Cyborg playing Hamlet

Seyfarth Shaw is already well-known in the legal industry as a pioneer of using business process improvement to make their work more efficient. Now the firm is breaking ground with the use of “software robots.”

Seyfarth will announce Tuesday a licensing deal with Blue Prism, which makes software that it says can automate almost any task a human performs on a computer at one-third the cost of a person. Seyfarth and Blue Prism Group plc, which has about 200 customers including large banks and accounting firms, said it was the first use of the technology known as robotic process automation inside a major law firm.

Stephen Poor, Seyfarth’s chairman emeritus, said the firm had already found various uses for the software robots, which are trained by humans to move information between computer programs or apps, such as Microsoft Excel or SAP. In one example, Poor said a process within the firm’s client onboarding system was reduced to four minutes from 35. There will also be processes that Seyfarth’s lawyers can put the software robots to work on, Poor said, such as extracting client data and analyzing contracts and contract flows.

Whoever is using the new software, Poor said, the goal is to automate repetitive tasks so that lawyers and administrators can focus on higher-value work. For Seyfarth, the move is another step on the firm’s journey to become more efficient as the practice of law is changed by technology. Its SeyfarthLean program, which breaks down legal matters by task, began more than a decade ago.

“I view this as a step in a journey where the challenge is to continuously learn about new techniques,” said Poor (pictured left). “And there will be more. I can’t tell you what they are, because I don’t know yet, but there will be more.”

Like many of the firm’s innovations, the use of software robots was Poor’s brainchild. He became interested in the technology and began researching it, including by attending a number of conferences, he said. Seyfarth hired a consulting firm, Robotic Process Automation Implementation (RPAi) Inc., which led the firm to Blue Prism.

Pat Geary, chief marketing officer at Blue Prism, said the software is designed to automate processes where humans are interacting with more than one computer program. The software robots “learn” the tasks that humans perform through a user interface designed to allow any employee to create an automated task.

“It can weave all of those applications together,” Geary said. “The law of software robots is: If a person sitting at a computer can do it, then you can pretty much train a software robot to do it.”

Blue Prism refers to the software as “the digital workforce,” but Geary said the London-based company has not seen its customers eliminate jobs as the result of implementing its software. Instead, he said they have “realigned their workforce” to have employees spend more time doing high-value work.

Poor said that was the goal in freeing up lawyers from repetitive work like data entry.

“We believe it will help our people operate more efficiently and effectively in doing the things that attorneys want to do, and it will take a lot of the process and moving of data off their plate,” Poor said.  “It’s not like robot lawyers sitting at their desks.”