• Thursday, June 13, 2024
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AI is saving up to 50% of lawyers’ time, say heavyweight African firms

AI is saving up to 50% of lawyers’ time, say heavyweight African firms

A trio of Africa’s top law firms say their use of AI and machine learning is helping them save up to 50% of their lawyers’ time by embedding the tech in their processes.
Bowmans, Webber Wentzel and Cliff Dekker Hofmeyr have all been using the tech for some years, to a greater or lesser extent, but the cost of the tech and general market dynamics have led to slower adoption in Africa than in other regions.

Cathy Truter, head of knowledge at Bowmans, said the firm has invested a lot of time, energy and money in acquiring AI and machine learning tech and embedding it across all of its offices. “And as a firm we are pretty much on par with what the international are doing with it.”
She said there is a slightly slower uptake of these tech tools generally in other African jurisdictions, but the firm’s offices in Kenya, Mauritius, Tanzania and Zambia are on a par with what the firm is doing with the tech in South Africa. “And with local and international clients, there is an expectation of that.”

Leapfrogging opportunities
Truter said African law firms have an opportunity to leapfrog what is being done internationally, in that in other regions firms have been embedding AI and machine learning tech tools for much longer. “So, African firms are starting out with the newer, faster-moving versions.
“It’s a lot of work to transition from residual tech to something new, whereas in many of our smaller offices across Africa, we give them the top-end tech and they immediately jump into it because it’s the first time they’re dealing with it.”

Bowmans has been embracing AI and machine learning tech for about 15 years, starting in the due diligence space, and expanding across the board in terms of back-end systems, document automation, transaction management, collaboration portals and the like, said Truter.

legal tech is very expensive for us in Africa, so we are very careful about our return-on-investment analysis.

She said, as a result, the firm is seeing about a 50% reduction in lawyers’ time in document review, 25% in transaction management and about 45% in litigation.
“But legal tech is very expensive for us in Africa, so we are very careful about our return-on-investment analysis.”
Bowmans is constantly interrogating this type of tech, piloting it and evaluating the risks and the benefits. “We spend time with clients’ legal teams, and we recommend certain tools to them and advise against others,” said Truter.

Supercharging review capabilities
Webber Wentzel has been using AI and Machine Learning technology tools for about 10 years, and in 2018 the firm expanded its use to due diligence and M&A transactions with the hope of supercharging its review capabilities.
“And of course, like everyone else in the world, we are on a generative AI journey, post the ChatGPT frenzy,” said Aalia Manie, head of legal solutions and technology at the firm.
“We are definitely on par with what is being done with the technology in other parts of the world, such as the U.K. and the EU, relative to the size of the local market, because we’ve had to respond to client demands in that respect.”

She said the firm has also set up a specific legal tech department, as a separate entity within its IT department, whereas previously, various components of the tech were spread across the firm.
Webber Wentzel is using the AI and machine learning tech pervasively in litigation-related eDiscovery and M&A transactions, especially during the due diligence phase, which requires large-scale document reviews, said Manie.
“Depending on the client and the nature of the matter, I would say we’ve achieved between 20% and 50% time saving using this tech.”

Webber Wentzel’s lawyers receive training on AI and machine learning and broader legal technology tools and are also sometimes involved in the evaluations.
The biggest concerns of clients about using tech tools such as AI and machine learning is whether they will deliver a return on investment, as evaluating, acquiring and embedding it takes time, effort and money, she said.

Enhancing lawyers’ abilities
Meanwhile, Retha Beerman, a director at Cliff Dekker Hofmeyr, said the firm has been using machine learning for a long time to enhance its lawyer’s ability to search. And in the appropriate circumstances, it can save up to 50% of their time.
“However, there has to be a clear use case, and not every mission machine learning and AI-driven tool is appropriate for South African practice, or for the way our lawyers operate.”
She said the use of the tech by South African firms is more comparable to what U.K. firms are doing than those in the US. “We are not behind in terms of access to the technology or the platforms, but our frequency of use is less.”

In the rest of Africa, Kenya stands out in the lawyers’ keenness to embrace AI and machine learning, said Beerman. “The lawyers in our Kenya office are great technology adopters, and they are really fast learners.”

Adoption of AI and machine learning might be slower there simply because the size of the firms and dedicated resources are needed to trial it and to support it, she said.
AI and machine learning tech is going to change the way law firms operate in Africa, said Beerman. “And it’s especially going to change the way we train junior lawyers.
“We are going to have to think carefully about how we going to give them the experience that is required to run those platforms effectively.”

Originally published on Law.com