With emerging technologies driving demand for novel legal advisory, law firms are increasingly seeing a pressing need to strategise their teams accordingly. Leaders share with ALB how they are taking essential technological knowledge into consideration when making hires that enable their firms to come on top in client work.
How critical has technological knowledge become as a skillset for lawyers, and how does that influence your firms’ talent strategies?
RACHEL ENG, managing director, Eng & Co.: The role of a lawyer has historically been to act as the interpreter of the law for lay clients, primarily to act as the client’s advocate before a court of law or to act as the client’s negotiation representative in the case of a corporate transaction.
As the world begins to rely on technology and artificial intelligence to solve business and other problems, various aspects of legal practice are now being handled by technology. Combining one or more forms of deep learning, machine learning, natural language processing, speech and visual recognition software, numerous legal tech tools have been invented, whether to summarise cases, contracts or filings, to assist in contract drafting, to support contracting or legal research functions, and/or to provide classification and knowledge management.
In recent times, with the advent of large language models and generative AI, lawyers will almost definitely be dependent on such tools for legal practice. I imagine that generative AI as a junior assistant will, at some point, be more reliable than a human associate as it will learn fast, it will recall with 100 percent accuracy, and it does not need to take annual leave. Law firms will, therefore, have to start hiring talent who are agile, keen to learn and willing to embrace this change.
This means that lawyers might have to go beyond learning about the law and start to learn how to use prompt engineering. So far, generative AI is, at best, able to produce the first cut of a legal memorandum or advice. Thus, law firms will still require knowledgeable associates to review the draft and provide their judgment and comments. The good news is that junior lawyers will still have a job, but they will have to rise above the ability of the generative AI tool.
CHARLES BUTCHER, Asia managing partner, Eversheds Sutherland: The firm has a long and successful history of using AI and AI-led technology for our different practice areas. However, with the rapid advancement of AI and, more recently, generative AI, the importance of technological knowledge has significantly escalated for lawyers.
In trying to get ahead of these changes, we have incorporated technological expertise into our talent strategies, such as hiring legal technologists to support our clients. By embracing these technological advancements, we can enhance our client advisory work and align our operations with the evolving landscape. In support of this is our newly established Global AI Task Force, comprising lawyers and business professionals from across the firm. This task force will evaluate the development and use of generative AI products, ensuring we stay at the forefront of legal, ethical, and regulatory considerations.
We are also excited about our upcoming global generative AI skills development program, which will equip all our people with the necessary knowledge and readiness to embrace this transformative technology. By providing comprehensive training, we will empower our people to navigate the complexities of AI and offer innovative solutions to our clients.
As an entrepreneurial firm, we’re looking to stay ahead of the competition in how we support our clients through the use of AI and generative AI.
BASIL HWANG, managing partner, Hauzen: It is no secret that AI is increasingly a feature of daily life across the globe. I think it is inevitable that it will become a more important part of legal practice as well. Lawyers of today – and the future – will need to know how to harness AI in their work if they do not wish to be replaced by it.
Another feature of the world we live in is the growing prevalence of blockchain technology and digital assets or digital currency. A huge proportion of our time is taken up in advising on cryptocurrency disputes, for example. Without a basic knowledge of the technology underlying it, a lawyer would find themselves at a serious disadvantage in understanding and arguing cases. We have found ourselves in situations in court where opposing counsel did not understand the technology underlying digital assets, which put them at a disadvantage.
We will continue to hire the best legal talent based primarily on their competence in the law. We will expect our lawyers, however, to have some technological knowledge or have the aptitude to learn it – and we are very willing to teach it. Our practice is already very heavily weighted towards digital finance, with several knowledgeable and experienced lawyers in our Blockchain, Tokenisation and Web 3.0 practice, so our lawyers should have no shortage of learning resources in-house at our firm.