Embracing AI in Law: The Delicate Dance of Innovation and Compliance

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Christian Lister, Operations Director, X-Press Legal Services

Recently, I participated in the SRA’s Innovation: Technology and AI event where Microsoft showcased its ‘legal document drafting’ application and highlighted the benefits of retraining employees to integrate this new technology using meta prompts. It was a valid suggestion that such technology could be deployed for straightforward documents such as non-disclosure agreements, lasting powers of attorney, and assured shorthold tenancy agreements.  The SRA seemed very much open to the concept, as did Microsoft.  Unsurprisingly, proponents of AI, ChatGPT-4 and Generative AI also advocate for the rapid adoption and cure-all capabilities of AI led technologies.  As said the sellers of picks and shovels: ‘there is productivity gold in those hills’!

Technological advancements are not new or industry-specific and AI will find its place, but perhaps not as quickly as the industry would like mainly because they always overlook the obvious. People. 

While a select few among us may embrace new technologies early on, the majority tend to stick with familiar routines until change becomes a necessity, particularly in the realm of complex matters.  The law is multifaceted, and so is medicine, accountancy, and car mechanics in my opinion; an AI turbo-charged bot may be able to tell me what is wrong with my car but I wouldn’t want it tightening my wheels nuts or heaven forbid my Gudgeon Pin; call me old fashioned, but I like to manage risk.

Risk management isn’t viewed as a particularly exciting career. I believe we are ranked as the antithesis of dreamers, akin to those who pop party balloons and deflate the bouncy castle. We belong to the pragmatic world of regulation, legislation, and strategic risk mitigation, standing with a clipboard checklist in front of the ever-optimistic pioneers of progressive ideas.

It’s a delicate balance, akin to yin and yang, the eternal struggle between bottom-line benefits, increased productivity, and greater profit, juxtaposed with the weight of regulatory fines, overzealous PI underwriters, claims, and consumer complaints. At the SRA event in Manchester, there was a subtle acknowledgment—a fleeting nod, almost imperceptible—that AI and GenAI represent the immediate future. The idea of retraining team members to incorporate AI into day-to-day administrative tasks emerged as a flexible approach for legal practitioners, a gentle nudge toward the evolving digital landscape.

Amidst open-mindedness, connectivity, and similarly evolving soundbites, my risk-focused musings veered toward insurers’ potential reactions to my request for an ‘open-minded policy’ in 2025. My reverie was swifty ended when the topic pivoted to case management software contracts, making the next 15 minutes the most captivating of the day.

Certain CMS suppliers, although not all it transpired, employ a business practice that binds law firms to minimum SLA agreements which coexist with the software licensing agreements. These agreements often involve rather unpleasant occurrences of substantial rate increases unless SLA terms are accepted. It resembles a shotgun wedding—minus the dancing or cake—for practices reliant on CMS platforms, and would be difficult to operate without it, especially at short notice. According to the experts present, firms should sign the agreement if necessary, but swiftly adopt OpenAPI providers/developers to transition away from questionable technological life support systems. In essence, abandon silos and embrace an open-minded approach to connectivity.

Compliance will play a key role in this and those with a discerning eye won’t need to decipher the SRA’s sentiment or direction. The middle ground of conflict exists and simply pointing at the computer and saying ‘it said no’ will not be enough to satisfy the regulation of the future. MRLO, data governance, consumer experience, and ethical practices are already in play, but it’s time to strategize how to maintain technology compliance, provide team training for new technology and navigate transitions to new systems—considering the business’s present, future, and impending inspection dates.

So before I skip into the next board meeting to discuss my version of open-minded, AI connected, blue sky shiny new systems, I am having a motivational poster created for my office window.  It will read – if you think compliance is expensive, try non-compliance.  Let the party invites flood in.