should take notice.

“I had the pleasure of participating in the first client-facing emerging technology expo I’ve ever seen a law firm present, showcasing the technology that can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of how certain legal services are delivered,” Patrick says. “Most impressive was the level of engagement and interest of the firm’s clients that were in attendance, which should serve as a blueprint to law firms on a new way to foster collaboration and partnership with their key clients.”