Three steps to implement AI in a law firm

August 31, 2018 by Stefan Summesberger

Sophie Martinetz is chairing the Legal Tech Track at SEMANTiCS 2018. She pursued an international career as a corporate lawyer for Bertelsmann in Berlin and London as well as she started and managed a global business unit at Barclays Corporate Bank. The legal tech pioneer founded Seinfeld Professionals and Future Law, the latter being a platform dedicated to implementing Data Science, Machine Learning, AI and Linked Data in the laeyers’ everyday business with Austria as a starting point. In this interview Sophie provides an overview of recent developments, advice as to how to enter this emerging market from an IT-perspective and future prospects in this area.

You initiated Future Law, now the digitalisation hub for the legal industry. Some people call you Mrs, Legal Tech and you initiated a conference series to promote IT-based information management in the legal area. How well do the worlds of IT-business and legal business connect? Is this a harmonic process or are you facing a lot of barriers there? From the discussion to the concrete implementation plan – which are the most critical points?

I love the name Mrs. Legal Tech… historically legal and tech was not the most common ‎combination. Although in Austria, where we are based, technology was historically driven by the Justice. In Germany and Switzerland lawyers and people still send physical letters to court. In Austria we are used to communicate with the courts electronically and this since 1999. Austria is a pioneer and the current initiative "Justice 3.0" pilotes electronic tools, i.e. the e-act, the e-court room etc.

Consequently, the legal industry, the lawyers are more technology friendly, as they have had a good experience so far. But in general this is not a smooth process. As legal professionals do like to challenge technologies, they want to understand every detail - and this is not always possible if you apply legal tech or tech tools. And perfect is the enemy of the good - lawyers do not like mistakes and -let's be realistic- there are currently no standard applications on the market. Yet, we see a rapid change - over the last 2 years legal tech companies grow fast and attract VC money.

What are the most important steps: a lot of legal professionals believe that digitalisation is all about tech tools. But it is not - it is a strategic question. When we run a project with a legal department or with a law firm, we try to find out what they really want and need. When the legal professionals have found out what they want, we help with finding the right tool. But often there is no market ready tool yet or the implementation is too complicated. So we assist  searching for an inhouse IT solution and they might build it themselves.

How can one imagine AI in everyday legal work?

Everybody would love to outsource research and routine work - it is because nobody likes to do it. AI or Machine learning systems can help here.

If you take big datasets, i.e. international claims or complex corporate issues, the ability to research big datasets in a short time becomes more and more important. It is not replacing a single lawyer‎, though. Without the technology, i.e. Kira, nobody could take on that kind of cases because it would take 5 years to just review the basic documents. There are no real standard AI systems yet, but I guess in the near future there will be. Currently you need a lot of clever people, who combine lawyers and tech skills to train and use these systems. And these people are difficult to find. Yet, the legal work, the day-to-day job will change. Lawyers will be able to charge for high skill work, but the standard work will be done by legal tech tools.

Well established law firms and publishing companies in the legal domain already identified the potential benefits of semantic AI for their purposes. Gradually also smaller firms start to adapt to this trend. Where do you see low hanging fruits in for them? How exactly could a smaller business start?

You currently need a lot of capacities to train AI Systems‎. For smaller law firms it is all about taking one step after the other.

  • First: Start with internal efficiencies and look at simple Tools to digitise your office - your workflows. This starts with electronic dictation and paperless workflows. Sounds easy - it isn't. And once again it needs time, time to think and time to implement.

  • Secondly rethink your workflows; "we have always done it this way", even if it is now supported by tech tools, is not the winning argument - maybe you want to rethink you standardised work, contract automatisation, contract management - this could be a good start, but it depends on your business and area of legal expertise.

  • And finally you think about digital business models - what would suit your legal practice?

How digitized is the Austrian legal industry at the moment?

The Justice system is well digitalised. The other players benefit from this and will continue doing so. For lawyers worldwide and in Austria, it is a starting new area and legal departments do now start to feel the digital challenge as ‎more and more CEOs implement digital business models and internal processes.

Where do you see Austria’s role in this mission. Do you see potential for Austria to impact the GSA-region? Do you get the impression your Future Law-initiative will grow further into other European countries?

Yes, in the middle of Europe we already shape the legal digitalisation, we start to reach out to the CEE and Germany and other European jurisdictions. For even more impact we need to bundle initiative and this is ie why we are very glad to host the LegalTechTrack together with SEMANTiCS this year.

You will host a panel discussion at SEMANTiCS 2018, the first event ever to emphasize on the connection between the legal domain and semantics. Should semantics experts start to get involved with the legal business in your opinion? Can you think of do’s and dont’s or things to keep in mind for technically trained people that aim at successfully working in the legal business area?

Law is all about language. And it is highly relevant, for democracy, society and business. This is also a reason why we launched our Future-Law Legal Tech Accelerator two years ago where we help legal tech StartUps to grow quicker.

So, yes, dear semantic experts, please get involved and get in touch with Future-Law!‎

Discuss the potential of Legal Tech Solutions with Sophie at the LegalTechTrack at SEMANTiCS 2018. Register now!


The annual SEMANTiCS conference is the meeting place for professionals who make semantic computing work, and understand its benefits and know its limitations. Every year, SEMANTiCS attracts information managers, IT-architects, software engineers, and researchers, from organisations ranging from NPOs, universities, public administrations to the largest companies in the world.