27 May 2021

Legal AI is here to stay, because ‘guessing and hoping for the best’ is no longer enough – Emily Foges, Deloitte Legal AI

Published on 27 May 2021

Would you engage an accountant who refuses to use Excel and insists on a pencil and calculator? Likewise, do clients want a lawyer that’s wedded to antiquated modes of working?

According to former CEO and Founder of legal artificial intelligence (AI) company Luminance, Emily Foges, new technologies are the way of the future. Capable of delivering a better service in less time, they will soon be the only solution clients will want – and expect.

Emily has long been driving the use of technology and AI to improve the legal profession. Now, as Global Lead Partner at Deloitte Legal, she is bringing in real change and transforming how law firms work, thanks to the power of technology. 

The world before AI: guessing and hoping for the best

Before innovative technologies became part of Emily’s everyday work-life, she spent 20 years in M&A – undertaking due diligence in the aftermath of the deal. This work highlighted a massive gap in the process.

“When you’re doing due diligence, there’s such a large volume of documentation to review that you often only end up getting through a small sample of it,” says Emily.

“The process could really be described as ‘guessing and hoping for the best’.

“That’s why AI is such a game changer for M&A. You can sift through unprecedented large volumes of documentation and get a clear understanding of a whole organisation,” she says.

A stitch in time saves nine

Not only does AI allow the legal profession to review information at scale, but it can also do it at great speed. Emily says this provides two huge boons to the sector.

“Firstly, with the long and tedious document review work taken care of, you can use your time to drill in and start asking questions. The right kind of questions. This means you’re more effectively using the client’s time because you’re charging them for your insights, rather than the grunt work,” she says. 

“Secondly, and this is a big one for M&A, you can do your analysis at the front end of a transaction, when it’s most useful.

“It’s often shocking to see that most of the analysis and due diligence happens after the M&A transaction takes place. And if that’s the case, the buyer won’t have strong knowledge about the asset until after the they’ve acquired it. That is, until the documentation is handed over to the lawyer.

“This backwards process often happens out of necessity. Transactions take place with such speed that it would be impossible – or at least impractical – to do a thorough review before the sale happens.

“However, with the speed of AI, it’s now possible to find answers to important questions before the deal is done. And, needless to say, if you can undertake this work upfront, it will prevent a lot of problems down the track,” she says.

Big organisations + start-ups = a perfect match

Emily says that because traditional law firms can be more rigid in structure, some find it more difficult to change the way they do things.

That’s why she has always believed the Big Four would be the ones to instigate real change. So naturally, she says, she was very excited to join Deloitte Legal.

However, she doesn’t think large organisations can do it alone. And, having founded her own start-up, Emily knows how important they can be for legal innovation.

“There’s definitely a lot of freedom in a start-up. They can make change quickly, whereas if a large organisation wants to develop something completely new, it’s not an easy feat. You’ve got to go through a lot of processes. There’s a list of stakeholders you need to get on board.

“On the flipside though, start-ups often don’t have the same access to markets, power or pool of capital to draw on like many other larger organisations do.

“So really, I think legal innovation will ultimately come from a collaboration between start-ups and big organisations. They are a perfect match.

“In fact, at Deloitte we have the Ventures Program, where we sponsor start-ups with interesting ideas. We use their technology, trial it and give them feedback. It’s very successful and some of the technologies created make their way into our workflow,” she says.

The biggest threat to the legal industry: inaction

Although some legal professionals view technology as a threat to their expertise, Emily believes the skill lawyers bring to their work can’t be replicated by AI.

And in fact, lawyers that sit on their laurels are the real threat to their own existence.

“I think it depends how you think about what you do. If you're determined to carry on doing everything the old way, and you don't adapt, then you could become a threat to yourself. 

“It’s the same with any industry. Look at it this way: you can't imagine accountants now refusing to use spreadsheets, believing it’s better to sit there with a pencil and calculator. 

“But, at the same time, you aren’t going to make those spreadsheets your accountant either. You still need the human behind the technology to bring their insights and guide you forward.

“So my advice to all lawyers is to embrace the technology they need to do their job better, smarter and quicker. And you’ll secure your place in our evolving sector,” she says. 

A career with connection, freedom and choice

Emily says new lawyers have a lot to look forward to.

“I’ve recently spoken to a newly qualified lawyer who’s joined our team, and the thing he loves most about his role is the creativity. He enjoys getting to understand the client’s challenge, spending time with them, and then having freedom to identify a technology to solve their problem.

“For him, this is much more fulfilling than reviewing contracts in isolation with minimal client connection.

“What’s more, new lawyers now have many more career options available. It’s not just about the traditional law firm. And that’s really exciting,” she says.

CLI facilitating collaboration

Because a lawyer’s workload is always at capacity, Emily believes that many inhouse lawyers struggle to find the time to focus on new technologies.

“Many legal teams are stretched too thin to research, trial and implement new technologies and processes. Organisations like the Centre for Legal Innovation (CLI) play a crucial role in facilitating knowledge sharing and collaboration in our very time-poor sector.

“CLI does this is by bringing together people from all facets of the legal sector – as well as adjacent sectors. When these technology leaders come together, there is so much to be learned and shared.

“What’s more, collaborating across the ecosystem allows the sector to grow and innovate so much faster. Firms can focus on what they’re good at, allowing greater specialisation. They no longer need to take on things outside their core capabilities, because they have partners to help them. Ultimately, this collaboration between providers means better overall outcomes for the client,” she says.

So, what does the future hold for technology in the legal sector?

Emily says, “We’re just scratching the surface right now. There’s huge opportunity ahead.”