(Originally posted in the Financial Review)
Artificial intelligence is finding its place in professional services; not by taking away jobs but rather handling routine tasks so professionals can spend their time more productively and open up new ways to serve their clients through digital.
In fields like legal, risk and compliance, AI is playing the role of a self-service subject matter expert to assist with decision-making. Along with becoming a trusted advisor, AI is also learning to handle routine paperwork and workflows – both saving time and delivering operational efficiencies.
Retail conglomerate Wesfarmers turned to Neota Logic’s AI automation platform to reduce the volume of work that its legal team engages in each day. The first step was to automate and manage the high volume of Non-Disclosure Agreements created by Wesfarmers Corporate Solicitors Office.
Neota Logic’s platform creates customised NDAs by comparing data entered by business users against parameters set by the legal team. It also offers Wesfarmers’ lawyers a single application from which to view the status of every NDA associated with the businesses.
With no need for coding, the platform is designed for professional services people to create their own applications rather than relying on technology teams or external developers, says Neota Logic’s Asia Pacific managing director Julian Uebergang.
More than merely drafting NDAs, Neota Logic’s platform manages their complete lifecycle – traditionally a nuanced and time-consuming process that doesn’t always get the attention it requires, Uebergang says. “An NDA is a very simple legal agreement, but most corporate legal departments don’t do a very good job of it because it’s not particularly interesting legal work,” he says. “Often there’s no record of who negotiated and signed an NDA, nor is there downstream analysis, such as what happens when the NDA expires.”
“Of course, the platform can handle much more than just NDAs, extending to cover a wide range of legal and commercial agreements – such as employment services agreements, master services agreements and IP agreements – plus it can be used to build applications that allow corporations to solve complex risk and compliance issues.”
Customers tend to start by focusing on low-hanging fruit like managing NDAs and move on to more advanced automation cases as the business case is proven. The platform uses advanced reasoning and automated decision-making logic to create rich, complex data-heavy solutions. This has seen Neota Logic’s platform employed for tax and audit solutions as well as legal and compliance. Neota can also be integrated with advanced systems like investment banking databases to undertake regulatory risk analysis on trading data.
“A key benefit of this sort of technology is that every decision can be validated,” Uebergang says. “Every data point that’s captured or derived can be traced and explained, along with the resulting feedback to the user, whereas some other technologies can be a bit of a mysterious black box.”
“From a legal and risk perspective, having that level of detail in an audit trail of the inputs and outputs is really important.”
Law firms are also putting the technology to work interacting with clients, such as conducting initial fact-finding interviews. Neota Logic’s platform can be used to rapidly build applications that work through routine questions with a user and then ask relevant follow-up questions to gather more detail where required. The percentage of the overall process that is automated is entirely in the control of the lawyer and, if human intervention is needed, the platform can seamlessly transition clients from the app-driven interface to interacting with a person.
The banking and financial services sector embraced this technology several years ago, and now professional services and law firms are starting to recognise its benefits, Uebergang says.
While digital interactions may initially appear to cut into a lawyer’s billable face-to-face time with clients, he says they soon come to see it as a powerful tool that makes them more productive by freeing up their time, so they can spend those billable hours doing more high-level tasks.
“The natural tendency from lawyers is to respond that ‘technology can’t replace us’, which is partially true, but as they become more familiar with the technology they see the benefit in handing over routine, repetitive tasks,” Uebergang says. “I think the market is moving towards a recognition that this is the right approach, letting professionals like lawyers focus their expertise in other areas where they can really add value.”
“Also, the reality is that clients are no longer prepared to pay for junior lawyers to undertake preliminary research or routine drafting, which is where AI and automation become a really viable and attractive option.”
To date, the focus of professionals using AI automation has been tactical, such as automating processes, but Uebergang says the true scale and benefits of the technology will become clear once it is utilised as more of a strategic tool.
“From a law firm perspective, that means looking to add value across the client base, as well as creating sector-specific solutions,” he says. “From a corporate legal perspective, it’s the opportunity to provide a digital interface for the business to access their services.”
“It’s all about recognising the benefits of embedding AI automation solutions within their business processes while retaining control over how much of the process is digitised and automated to ensure that people are still delivering value where they’re needed most.”
“It’s all about recognising the benefits of embedding AI automation solutions within their business processes.”