Kennedys has unveiled an innovative legal tech startup to harness artificial intelligence and automate the claims process. But will this business deepen fears of automation replacing lawyers’ jobs?

The legal sector has grown accustomed to politicians, market analysts and futurologists predicting a future without the need for lawyers. Now those same predictions are being made by a law firm.

Kennedys Law last week launched its own legal tech startup with the express intention of diverting work away from its hundreds of fee-earners. The idea behind Kennedys IQ is to harness technology to enable clients – usually major insurance companies – to do certain legal tasks themselves.

It is a bold strategy, but the firm assures sceptics it will pay off.

‘We started this process 10 years ago to allow the defendant litigant organisations to handle cases themselves,’ says Kennedys partner Richard West. ‘It was massively counter-intuitive to our clients and many partners [but] we have created much longer and deeper accounts with clients.

‘This frees lawyers to be lawyers. A lot of firms have forgotten it’s not about increasing volumes at lower rates.’

Mike Gilpin, commercial director for Kennedys IQ, adds: ‘There is ingrown resistance at most firms. This is an entrepreneurial firm and the partnership are up for this. These tools will remove those badly litigated cases and allow people to deal with claims in the right way.’

Across the legal sector automation tools are reducing administrative costs, while introducing efficiencies and competitive advantages. Legal professionals are becoming proficient in software covering word processing, spreadsheets, telecommunications, e-billing, database management, presentations and legal research. The new Kennedys business will sell six different apps designed around automating the claims process and using artificial intelligence to do as much of the work as possible. About 30 lawyers, technologists and claims-handlers have been recruited.

Clients can access a claims manager, fraud detector, automated defence lawyer, portal manager, settlement manager and recovery tool. The claims process in personal injury is gearing up for automation – in particularly through the new portal for RTA claims – and the defence sector must change with it. The claims manager app will use AI to predict certain types of damages based on data collected before. Similarly, the defence lawyer will settle claims where liability is not in dispute without involving any lawyers. The fraud detector, meanwhile, automatically alerts clients to any suspicious claims.

Kennedys IQ says it is not an incubator or research business. Instead it provides a single platform that enables access to features and solutions. Through its data engine, it also provides trends and insights to inform businesses and their claims strategy.

But isn’t there a danger that insurers can simply do this tech-driven work themselves? It would appear not, explains product and innovation director Karim Derrick.

‘Insurers don’t have the capacity from their claims teams in-house,’ he says. ‘Claims tend to get forgotten about. Despite their size and relative wealth, they are using databases that are 40 years old. There are claims-handlers using seven or eight different systems to get from one end of the claim to the other.’

Derrick says clients should be signposted to Kennedys lawyers only when expert legal advice is needed.

‘We are committed to helping our clients use lawyers less, while still benefiting from our expertise,’ he adds. ‘We can see that the future of legal services is not just about legal advice; rather, we are expert strategic advisers who work with clients to optimise their businesses.’

That is all well and good, but leaves one obvious question: what do Kennedys lawyers themselves think of the mission statement to enable clients to use lawyers less? A report by the Law Society last December found that AI could cost 22,000 legal services jobs in the next decade. It would be understandable if Kennedys lawyers – like most others in the profession – were wary of new technology leaving their skills and expertise redundant.

This is a question that West was expecting, and he insists the new services complement rather than replace the work of the LLP.

‘Last year we increased headcount by 11%,’ he said. ‘The lawyers we have are doing the jobs they are supposed to do.’