In this latest 60 second interview, Osborne Clarke digital revolution knowledge lawyer Catherine Hammon talks to The Lawyer about coping with the pace of technology change and whether AI will replace lawyers with great technical expertise, ahead of her session at the Business Leadership Summit in association with Propero.

What are the biggest blockers to technology adoption?

Tech is sticky where it makes life easier and where it is trusted. If tech is simple to use and clearly helpful, trust builds up quickly. For professionals, there’s a further barrier that busy people can only slow down so much to learn how to integrate a new tool. So if it isn’t obvious fairly quickly that it is worth investing time in a new programme or gadget, we won’t bother getting up to speed with it.

Catherine Hammon
Catherine Hammon

Is the pace of technology change overtaking the pace at which people can cope with this change?

It can feel as if game-changing new tech is currently hurtling at us from every direction. But actually, change happens gradually. First, high-profile new tech typically takes some time to move into everyday use. Second, professional environments have big IT infrastructure and legacy systems and it takes time and effort to integrate new tools. Also, once you’re used to something, you often don’t think of it as tech any more – the phenomenon of “disappearing tech”. So, the apparent hurtle of tech is a much more steady and continuous change, in practice. There is certainly time to adapt – but we can get ready by being tech curious, building up our digital literacy and keeping an open mind.

Is AI truly going to replace the lawyers with great technical expertise?

AI is becoming unmatchable at data crunching. It can find patterns and correlations across vast reams of information and there are already examples of AI being better (ie faster, cheaper, more accurate) than humans at legal research, reviewing contracts for a particular type of clause, predicting litigation outcomes, etc. But AI is weak where there are insufficient examples to map reliable patterns. It has no common sense or contextual understanding and does not comprehend the concepts that it is handling – it just spots clusters of usage and so can make statistically strong predictions about which concepts are similar. It cannot think laterally or creatively.
A great technical lawyer is not merely a brilliant data cruncher. AI probably will step in to replace encyclopaedic recall of technical detail. AI will replace a lot of the (frankly, pretty dull) reviewing tasks passed to juniors. The trick going forward is to be augmented by tech – leave AI to do the cognitive crunching and focus instead on understanding the client’s needs and objectives, taking the wider context into account, minimising risk in new situations, navigating through legal grey areas, managing human interactions and emotion, and drawing on experience and insight to generate valuable strategic counsel.

Who has been the most influential person in your career?

I have not had a single shining light guiding my career (if you realise early on that you don’t want to be a partner, role models in law can be pretty difficult to identify and typically none are proffered). There have been a few key conversations over the years. My great uncle commented when I was about nine that, based on family history, my career choices were the military, farming or law. More recently, a career coach identified that although I am skilled at taking reasoned, methodical decisions based on evidence, I am naturally much more instinctive. That insight helped spur me to jump ship from 20+ years of competition law expertise and “hard fork” my career into future tech – there’s no right or wrong about the future, only informed guesstimates. It’s been incredibly liberating.

Catherine Hammon is part of the 120+ managing partners, C-level executives and business services leaders gathering on the 25 September 2018 at the Business Leadership Summit in association with Propero to spend a day focusing on defining your law firm strategy in a tech-driven future. For more information on the conference, a copy of the agenda, or to inquire about attending, please contact Nathan Graham on +44(0) 20 7970 4672.