07 February 2019

IBM Watson talking AI with law firms

IBM Watson Legal discussing new AI opportunities with select number of US and UK law firms, gives notice of big announcement later this year.

The makers of IBM’s Watson artificial intelligence tool is holding informal discussions with a small group of prominent law firms in a bid to launch an expansion of offerings for firms and to help them collaborate around AI, according to a Bloomberg report.

Announcement due

IBM Watson Legal, the legal services branch of Watson, has hitherto marketed its solution to large corporate legal departments, including many in insurance industry legal departments, revealed Brian Kuhn, Watson Legal’s co-founder and global leader, in an interview. Watson’s tools can speedily read and understand legal invoices from outside counsel, thus helping departments reduce legal spending. IBM does have a select number of arrangements with US and UK-based law firms already in place, Mr Kuhn confirmed without giving details citing non-disclosure agreements. However, the company is now preparing for a larger-scale entrance into the American and British law firm markets. Mr Kuhn said IBM Watson will make an announcement during the course of 2019. He said, ‘we do have plans to serve law firms, Watson Legal does. You can expect that, here and in the UK, in the coming year.’ Without going into more detail, Mr Kuhn said the is group looking at the possibility of building a series of AI tools to help to mine and decipher valuable, existing data that firms already possess, including pleadings, as well as emails, interrogatives, memos, and case research from previous client interactions. He called this data the ‘actual unstructured documents’ created by the firm. Discussions include how to repurpose firm data and mine it for insights. Mr Kuhn stated, ‘it’s not just the data; it’s the knowledge in the context of the legal services that were delivered to clients in the past. How can you take what you do and operationalize it?’

‘Lots to fear

These discussion involved a small handful of firms, but he said ‘it’s incredibly cool’ that the firms have come together, despite the usual competitive pressures, to help devise novel AI solutions. Mr Kuhn explained this aligns with the ‘ecosystem’ trend in digital and in AI, ‘these days, with fragmented value chains, with new business models, it makes sense for businesses to come together and form partnerships to leverage each others’ economies of scale.’ He noted, himself an attorney, firms, historically slow tech adopters, are lagging behind their clients on this score, ‘law firms, regardless of artificial intelligence but just in general, should be afraid of certain of their workflows being disintermediated by their clients.’ Mr Kuhn warned, ‘if their clients can, their clients will,’ and with increasing corporate in-house legal spending firms ‘need to change’ or ‘otherwise, you have a lot to fear.’