Krishna Sundareshan recalls the refrain. “You can say AI, you can say a set of fancy words,” he says, “but how is it going to make my life better?” Sundareshan is the founder of Surukam, a Chennai-based startup. In May 2017, Surukam was one of six startups selected globally to participate in the incubator lab of Mishcon de Reya, a UK law firm. What he heard was from end-clients—a hard-nosed response, to be sure—but also eager to participate, considering that practitioners of the law aren’t traditionally considered at the forefront in adopting technology.

Surukam has built a proprietary software it calls ‘CruxIQ’, which does contract review, abstraction, analytics and is typically targeted at corporates. It looks at issues like obligations, rights and restrictions in contracts. With contract review, for instance, the volume to sift through can be very high; say, how a change in law affects contracts across the board, which could be as high as 50,000 contracts of a company’s employees.

As Dan Jansen, CEO of NextLaw labs, a collaborative platform launched by the global law firm Dentons, had put it in the ABA Journal: “Law firms have historically had a pyramid structure that technology is evolving into a diamond.” What Jansen alludes to is how legal automation is narrowing the bottom of the pyramid, with technology chipping away at the need for human intervention.

Given the changing form of the traditional legal structure, Jansen’s concern is, to put it mildly, understandable. “If the work at the bottom of the pyramid is being automated, we want to own that technology and not be a victim of it,” he says.

In India, too, artificial intelligence (AI) applied to legal work brings up similar concerns. Sundareshan acknowledges this shift when he says, “[Law] Firms know they have to change”. Anand and Anand, Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas and Nishith Desai Associates are among those top Indian firms that have quietly adopted AI.  

Moving forward

Firms have to move beyond billable hours, the legal scholar Dr Shamnad Basheer indicated in a phone call. At another level, there is room for a more commoditised digital front-facing service model even with less sophisticated technology.

Beyond law firms, the legal system is in dire need of intervention with the glacial pace of case resolution hurting the public and businesses alike.  Nearly 27 million and 4 million cases are pending in the district and the high courts, respectively. A whopping Rs 8,00,000 crore is locked in tax cases alone in India, on which the government pays some Rs 5,000 crore as interest. Big tech companies have automation platforms to offer but startups building AI solutions believe platforms are going to go the Enterprise Resource Planning software way and yield low-value returns on investment.

AUTHOR

Virat Markandeya

Virat Markandeya is an independent journalist based in Delhi. He has written on science and technology for publications like IEEE Spectrum, Nautilus and the Nature Publishing Group. He is most inspired while hearing the clangs of history in academic papers. His motto is Pauca Sed Matura and he tweets at @viratmarkandeya.

View Full Profile

Available exclusively to subscribers of The Ken India

This story is a part of The Ken India edition. Subscribe. Questions?

MOST POPULAR

Annual Subscription

12-month access to 200+ stories, archive of 800+ stories from our India edition. Plus our premium newsletters, Beyond The First Order and The Nutgraf worth Rs. 99/month or $2/month each for free.

Rs. 2,750

Subscribe
 

Quarterly Subscription

3-month access to 60+ new stories with 3-months worth of archives from our India edition. Plus our premium newsletters, Beyond The First Order and The Nutgraf worth Rs. 99/month or $2/month each for free.

Rs. 1,750

Subscribe
 

Single Story

Instant access to this story for a year along with comment privileges.

Rs. 500

Subscribe
MOST POPULAR

Annual Subscription

12-month access to 150+ stories from Southeast Asia.

$ 120

Subscribe
 

Quarterly Subscription

3-month access to 35+ stories from Southeast Asia.

$ 50

Subscribe
 

Single Story

Instant access to this story for a year along with comment privileges.

$ 20

Subscribe

Questions?

What is The Ken?

The Ken is a subscription-only business journalism website and app that provides coverage across two editions - India and Southeast Asia.

What kind of stories do you write?

We publish sharp, original and reported stories on technology, business and healthcare. Our stories are forward-looking, analytical and directional — supported by data, visualisations and infographics.

We use language and narrative that is accessible to even lay readers. And we optimise for quality over quantity, every single time.

What do I get if I subscribe?

For subscribers of the India edition, we publish a new story every weekday, a premium daily newsletter, Beyond The First Order and a weekly newsletter - The Nutgraf.

For subscribers of the Southeast Asia edition, we publish a new story three days a week and a weekly newsletter, Strait Up.

The annual subscription will get you complete, exclusive access to our archive of previously published stories for your edition, along with access to our subscriber-only mobile apps, our premium comment sections, our newsletter archives and several other gifts and benefits.

Do I need to pay separately for your premium newsletters?

Nope. Paid, premium subscribers of The Ken get our newsletters delivered for free.

Does a subscription to the India edition grant me access to Southeast Asia stories? Or vice-versa?

Afraid not. Each edition is separate with its own subscription plan. The India edition publishes stories focused on India. The Southeast Asia edition is focused on Southeast Asia. We may occasionally cross-publish stories from one edition to the other.

Do you offer an all-access joint subscription for both editions?

Not yet. If you’d like to access both editions, you’ll have to purchase two subscriptions separately - one for India and the other for Southeast Asia.

Do you offer any discounts?

No. We have a zero discounts policy.

Is there a free trial I can opt for?

We don’t offer any trials, but you can sign up for a free account which will give you access to the weekly free story, our archive of free stories and summaries of the paid stories. You can stay on the free account as long as you’d like.

Do you offer refunds?

We allow you to sample our journalism for free before signing up, and after you do, we stand by its quality. But we do not offer refunds.

I am facing some trouble purchasing a subscription. What can I do?

Please write to us at [email protected] detailing the error or queries.