One of Australia’s largest law firms, MinterEllison, is stepping boldly into the future. For nearly two centuries, the firm has consistently been at the forefront of legal innovation. Now, MinterEllison is leading the charge in adopting generative AI, a move that’s revolutionising the firm’s work practices and the legal industry.
“We see generative AI as a critical technology for the future of our industry,” says Gary Adler, Chief Digital Officer at MinterEllison. “
MinterEllison’s foray into AI and automation is not a recent endeavour. The firm has been using document and workflow automation solutions since 2008 and started developing its own AI tools in 2016. However, Adler believes that generative AI, the latest technology in MinterEllison’s ‘hyper-automation strategy’, will be the most transformative.
“Our approach to generative AI focuses on enabling our overarching strategy across three key areas,” he says. “The first area is enhancing experiences for our clients, the second is boosting the productivity of our workforce. And the third key area is enriching the work experience for our people – our most important asset – so that they can move up the value chain faster and concentrate more on complex aspects of legal matters.”
MinterEllison has implemented several initiatives to increase the digital fluency of its employees and ensure they capitalise on the significant opportunities that generative AI presents for the legal sector. The initiatives include a Digital Academy and an award-winning internal cryptocurrency, ‘Mintcoin’, designed to reward participation in the academy and other innovation initiatives. The firm also recently introduced an innovation scholarship focused on generative AI, reinforcing its commitment to continuous learning and adaptation.
Leveraging early access to Copilot for Microsoft 365
MinterEllison was one of only two Australian law firms that Microsoft invited to participate in its Copilot for Microsoft 365 Early Access Program. Adler describes the experience as a “very exciting” step on the firm’s generative AI journey.
“We started deploying the [Copilot for Microsoft 365] licences the moment we received them,” he says. “We wanted to make sure we could test the value of Copilot for Microsoft 365 in every pocket of the firm, and that we were deploying licences to people committed to putting Copilot through its paces.”
To do this, MinterEllison asked its lawyers, consultants, business operations staff and those who expressed interest in trialling Copilot for Microsoft 365 to complete a generative AI learning module in its Digital Academy. They were also required to submit a short use case for the generative AI service.
“Over time, we plan to rotate the Copilot licences, including to those who are fearful of the technology, because we don’t want to leave anyone behind,” says Adler.
MinterEllison’s inclusive approach to trialling Copilot for Microsoft 365 fosters a culture of experimentation and knowledge sharing. Employees can ask questions and share their learnings via a dedicated Microsoft Teams channel, which has helped to break down traditional silos in the firm.
While it is still early days, initial survey results demonstrate the tangible impact of Copilot for Microsoft 365 on MinterEllison’s workforce. At least half of users save two to five hours per day, and one out of five save at least five hours per day. Furthermore, 89 per cent of users find Copilot for Microsoft 365 intuitive and 90 per cent would recommend it to a colleague.
Building bespoke generative AI tools
In addition to testing the productivity possibilities of Copilot for Microsoft 365, MinterEllison is building its own generative AI tools for lawyers and consultants. They include ‘Chat with ME’, a bespoke version of ChatGPT that uses OpenAI’s GPT-4 large language model in the firm’s private and secure Microsoft Azure environment.
Another example is the ‘MinterEllison Advice Generator’, which was co-created by MinterEllison’s digital automation team; a MinterEllison partner and lawyers specialising in environmental and planning law; and Microsoft partner Arinco. Lawyers can prompt the generator to help draft and revise legal advice – complete with citations and reference documents. They can also learn how the tool works through the ‘Thought Process’ feature, which shows how a prompt draws the most relevant data about the drafted advice.
“What usually takes a couple of hours involving junior lawyers now takes under 30 seconds when the Advice Generator is running at full speed,” says Adler. “And the feedback has been overwhelming, with 10 to 15 other partners wanting to use it.”
Managing risks and leading from the top
MinterEllison is committed to responsibly and ethically navigating its generative AI journey. The firm has guardrails in place to ensure safe and responsible usage of generative AI technologies and continues to adjust these as needed. Its approach includes regular firm-wide communications about the correct use of its generative AI tools and pop-up messages reminding staff be cautious in the use of confidential client or firm data.
In addition, MinterEllison has developed a set of guiding principles for responsible AI usage that cover key areas such as accountability, privacy, security and bias. It has also established an AI Centre of Excellence that aligns with the firm’s existing standards and requirements for data governance, security and quality.
Virginia Briggs, CEO of MinterEllison, says, “Because we’re grounded in the law, our jobs are to manage risks and to look at the things that could go wrong. So, in a way, it’s the perfect environment to experiment because we’re always making sure everything is done properly, safely and with a risk-averse mindset.”
Briggs also highlights the importance of board-level leadership in driving the adoption of generative AI at MinterEllison.
“Our board’s deep engagement, and the questions they asked at our recent strategy day, show their understanding of generative AI has grown rapidly,” she says.