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Advent of computers

December means the start of winter and the excitement of advent calendars, but Christmas isn't the only big event in our diaries this month. On 11 December we not only released our Technology and Legal Services paper, we also hosted a cybercrime session at our annual Compliance Officers Conference.

Better service through technology

We know that people and small businesses can struggle to identify that they have legal needs. Others believe it will be too expensive. Our research shows that more than a third of people try to solve problems themselves.

Our paper shows how technological advances can help firms meet these needs. These range from remote working systems that let firms reach clients in remote areas without local services, to advanced AI systems that can analyse cases. This new technology can let firms run more efficiently, more effectively, and provide cheaper services to more clients than ever before.

Keeping control

The big difference between AI and older computer technologies is that AI can learn and develop. That means it can improve itself, and that AI analysis can find patterns in information that humans did not see.

The problem with this is that AI can develop problems such as biases. This is particularly likely if a firm uses the wrong type of system for a task, or if they train the system using poor or incomplete data. Firms should treat an AI much as they would a trainee. Just as firms train, supervise, and review the work of their staff, so they should train, supervise and review the work of intelligent machines.

Firms also need to be sure that their systems are safe. As with any other technology, they need to take reasonable steps to make certain that the provider can be trusted. The Information Commissioner expects what they call “algorithmic accountability”. This means that firms must be able to show that the code behind AI systems can comply with data security rules. We expect the same when it comes to compliance with the Code of Conduct.

Staying safe

Law firms can benefit from these new technologies, but sadly so can criminals. We know cybercrime is a major concern, and that law firms can benefit from advice on how to stay safe while gaining the benefits of technology. We have worked with the National Cybersecurity Centre to give law firms practical advice such as the Ten Steps to Cybersecurity.

We invited a representative from the National Cybersecurity Centre to share their insights at our Compliance Officers Conference. Our panel - which included a cyber-psychologist and a chief information security officer - discussed that, as well as having the right systems in place, firms need to have the right culture. A “no-blame” culture can help to support staff when they spot breaches. We told firms that there are simple, cost-effective steps that can help reduce the risk of cybercrime. Here are the top tips:

• Simplicity. Cybersecurity does not have to be complicated. Security that interferes with your ability to work is bad security. Firm need sensible and pragmatic security arrangements.

• Preparation. You need a plan for what will happen if an attack does get through. That means working to limit how much information a single attack could steal, as well as having good backup arrangements in case of data loss.

• Training. If your staff know the signs of cybercrime, they can help to stop it. Learning the warning signs really can help.

Innovating

We are keen to help firms introduce new technologies safely and effectively. The Regulators' Pioneers Fund has awarded us nearly £700,000 to help legal businesses innovate with artificial intelligence. To do this, we are working with Nesta, a charitable foundation, to identify AI that can help transform access to services for individuals and small businesses. We will give more news about this open innovation contest across the next year.

Technology has a lot of promise for the legal market. We are starting to see the ways in which firms can use it to make their own work better and to help their clients more effectively than ever. We are looking forward to seeing how far the market has come by the time our next compliance officers' conference comes around.

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