LegalTechTrack Keynote Speaker Stefan Stockinger joined OMV in 2006, where he now works as the Head of Contracts & Projects in the corporate legal department, which provides legal services to all divisions of OMV AG. In this interview we talk about opportunities at the intersection of IT and the legal domain, future prospects of the legal business in Austria and the GSA-Region and his Keynote at SEMANTiCS 2018.
As Head of Contracts & Projects in the corporate legal department at OMV, you work with IT-based information management solutions in the legal area on a daily basis. 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 starting the discussion to the implementation of new technological solutions – which are the most critical points in your point of view?
This is one of the most important questions, so I will give you a longer answer.
From an objective point of view, ‘legal’ and ‘digital’ should fit together very well. Lawyers and the IT world both take an analytical approach to problems, and lawyers are used to processes-oriented thinking. In Austria this shared approach is demonstrated, for example, in projects like the online platforms for the land registry and the commercial registry, projects which were clearly pioneering in their time.
However, in practice, the legal community tends to adopt a conservative stance when it comes to new IT. Why is that? I think it is for two reasons. First, lawyers are trained to work very precisely, so they often expect a very high level of perfection from their IT tools. And the legal profession is also inherently more static than rapidly changing technologies. It is difficult to accommodate this rather fixed or rigid approach with the domain of ever-evolving and never quite perfect software (even if we do write this into software license agreements).
Second, lawyers are very pragmatic and will only buy into new IT tools if they provide tangible and immediate advantages for their work. Very often, there is little incentive to invest time upfront into a new tool, where there is no clear benefit from the outset.
This means that lawyers often expect a high degree of fitness in respect of new IT tools. Prior to implementation, it is therefore crucial that the new solution is well structured and thoroughly tested, in the best case together with a dedicated team of lawyers from the legal department that will be using the tool, and who are willing to embrace IT. (In my experience, there will always be one or two of them in each department.)
How can one imagine AI in everyday legal work?
As lawyers are very pragmatic and efficiency driven (see above), AI will be incorporated into everyday legal work if the software can be used easily and shows clear advantages in daily work.
Well established law firms and publishing companies in the legal domain already identified the potential benefits of semantic AI for their purposes. Gradually corporations in other business areas start to adapt to this trend. Where do you see low hanging fruits in for them? How exactly could a corporation get started?
In general, legal departments of bigger corporations should always strive for IT solutions that interoperate within the entire company’s IT system. Larger user groups or interfaces are key for success. Conversely, isolated solutions which are specifically dedicated to Legal are risky in terms of lifecycle and budget, and are also typically less powerful because of a limited usage and data foundation.
This is particularly true for semantic AI. If the solution does not rely on corporate data beyond the legal department, it seems likely to me that such technology will starve and not provide the desired results. Having said that, the first step should be a very diligent choice and aggregation of the data to be used for the new semantic AI application. In big diverse corporations, this task can be more challenging than in law firms or publishing companies because of the diversity of the data.
You work at OMV, a partially state owned, large publicly traded international corporation. From your perspective, how digitaliized is the Austrian legal industry at the moment?
Apart from some very innovative pioneers, the Austrian legal industry is still in a developing stage of digitalization. In larger companies such as OMV, the question of digitalization is addressed by the company as a whole, and OMV has currently a lot of projects running in that regard. This will also affect the way OMV’s legal department works - therefore ‘digitalizing Legal’ has to be seen in a broader context when bigger corporations are concerned.
Where do you see Austria’s role in driving the digital transformation in the legal area. Do you see potential for Austria to impact the GSA-region?
Austria’s legal profession has always been influenced by the bigger German market, e.g. in legal literature or law firm organization. On the other hand, Austria has always been a front runner in legal tech solutions, such as the digital land registry or the digital commercial registry (see already above). Smaller countries may well have an advantage here, so why shouldn’t Austria again be a frontrunner in the digital transformation? The key for this seems to be the way lawyers and technicians cooperate – which brings us to the last question.
You give a keynote speech at SEMANTiCS 2018, the first event ever to emphasize 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?
This question takes us to back to the important issues where we started this interview: How should lawyers and technicians work together? I think that this will always be a give and take: Lawyers can learn a lot from technicians, in particular software engineers, about how to set up agile projects; about how to start working on small increments and accept that a product is never finished, but ever evolving. Our legal work is already developing in this direction, and semantic AI will accelerate this trend. Technicians, on the other hand, can learn from lawyers that some fundamentals, such as the law, are stable determinants that cannot be changed at will. But at least for now, neither will lawyers become coders, nor coders will start learning and applying law.
Another important area of cooperation is to make decisions rendered by AI transparent. If AI software takes decisions of relevance for its users, such decision needs to be reasoned and understandable. Lawyers can help with this by using the experience in providing properly analyzed, clearly explained, and fully articulated reasons for decisions. Decision making by machines without such reasoning should be unacceptable.
If lawyers and technicians can see what the other side has to offer, I see a huge positive potential for further development of our profession.
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. http://www.semantics.cc