INDUSTRY INTERVIEW

INDUSTRY INTERVIEW

Models of change

Moacyr Galo, head of sa.global Labs, explains why applying machine learning to a map of how myriad documents and datasets are related will be a strategic game changer for law firms

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In previous issues of Briefing, we have heard how Microsoft Gold partner (and a member of its ‘inner circle’) sa.global is leveraging the potential of the full Microsoft stack for legal practices through two cloud solutions: evergreen and empower. The first enables continuously updated and improved core management processes such as budgeting and billing in the background, while empower focuses on streamlining the lawyer user experience, such as through Power BI-based reporting and new collaboration tools and productivity apps.

But this technology forms just one of sa.global’s own pillars of practice. There are others focused on advisory capability – the equivalent of being in the boardroom with firms to discuss how technology might influence decisions at the most strategic level – on data capture and extraction of insights, and on optimising business collaboration.

And then there is Portugal-based sa.global Labs – which takes elements of all of the above, as well as harnessing machine-learning algorithms specifically, to help firms unlock the differentiating value they need to find in order to grow and compete in the market more efficiently and sustainably. “It’s the final stage of the insights practice – transforming data from being a tool that only assesses the past to making real-time connections and predictions about the future,” explains the man leading the effort Moacyr Galo.

Galo concedes that even in 2021 mention of artificial intelligence (AI) continues to fuel market hype. But at the same time there are swathes of operational changes afoot where judicious application of machine learning to management information could transform a firm’s fortunes.

“We now have the explosion in adoption of collaboration on work, such as through Microsoft Teams, and GCs will be under increasing pressure to demand new types of legal services themselves,” Galo continues. “Each firm needs to have a position in this new game, aligned with challenges, goals, positioning, practices and value.”

He also points to emerging business trends such as smart contracts managed on a blockchain, or banks dealing in digital currencies – each demanding different legal frameworks. Armed with algorithms, firms can potentially make strategic decisions about exactly how and where they will play in the changing legal field, as well as to the underpinning processes, based on probabilities.

Join the lot

Microsoft, meanwhile, has an initiative underway called Microsoft Viva, showing and exploring the levers that can help employees to collaborate more effectively with the increased data and opportunities now at their disposal.

“You can connect all the information types you have within Microsoft 365, and integrate knowledge and documents,” says Galo. As a result, sa.global Labs is able to create sets of ‘legal knowledge graphs’ for law firms, bringing data from multiple systems together – internal and external, structured and unstructured (see example in the diagram below). These clearly map out the myriad connections between the data sources – collaboration choices or video recordings, for example, with structured legal expertise, precedents, past and present matter information, and even legislation.

It’s the final stage of the insights practice – transforming data from being a tool that only assesses the past to making real-time connections and predictions about the future

“Every solution is a potential new context,” says Galo. A legal knowledge graph ensures the value of that knowledge isn’t trapped in an information silo, making it available for all to interrogate. And augmented (rather than artificial) intelligence research (AIR) can over time be trained to spot and suggest connections between contexts for validation, rather than users tagging each one manually as they work (which they can still do). The vision is of an ‘automated assistant’, a “digital colleague”, says Galo ­– not replacing lawyers by any means, but responsible of course for a certain amount of continuous improvement in firm-wide search and collaboration as connections become clearer and clearer.

“Algorithms can be used to manage deep automation of processes for two main purposes – improving the customer experience, and reducing operational cost for efficiency,” continues Galo. Sometimes they may enable progress on both simultaneously. One outcome of an effective sa.global knowledge graph, for example, is the transfer of knowledge from senior lawyers’ heads to a place where the value is immediately available for more client work or conversations. At the same time, he says, firms collaboratively mapping their data in this way can develop teams more efficiently – and have less need to compete in sudden hiring frenzies to meet demand.

“At the core we are helping firms to scale their knowledge, which they often just can’t do,” says Galo. The model often finds itself squeezed between rising salary costs to meet demand and downward pressure on prices from clients and lower-cost competitors. In the future, he says – and depending on business maturity and strategic vision – knowledge maps may even fuel recurring revenue streams. “We can see firms opening the door to corporate clients and allowing them to navigate to the value, but that’s a bespoke journey that needs us to be a trusted partner.” It’s something very much on his roadmap, therefore.

Infinite options and opportunity

More immediately, firms can harness all this joined-up data to improve the speed and strength of all manner of business decision-making – both client-focused and financial. They are able to consider multiple “’what if?’ scenarios”, explains Galo, as key matter management and financial data can be considered alongside the labelled legal content as it is continually augmented by both people and the machine. If one aspect of management is changed, what could it mean for a particular piece of work, or the firm’s overall longer-term fortunes?

Galo gives examples. “Surfacing context on the strength of relationship connections can enable ranking of opportunities at client matter inception, for example. Finance leaders are able to test scenarios such as the impact of workplace change – or increasing resource in a particular practice – on cashflow, or pricing decisions against profitability.

“What if we added another 50 fee earners in a practice? What would the impact be?”

Similarities to the cost and progress of past matters can also influence choices in the present, and legal knowledge graph labels help to highlight potential areas of conflict at an efficiently early stage.

“With current high demand driving salary increases, we can combine business data from sa.global’s evergreen system with opportunities ranked during the early stage of client matter inception. This enables firms to produce an ‘opportunity matrix’, with predictions about both work’s likely profitability and the probability of a team winning it.”

Other potential ‘what-ifs’ drawing on historical data include the likely outcome of a given case based on a wide range of factors, such as the judges sitting, and – highly topical – the likely point of employee burnout due to the danger of overwork. “By collecting detailed information on what has happened in the past, we can predict some outcomes with a very high level of confidence – to within around 3% of accuracy.”

Knowledge graph, sa global

The options are many – “an infinite canvas” of potential connections and context, according to Galo – but most firms will have at least one strategic pillar very much in common.  “They all need to define what will present their differentiating edge over competition in a future market where you can be sure that sophisticated algorithms will automate processes to their absolute limits.”

But Galo also passionately believes that AI won’t replace individuals working in law – it will empower them. “Taking the right approach, AI can be a solution that brings value to executives navigating complex waters, with tools that are easy to use regardless of where you work,” he says. “The industry now needs to digitise everything it does in real time – understanding how to bring greater value to this real-time world will be key for the lawyers of the future.”

For further information, visit:  www.saglobal.com