Max Paterson, CEO of Settify
Settify works with over 200 firms worldwide, deploying artificially intelligent client onboarding systems for Family Law and Wills & Estates. In this article, we share three truths that every lawyer and firm manager should be clear on when sifting through the influx of Artificial Intelligence and Technology in the law, and thinking about the now and the future.
In 2016, I was sitting near the top of a glass tower in central Melbourne, in a client conference with my principal, Mark Parker, one of Australia’s foremost family lawyers. Between his hourly rate and mine, we charged about 202 Big Macs per hour.
As Mark started to recite the usual questions, I had an out of body experience. ‘What do you think the house is worth? What is the car worth? What’s on the mortgage? What’s your middle name?’
I looked at the client, and realised that if I were in her shoes, my blood would be boiling. Literally a lifetime of Big Macs (ideally several lifetimes) deployed on basic admin. That week, I had ordered Ubers on my phone, booked an AirBnB, and arranged flights without going near a travel agent. I realised there must be a better way for the Family Law profession.
Mark and I then switched into our standard description of ‘this is how family law works.’ I had heard his exact words dozens of times. Mark had probably recited them hundreds. In the clients’ teary, cortisol-fuelled state, I doubted she was taking much in.
So, I reached out to my friend Athol Birtley, a talented corporate solicitor and coding whiz, and convinced him that a crazy idea I had would work.
Settify would be a means for sophisticated Family Law practices to empower their clients to make a start on their matter at the time and place of their choosing. It would be available 24/7. Clients who visit a firm’s website could click a link saying ‘Get Started Online’ or similar. They would be led through an artificially intelligent, responsive, conversational interview process. Based on their answers to questions, the system would use Artificial Intelligence to provide them with customised, personalised information about where they stood, and how the firm could assist them. Best of all, each firm would have its very own version, complete with the firm’s own branding, and wording that had been crafted to express the voice and attitude of the practitioners at the firm.
We launched with our first firm in January 2017. Via word of mouth, Settify expanded to every state and territory in Australia, then to New Zealand. In 2018 it expanded to England, and due to popular demand, we expanded it into Wills & Estates.
There are now over 200 law firms around the world using Settify, representing nearly 2,500 solicitors. It has helped more clients than you could cram in to Hisence Arena, and led to them engaging firms. It gets constantly glowing feedback from clients and solicitors.
AI, huh, yeah, what is it good for? Absolutely some things.
Our favourite definition of Artificial Intelligence is “things computers will be able to do, but they can’t do just yet.”
Settify is an ‘Expert System,’ powered by conditional logic, some heuristics to double-check client’s answers, and connections to databases to, for example, guess the gender of your child’s name without asking ‘Is Lachlan a boy or girl’? That is one of the older forms of AI, but nevertheless a useful one.
The crucial thing to recognise is that, like the AI that you use every day, it is great at performing a specific function. Your Google search is a miracle of AI, as is Google map navigation, as are Spotify recommendations. They are powerful, and would be incredible if they were less ubiquitous. But they are tightly bounded. They are specific tools you apply to specific jobs. The tool kit is ever increasing, but the tools are not running the factory. You are.
In legal tech too, your personal practice and your firm will increasingly see a stream of opportunities to deploy ever more powerful and useful tools, which will elevate your service offering well beyond what is possible today.
As you or your firm navigate that world, and increasingly tool-up, as we all now know we must, your fundamental strategic consideration should remain ‘what is tech good for, and what is the space where I need to aim my time and resources?’
How to become a super lawyer
As AI impacts the data crunching, the page sifting, the document scanning, the low value decision making, the administration, you will see a decrease in the time you spend performing your current job.
But, crucially, you will not be delivering the outputs of your current job. You will be far exceeding that. The next wave of legal tech will not be about cutting down on the mundane. It will be about performing at a level hereunto impossible, or impossibly expensive.
An example is a system Settify is currently building, which will be able to scan through entire sets of financial disclosure, identify and sort documents, pull out key information and provide data-backed strategic insights and analysis. It will help family lawyers far go beyond what the human mind is capable of. As a lawyer in the next decade, yes, use tech to save time, but have your eyes open to the possibility of also constantly being the first to adopt super powers.
Embrace the Human
Settify’s core vision is that the lawyer-client relationship will always remain paramount. The trust, the rapport, the application of experience and intuition to a problem, the overall strategic analysis. Looking a client in the eye and telling them it will be okay. That will always remain the domain of human lawyers.
Thus, when considering new hires, or thinking about training and developing your staff, or yourself, be wary of trying to develop skill in tasks that will become the domain of technology. Instead, focus on two key areas; the human, and the top level analytical.
The human is about your ability to relate. It may sound very unlawyerly right now, but think about your physical presence. Think about your voice, your eye contact, your posture. That will become more and more important. But also think about your empathy, your insight, your human intuition. Those are defensible business skills.
The top level analytical is about getting out of the trenches, and into the Field Marshall’s office. Your future does not lie in document drafting, or making spreadsheets. It lies in knowing what tools to deploy where, and how to put it all together.