Our latest 60-second interview features Ashurst Digital Ventures partner and co-CEO Tara Waters, who talks to The Lawyer about whether digitalisation is a good thing for the future of the legal profession and whether law firms are moving from services to digital products, ahead of her panel session at the Business Leadership Summit.

Tara Waters

Do we overestimate the capabilities of AI?

Yes and no. AI definitely has potential to transform the legal services industry. However, at present, its practical usefulness in a legal services context is mostly targeted to a narrow set of activities. So, where lawyers are able to integrate AI-based solutions into their workflows there can be real utility and value. Ashurst has achieved this in high volume repapering and document review exercises, for example. However, we are not yet seeing a wider-scale impact on how we do our work, and we certainly haven’t achieved actual artificial intelligence.

One of the reasons for this is that AI solutions for law are largely rules-based. And while rules do factor into the practice of law, there are many nuances to legal analysis and interpretation that are informed by a lawyers knowledge, training, experience and judgement. This means that we cannot rely solely on the output of machines—and I think this fact can be understated when touting the benefits of legal AI solutions.

However, where AI is used to help inform the overall legal analysis, it can be extremely useful and improve the speed at which those ultimate decisions can be made by humans.

Are firms moving from services to digital products?

I don’t think it’s a case of a binary shift from considering ourselves service providers to producers of digital products. Various aspects of what lawyers do on a day-to-day basis can be productised and thus done more efficiently from a time and cost perspective, as well as more profitably. Digital products also have the potential to add real value to the client experience. However, clients will continue to need legal advice and services that cannot be delivered solely through technology—and that is where law firms should retain a competitive advantage. Therefore, technology is not the answer, but it is becoming an increasingly important enabler for law firms looking to keep pace with client demands and industry trends. Not all firms will necessarily look to build or offer their own digital products, but being able to leverage productised offerings (whether their own or from third parties) is a factor for remaining competitive.

Is digitalisation a good thing for the future of the legal profession?

Absolutely. I consider digitalisation as essential to remaining relevant for, and connected with, our clients. Our clients are digitalising, and this means their requirements and expectations are evolving. If lawyers are not operating in a manner which facilitates and improves the ways in which we can deliver value to clients then we are simply not fulfilling our role. Adoption of technology-based solutions is allowing lawyers to re-focus on being better advisers which is, ultimately, what our clients want and need.

What is your most significant problem that you are trying to solve?

My roles and responsibilities within Ashurst include being heavily involved in shaping and delivering our innovation and transformation strategy. My greatest challenge is balancing the scale of our ambition with the practical challenges of implementing change within a large global organisation, whilst maintaining the highest possible level of engagement. We are a people-focused business and it is essential that we do not forget that our greatest asset is our people. And change means taking risk and accepting uncertainty—two things that lawyers don’t particularly like doing.  So it is critical that we find ways to inspire our people to embrace and seek out change, and to join us on and invest in this journey.

Name three things on your bucket list

I can name four, making it to the remaining four new wonders of the world that I haven’t been to: Christ the Redeemer, Chichen Itza, Machu Picchu and Petra. A trip to South America is clearly a must do for me…

Tara Waters is part of the 30+ speakers making up this year’s speaker line-up at The Lawyer’s Business Leadership Summit on 25 September. For more information on the conference, a copy of the agenda, or to inquire about attending, please contact Felicia Drakos on +44(0) 20 7970 4279.