In the first part of this series, we explore the concept and benefits of technologies and their interaction with digital operations platforms within legal.
More and more, in today’s world, certain tasks are increasingly viewed as those that are potentially transferred from humans to machines. Putting aside the idea of humans potentially being supplanted by machines (a significant consideration, of course), it’s very important to appropriately move forward on this path within the realm of legal operations.
Before we examine some key decision points, let us first introduce a concept known as Human in the Loop (HITL), which typically means a machine or computer system is unable to independently solve a problem and needs the integration of human intervention to add value to the process. More specifically, humans can add input to teach the machine and tune a model to improve its accuracy. For an example within legal, we can look at the assignment of attorneys to depositions — computers can easily match areas and years of experience to client needs, but they might be less effective mixing and matching the proper personalities and styles of individual lawyers to specific plaintiffs’ attorneys and deponents. (We’ll discuss more on workflows and task assignments later.)
Next, let us also briefly define no- or low-code applications before we dive a bit deeper into some legal use cases. Essentially, no- or low-code approaches are those where a development company creates the ability for non-programmers to piece together components (e.g., add fields to a system, create reports, or trigger email notifications) to construct an application, rather than pure programmers constructing customized applications for each business need. The general value of this approach is that, in the long-run, the construction of new applications can be shifted to lower-cost employees who may be closer to the business and can thus deploy new technological solutions in a more timely and efficient manner.
With the foundational understanding of HITL and no- or low-code approaches being laid, let’s now proceed into some common legal use cases for this approach, which are often known as digital operation platforms.
It goes without saying that the preparation of documents is one of the core elements of the legal profession. This might mean having computers read contracts accurately for items like change of control provisions within a significantly large set of documents or find relevant research hits on case law for specific contexts. Additionally, preparation might mean ensuring accuracy as relates to responses on a set of facts gathered by combing through a regulatory regime to provide a classification decision like whether an Uber driver is a contractor or an employee.
In all of those instances, HITL is at play because subject matter experts train the systems by utilizing a large enough go-in data set for calibration and netting out false positives. And no- or low-code approaches to any of these situations might reasonably allow an appropriately trained, technologically proficient legal assistant or attorney to access the core of an application and integrate some tweaks and changes to hone the software in a manner more closely matching the desired workflow within a law firm or corporate legal department.
But there is another usage of HITL and no- or low-code technology relating to automation and process flow optimization which adds tremendous value within the legal profession.
Automation is often thought of in terms of what can be fully automated via triggers and execution without the need for humans. This can be appealing and negates the need for an interface as everything happens “under the hood.” However, this strict definition is very limiting in terms of the full power of automation benefits for larger scale workflows that can provide infinitely more business value.
Dashboards, portals, and case management style interfaces are the primary working artifacts of HITL automation.
The most pervasive HITL interaction involves approvals and sanity checks. For example, in a use case involving a lease review process, the ingestion of leases and matters through a process engine creates data and, by extension, visibility and performance management opportunities. Load balancing style triage becomes possible for the actual humans (e.g., attorneys and paralegals) who receive work assignments based on current capacity and expertise. This is a vast improvement from straight up first in last out regime, which does not make sense when all assignments are not equally simple (or complex).
Before we all lose our minds about the specter of a fully automated task assignment process, please refer back to the first letter of the HITL acronym, Human. Clearly, skilled legal operations professionals and attorneys should serve, especially at the beginning of a process, as an “appeals court”, so to the speak, of the automated assignment. Then, over time, as “the machine” records the decisions of the “humans”, we can expect the assignment process to become more refined and increasingly effective.
Work process standardization
An underappreciated benefit of digital operation platforms is the enforcement of approved legal processes. Enforcement is a word a lot of us might not necessarily like, but there is clear value in the concept. If, for example, a general counsel would like all contracts to be reviewed both for completeness (e.g., are all the appropriate clauses and elements present?) and business value (e.g., non-legal team members responsible for the contract and business purpose have signed off on the agreement), then digital operation platforms can be used to implement workflows and hard stops which guarantee that these essential review elements are completed.
In a world where compliance, security and regulatory elements are more and more a part of the business environment, the importance of automating a process with required validation checks and signoffs can not be underestimated.
In the second part of this two-part series, we’ll define some of the emerging technologies and approaches available to legal technologists to allow them to maximize the benefit of digital operations platforms in the legal function.