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A parallel between the history of the Titanic and the current legal landscape provides a vivid depiction of the profound shift lawyers shall be experiencing to survive with the rise of technologies like artificial intelligence.
A Fateful Journey: The Titanic and the Tragic Delay
When the Titanic embarked on its maiden voyage from Southampton, England, to New York on April 10, 1912, it was hailed as a marvel of technology and luxury.
Joseph Vadus, IEEE Life Fellow and leader of the 1985 team that discovered the Titanic, remarked, “At the time, it was the pinnacle of shipbuilding. The crew’s confidence in the vessel and its state-of-the-art technology was palpable. They proudly boasted of the ship’s prowess, considering any misfortune inconceivable. The ship had professionals for every conceivable technical issue – from engineers to plumbers. Yet, despite their expertise, catastrophe struck.“
Equipped with the latest in wireless communication, the Titanic received a warning at around 11:30 p.m. on April 14 from the SS Californian, a nearby British steamship. It cautioned the Titanic about impending ice. But Jack Phillips, the Titanic’s wireless operator, frazzled and overworked, retorted, “Shut up, Shut up, I’m working Cape Race,” indicating he was preoccupied communicating with a distant station in Cape Race, Newfoundland. Disheartened by the curt response, the Californian’s operator went to bed, missing the Titanic’s subsequent distress signals.
Approximately ten minutes later, the Titanic’s lookout sighted an iceberg 500 yards away. He raised the alarm, but it was tragically TOO LATE. The Titanic’s hull was gashed by the iceberg, initiating its descent into the icy depths. Around 12:30 a.m. on April 15, less than an hour after the ship hit the iceberg, the Titanic began to sink.
By 2:20 a.m. on April 15, the once-glorious ship was submerged, taking Phillips and many others with it. Out of the chaos, 705 individuals were rescued, while 1,517 tragically lost their lives.
The Titanic was the largest man-made moving object at that time. It could have collided with another ship and survived. But of course Titanic’s collision did not occur with another ship. The iceberg was 30 meters high, that is, above the surface of the water, and it was 400 meters long. And ice is much larger under water. So, in reality, the iceberg probably weighed about 1.5 million tons.
The Titanic Moment for Lawyers with the advent of technology
The Titanic’s story mirrors today’s legal world in several ways.
Large law firms, with their unparalleled structure and highly ranked lawyers, have been on a success streak for years. The motto “never change a winning team” holds true for many. Yet, emerging research suggests that in the upcoming 12 to 24 months, generative AI could slash the profits of non-partner attorneys by 20% and partners by 5%. This decline is accentuated by clients lamenting over inefficient practices and steep fees.
The SS Californian’s dire iceberg warning resonates with the challenges law firms face today, with some of the world’s prominent law firms likely to respond with “I’m busy!“
Our world is undergoing rapid transformation. Technologies like ChatGPT and Generative AI, virtually unheard of a year ago, are now commonplace.
Adaptation is the legal sector’s only recourse. While law firms may focus on specialized tasks, generative AI will undoubtedly play a pivotal role. Law firms that remain stagnant risk being sunk by the AI wave, but those who adapt can harness its power and thrive.
In our metaphor, while the Titanic represents the calamitous change, the iceberg symbolizes resilience for lawyers, grounded in its vast submerged strength.
Many law firms superficially adopt legal technology, squandering resources for mere marketing appeal. In contrast, at DLA Piper, we’re fortifying our defenses. Our innovative legal tech tools, like Transfer and the newly launched PRISCA AI Compliance, cater to evolving client demands by offering effective and streamlined solutions. Transfer, our legal tech tool to support transfers impact assessments is now used by 300+ DLA Piper clients and has become a market standard (Read more on Transfer HERE). PRISCA AI Compliance is exponentially becoming an important support to clients in assessments relating to their artificial intelligence solutions against regulations such as the AI Act, the GDPR and intellectual property regulations and technical standards in a cost efficient and easy to use and implement manner (Read more on PRISCA HERE).
To thrive in this ever-changing landscape, lawyers must anticipate and address clients’ needs, crafting innovative solutions that resonate with a dynamic world.