Thomson Reuters has 50,000 employees across 100 countries providing cutting edge technology products and information services to tax, legal and financial professionals, generating $12bn annual revenues.

Legal IT Insider asked Nayeem Syed, assistant general counsel, financial & risk and passionate advocate for legal analytics, to give us his perspective as to how technology and innovation is impacting the business and practise of law. [There are some absolute gems in here, our favourites are in bold.]

What is your role at Thomson Reuters?

Reuters created one of the world’s largest private networks to link the world’s financial exchanges and enable electronic trading.  Today many financial institutions require, often for regulatory reasons, secure, low latency and resilient networks to receive and use our financial products and in turn conduct their time-sensitive business activities including of course algorithmic trading.  I lead the legal, regulatory and compliance support of that network. 

Is technology a threat or opportunity for lawyers?

It’s both. Silicon Valley has shown that it is systematically applying itself to all lucrative knowledge-based industries and even the law can’t resist its forces.  Lawyers all use all the latest new technologies in their personal lives, so know and value their power. They are already open to and increasingly seeking out technologies to assist them in their professional lives for legal problem solving or to increase productivity to create client value, create efficiencies and retain their charging ability.  And, the motivation is simply this: in the new world economy lawyers will no longer get paid for what they know, but what they can do, as Google knows everything.

How should lawyers react to the fact that technology is driving down costs?

First, accept that’s always been the case.  It’s just that our profession no longer enjoys the same levels of regulatory protection and barriers to entry! I began my in-house career in traditional media and there, new technologies meant trading in analogue dollars for digital dimes.  Thomson Reuters still has a pretty good moat as our corporate clients remain hungry for a competitive edge in sectors where the rewards are high.  Whilst much more is available for free these days, there is also a lot of noise. But if Apple is under constant pressure to come up with the next iPhone, we all need to stay alert and build in resilience in our offerings and optionality in our dealings. 

You have a real interest in the ‘robots versus lawyers’ debate – what do you think is the direction of travel?

Let me answer by analogy: driverless cars are not going to suddenly be commercially available next year.  But we will see increasingly autonomous features which slowly relieve drivers of activities they are solely responsible for and provide them entirely new assistance.  Regulators are already preparing their legal frameworks for it. So, if driverless cars are no longer science fiction, how can at least machine assisted lawyers not be around the corner?  I personally think judges supported by machines will precede the fully automated school run.

How is AI and Big Data manifesting itself in your sector?

The biggest insight to emerge from the application of AI to big data is that there is no longer a need to know why.  By simply observing correlations we can uncover many more insights that are actionable and reliable.  For example, financial data scientists are now turning to the law market, and applying the techniques successfully applied to predicting complex financial instrument pricing.  The hope is that these new applications could transform the way we approach and assess legal outcomes.  Technology that assists lawyers and judges will be created to help them perform better and handle more matters.  But that does mean for some, fewer billable hours. But what’s interesting is whether it could also mean fewer miscarriages of justice.

This article first appeared in the latest Legal IT Insider