Cristina Álvarez Fernández, Head of legal Europe, Cintra

In the midst of overseeing its first major implementation of technology within legal, Cristina Álvarez Fernández talks about the process Cintra undertook and how she sees the legal sector evolving.

We are exploring how to benefit from tools based on artificial intelligence within our legal department. We still haven’t found the right tool or technology for implementation – but I don’t think we’re far away either. It’s about following a process and making sure – especially the first time – that we do this the right way.

A Fresh Start

This has been a new process for us and we’ve been very deliberate about the steps involved. The first thing we did was to really thoroughly research and find out just what’s in the market. We used a range of sources, from specialist legal magazines, through to talking with our peers – both legal and otherwise.

I have encouraged an internal analysis of the current developments of artificial intelligence in the legal field. We have identified a few tools that could ease the work of the legal department. If we can implement these tools successfully, this will result in economic savings for the company and will help to allocate the resources of the department more efficiently.

At present, we’re currently at the stage where we’re testing tools that we’ve identified that are currently in the market. I think that the first tool we implement will be for contract review. We’ve invested a significant amount into this system already and are hoping that we can have it ready to go by the end of 2018.

First Things First

Contract management and review was a logical first step for us, particularly around NDAs. People always find the same dangers in that kind of contract, so it’s routine work. It can be done by a very junior lawyer – once you explain to that lawyer what the issues are, normally it’s something that can be done really quickly. The line of thinking we took was to take this one step further and try to give it to technology. This is the starting point from which we can hopefully expand.

I don’t think this will replace entirely, at least so far, a person in our team. We’re certainly not planning to get rid of someone just because we believe that work will be done by a machine – not at all. I think this is going to help us to better allocate the resources that we have. We’re not a large department, so where I really see the benefit is being able to focus on things that really need our minds and judgement – which is where technology is probably the least useful at the moment.

Inside Out

I do think that, in time, technology will help us reduce our external legal spend. If we can develop systems within our department that can take on some of this load – particularly where there are significant amounts of data – then we should be able to bring more of this work in-house.

I think that, in time, we will see the relationship between in-house departments and external firms change as a result of technology – mostly where fees are concerned. I suspect that the fees of law firms can be reduced, or at least controlled, depending on the market and matters at hand. But I don’t think the interplay will shift, where we’ll suddenly be dealing with machines rather than a person. At least I can’t anticipate that now – but who knows, maybe in the future, that will be the way!

I have genuinely been surprised and impressed at how the legal sector is dealing with innovations. It’s amazing how the law firms have seen the importance of new technology and they are really getting involved in these matters. Certainly, the sector is always very traditional and conservative, so when we first undertook the research process of finding out what was in the market, it came as a pleasant surprise to see that law firms are leading innovation in the legal sector and how many are doing things like working with start-ups in developing new technology.

I do think that the main driver motivating law firms is profitability. The way in which firms assess and charge their fees, it was getting to a point where it was going to be very difficult to sustain. Clients in particular are trying to change the way that they invoice, looking at alternate fee arrangements or, in some cases, bringing more work in-house. As a result, I think they have been forced to find ways to reduce cost and maintain their profitability. But at the same time, they will have no doubt seen other industries disrupted by technology and seen that this is the way forward.

A Group Effort

Ferrovial’s IT department has been an asset – they’re a really big part of the Ferrovial Group and have been essential throughout this process. They are genuinely curious about the technologies available and their potential impact on both our department and the wider group. They seemed enthused that we were taking an interest in this and were actively helping us along in this process.

One factor which may be more unique to Ferrovial, is that our IT department work with a lot of innovative start-ups. The group is actively working with, even financing some start-up businesses, and the IT department have been looking at some of these to see whether there are tools that could be adapted to legal, or developed specifically for us and our needs.

This isn’t something that’s unique to legal, it’s been happening in other departments already. In general, our company and group are very interested in innovation and new technology. It’s crucial for a business like Cintra and will become even more important in the future. We work closely with roads, in particular toll roads – so innovations like driverless cars have the potential to be transformational for the business. But as with any shift, there are a host of legal issues that will go along with that. So, it’s about bringing all of those factors together and becoming more innovative, thinking more innovatively, collaborating and using technology.