#LegalTechLives with Richard Tromans, founder, TromansConsulting and Artificial Lawyer

Ava Chisling
August 2, 2017

Richard Tromans is the founder of TromansConsulting, which advises lawyers on strategy and innovation, including the adoption of legal AI. He has spent over 18 years working in the legal sector focused on the UK and global legal markets. Richard also is the founder of the global legal AI news site, Artificial Lawyer, which was recently recognized as one of the top 50 information sites in the world on artificial intelligence.

Like New York, London, UK is a giant city made up of very distinct neighborhoods. I am a longtime West End girl, as the song goes. What are you? And what makes your neighborhood unique?

I’d have to say I am a North Londoner at heart. I’ve lived all over London, but there’s something special about Highgate/Hampstead that has always felt like home. That said, Stoke Newington all the way down to Hoxton and Shoreditch is also excellent and vibrant, though you don’t get the rolling hills and open-air bathing ponds of Hampstead Heath in the East End.

You advise law firms on strategy and innovation. In your experience, what advice do firms need the most? And what advice do they seek the most?

For years now, we have talked about big challenges to the law firm model and then profits went up again, and that tended to kill the idea that partners needed to change what they were doing. But, for once, it does seem that AI and automation is going to impact the business model. Not just because of the tech’s ability to alter the efficiency/productivity dynamic, or allow lawyers to create services they could not have offered before, but because the clients are really pushing for change. The growth of CLOC, for example, is a sign of the times.

Business as usual is coming to an end. So, to answer the question, what firms need is more help seeing the bigger picture and to understand the strategic implications for their future business planning.

“To see AI as an IT issue is the same as seeing a law firm merger as primarily an HR issue. It’s way more than that. It’s strategic. It’s a business change issue.”

When it comes to innovation, especially technology, what criteria or process should law firms use when deciding whether or not to adopt new tech?

The best way to do this is start off by considering this as a two-sided problem. The firm wants to tap tech, e.g. AI systems to provide greater value to the client, but equally any investment in tech needs a pay-off internally for the lawyers who own the law firm…. otherwise it’s not going to fly. So, I’d suggest two things: one, canvas internally on pain points that can be overcome, and two, canvas the clients to hear about their pain points. Where the two overlap, that’s where I would focus to start with.

You advise on the use of AI in firms. Naturally, at ROSS, we think this is a no-brainer. Where do you see AI in law going in the near future — and in the distant future?

Legal AI is growing in so many directions. For example, who would have imagined using AI tech to predict what jury members in a trial may think of a legal argument posed by a litigator? We have come a long way from doc review being synonymous with legal AI. It’s now a family of applications. I think we have only scratched the surface of great legal AI applications.

But, the easier question is about the near future: there will be a broader and deeper adoption of AI across law firms, in-house teams, sales and procurement teams using contracts in corporates, among LPOS and alternative legal services providers, and also in the A2J/legal aid space. In short, it’s going to proliferate.

I have lived and worked in London often over the years and yet I can’t decide whether it is tech-forward or not. The UK used “sms” (texting) before North America; same for apps like paying for parking, and online grocery delivery, to name a few. And yet, I have stood in line for 30 minutes trying to buy a pack of gum at Boots.

What do you think? Overall tech-forward? Or not.

Interesting. I’ve travelled a fair bit and one thing that often strikes me is the William Gibson line about “the future is not evenly distributed.” Sometimes because of local culture or for socio-economic reasons, countries move forward in some areas of tech use, but not in others. A great example would be Kenya adopting mobile phone payments and internet banking tech way before many people in developed nations even thought about using them. This was because mobiles proliferated there, but bricks and mortar banks were few in number, hence mobile payment tech such as M-Pesa really took off.

Overall, I think the UK is very tech forward and places like London and Cambridge are pioneering the way ahead, especially in the use of AI tech. There is also a great start-up scene in the UK these days, which certainly was not the case when I left university.

What kind of people should be making the tech decisions at law firms? Who should firms look for in terms of finding the right people to make the right decisions at the right time?

The New Wave of legal tech is of such strategic significance that ideally it should be the managing partner making the key decisions and leading AI adoption projects. If a law firm was to hire a group of new partners, or acquire a smaller firm, i.e. do something with a significant strategic aspect that could change the relationship with clients, then one would expect the managing partner to be heavily involved, if not leading the project.

For me, it’s the same with AI. To see AI as just “IT” is missing the significance of it. To see AI as an IT issue is the same as seeing a law firm merger as primarily an HR issue. It’s way more than that. It’s strategic. It’s a business change issue. It’s what managing partners love to handle.

Also, to some extent, the reason why law firms have Innovation Groups is because the managing partners/exec committees are not always taking on the responsibility of driving change through the use of AI and automation. Sometimes this is because they can wrongly assume they can’t understand what AI can do for the firm and hence the project must be delegated to the IT/innovation people. The truth could not be more different. I think this is a massive missed opportunity. Once more managing partners at firms engage with the subject they’ll quickly enjoy leading on AI projects and can then make a hugely positive impact for their firms and clients.

You founded Artificial Lawyer, which has recently been named One of the Top 50 Sites for AI On the Planet and a Top 10 Source for Keeping up with Legal Tech, both pretty cool honors. Tell me why you started the site and what you hope to achieve?

Thanks. I was amazed to receive this kind of positive attention so quickly. I started it because I could literally feel that something massive was about to happen with legal AI and it didn’t seem like anyone was covering AI and law in detail on a daily basis. It seemed too important to ignore and so it was like I had to do it. So… I got up one morning and started the site.

I want Artificial Lawyer to be of assistance to the brilliant legal AI world out there that is growing up all around the planet and to all the stakeholders who are part of legal AI, creating it, using it and for those that will be using it very shortly. It’s for law firms, corporates, entrepreneurs, investors, students, A2J groups and more. I want it to be a legal AI community and eventually a social/events platform for all those interested in the area.

When it comes to AI, there is always chatter about robots replacing lawyers. Can you set the record straight?

Wow. I’d need a book to get into this fully. But, in a line: AI is there to augment legal labor, to absorb some of the repetitive cognitive tasks and allow lawyers to be lawyers again. AI is real — but it’s software designed to help lawyers to be more productive. That’s it in a nutshell.

Here is a question I ask of everyone: What non-work-related invention would you like to have right now?! I’ve heard hoverboard, robot mechanic, teleportation, among others…

What I’d like is perhaps impossible to invent… but I’m going to push the boat out and ask for a mobile phone with a battery that lasts for more than 24 hours. I know that’s a wild idea, but maybe one day. Either that or a faster than light personal vehicle that I could zip around in. Whichever they invent first is the winner.

Thank you very much for the excellent questions and thank you for inviting me to take part. ROSS is really a great example of what can be done with legal AI tech and I really hope you’ll make it over to the UK at some point. You’re leading the way! And if there is anyone who would also like to share his or her legal AI story with Artificial Lawyer, or would like a chat about the path to a successful AI strategy, you’ll find me here.

You are very welcome. Thank you for taking part and for the compliments. We hope to lead the way to the UK and everywhere else!

Ava Chisling

Ava is an award-winning lawyer and editor who counsels creative types, writes about pop culture/tech+law and sometimes creates ad campaigns. She is Quebec counsel for Momentum Law.