Everything that can be automated will be automated,” according to the “First rule of Automation” that I’ve just made up. Nonetheless, RPA (i.e., Robotic Process Automation) in legal services has virtually unlimited applications. Use cases go well beyond producing and delivering legal solutions. But before we go into details:
What is(n’t) law firm RPA?
As mentioned, RPA stands for Robotic Process Automation. Simply, “robots” (or “bots,” colloquially) execute mundane (yet necessary) tasks, and liberate you to do something else.
While there are different frameworks, in most you can combine bots that focus on single task execution. By doing so, you can create chains where every next link in the chain is triggered by the previous.
A defining trait of RPA in the legal sector (or other sectors, for that matter) is its autonomy. In other words, the bots and chains of bots must be able to self-execute, under certain conditions.
Automating lawyers with RPA
No, that’s not how it works. RPA, or AI, for that matter, do not automate lawyers. They never will. Robotic process automation automates processes. It is in the name, after all.
Lawyers don’t need to be automated. You need liberation from mundane tasks. And if any framework has the potential to set you free, it is RPA. As you regain your time to use it as you deem best, you get your chance to spend more time thinking strategically about many aspects of your business of law.
You are not being automated. You are evolving.
How does artificial intelligence fit into RPA?
You can consider AI as a subset of robotic process automation. In essence, artificial intelligence represents machines (algorithms) that can analyze vast bodies of data, learn, and correct their behavior in the process.
As such, artificial intelligence depends quite a lot on the quality of data. You can’t have good learning if data is sparse, or if samples aren’t representative. So far, the necessity of training and data quality (or its availability in the first place) represented significant barriers to the adoption of AI in the legal industry.
But is artificial intelligence a part of robotic process automation? Well, it could be – but it is not necessary. As mentioned, the AI component focuses on training, learning, and adapting behavior. RPA in legal could simply be about law firm process automation. Artificial Intelligence doesn’t have to play a role in robotic process automation.
For this reason (as evidenced by our editorial team), RPA (sans AI) has a much lower barrier to adoption than its more intelligent counterpart.
Are lawyer chatbots a subset of RPA?
Lawyer chatbots are rule-based systems, where rules have to be set by users (i.e., lawyers and law firms that deploy them). More often than not, there isn’t any learning component, so any AI classification often goes out the window.
You could still argue that lawyer chatbots are a KIND of RPA, focused on the chat function. As such, they might be useful in facilitating and speeding up communication. However, as always, their effectiveness depends on set rules.
Is RPA low hanging fruit?
So could we think of RPA as low-hanging fruit for the legal industry? Let’s consider:
RPA doesn’t require any initial training. It doesn’t require data samples; it only requires a clearly defined process and conditions;
In some cases (if you use the right platforms) RPA may not require you to know how to code;
The time needed to set and activate bots (sans AI) is considerably shorter than implementing a fully-fledged AI solution.
For all the above reasons, robotic process automation seems like an easy win for law firms and legal departments. All it requires is for you to see processes, map them, and delegate to bots.
There is, however, a trade-off to this simplicity. Lacking intelligence, the aforementioned bots aren’t able to learn or adapt. They simply follow the set process. And while these bots can be very flexible and granular, you still might need to steer them if you wish to modify their direction.
Hence, legal automation mostly fits the operational aspects of the business of law.
Benefits of RPA and law firm automation
“If there only were more hours in a day,” said no one ever. Oh, wait…
What would you and your team do with all the extra time? I guess it boils down to that question since this is what you effectively get by automating law firm processes.
Law firm process improvement
Now, you might be wondering, “what is there left to improve, if we’ve already RPA-ed our processes? Wasn’t automation the end goal?”
All the efficiency is already there, right? Well, efficiency was never an end goal; rather an instrument that helps you achieve higher-level goals. With all the additional time, you may shift your focus from measuring process efficiency to observing their effectiveness.
Who knows, you just might be very efficient at doing all the wrong things. Now, this is your chance to optimize processes, so they deliver the most impact with every thrown punch.
For example, how effective are your media campaigns? What are your conversion rates? What is your Net Promoter Score? In other words, how excited are clients about your services?
Are your legal products performing well? Or did you miss the mark?
There are so many questions to ask, every single day when running a business. The beauty of RPA is that it gives you the freedom to focus your mind on strategy and growth hacking (if you fancy that term from the startup world).
Robots manage; leaders lead. Let the bots do what they are best at, while you grow and redefine your and your business’s limits.
People and team culture
How much time do you spend thinking about your people? Are they satisfied with where they are at? Do they feel engaged? If you find the time to really think about this aspect, you will spot many opportunities to make people feel involved and at home.
Strategic thinking and creativity
Where would you like to lead your business of law next? Would you explore new business avenues, productize your legal services, or create a compliance tool? Is there anything else that would require your immediate attention?
What else could you do for your branding? Advise pro bono? Write a book, perhaps?
There are no right or wrong answers here – the key is in exploring creativity. Who knows where you might end up.
RPA use-cases in legal services (no AI)
Robotic process automation, sans AI, is low-hanging fruit that can take over operational tasks that require little to no steering (unless occasionally, as you evolve your processes).
(However, it is also possible to build a rudimentary, yet quite a functional bot that will monitor your database and warn about important dates like trademark renewal dates, for example.)
As such, you may consider delegating the following to “unintelligent” RPA:
- Data checks, copying, updating, or deletion (e.g. automatically copy, delete, or update specific rows and cells);
- Generate content (e.g. assemble data pulled from various sources and put it into a sheet, doc, or PDF, newsletters, etc.);
- Monitor business development effectiveness (e.g. pull data from various sources – like Google Analytics and ancillary services like Adwords, etc.). Bots can further copy said data into sheets, which can automatically calculate all the rates and numbers you need to know, per set formulas.
Is legal RPA right for you?
It depends, I guess. What would you do if bots took care of some of the more tedious tasks? How would you enjoy all the additional time? Ultimately, these answers will tell you if you should consider automation for yourself or your legal services team.