Legal tech is a buzzword which is distorting many sectors. It is the new trend that everyone wants to be a part of and an increasing number of start-ups are now looking to make use of technology within their operations. In the words of Mark Cohan “Legal technology has the potential to enable new models of delivery that will promote efficiency, access, and reduce costs for legal consumers – both retail and corporate. Tech, by itself, is not a panacea.”1
Following fintech, we are now seeing more investments in businesses’ research and development arm to exploring the ways work can be done quicker with the least input.
Following covid-19 businesses experienced many challenges and many redundancies were announced as they could not afford to continue trading. For example, DW Sports has fell into administration putting 1,700 jobs at risk and Feather & Black collapsed. The UK's second-largest furniture retailer Harvey’s Furniture also went into administration recently.
The Office for National Statistics reported that gross domestic product (GDP) fell 20.4% in April 2020 (the highest decline on record which is worse than the 2008 recession. MyLondon also reported that “Over 76,000 small London businesses permanently closed during coronavirus lockdown”.2
It quickly became apparent that no business was immune from the effects of the virus and this affects the economy in every economy. There was and still remains a growing concern for even larger companies to scale back their operations and remain competitive through resourcefulness. We saw areas like restructuring and insolvency boom whilst mergers and acquisitions take a hit. People were more risk averse. Christopher O’Connor wrote that “Employment law is booming, as firms figure out the legal ramifications of placing 7.5 million workers on furlough and prepare for the likely coming wave of redundancies.”3
“The legal market contracted 2.5% in the first quarter of 2020, but there are pockets of growth.”
Panic hit and lockdown measures were implemented across the world. Although threats such as individual safety and health were apparent, it meant that the coronavirus disaster also brought some opportunities. That is to say companies like skype, Microsoft teams, zoom, adobe connect, webex etc all saw a surge in users. Work from home became the norm and everyone depended upon a strong Wi-Fi connection.
The perplex nature of virtual meetings, events and teaching have caused mixed reactions.
Although systems like cloud and Microsoft Office have been in play for a while, new ways to innovate and document automation have been successful with law firms. Contract automation has been looked at for about 30 years and we are now discovering new tools for easier and quicker ways to achieve tasks. It helps to sift through vast amounts of information in a short space of time and makes document finding/searching tasks quickly accessible.
How is legal tech developing?
We have already seen how technology is used in the medical profession from artificial organs/limbs, to measuring your heat beat or pulse. The advance of 5G and new smartphones doing more have been fed into the legal industry. We are at a revolutionary period. Legal tech has the potential to pave way for new opportunities but lawyers need to embrace technology and create change within existing culture.4
Mark Cohen expressed that “There is an emerging global legal tech community that is reshaping the culture, contours, composition, skillsets, and priorities of the legal industry.”5
Better automation, better contract management systems, streamlining mundane repetitive, administrative tasks, tools used to negotiate or predict the probabilities of a case at trial, helps to save time, cost and improve the legal industry through the use of legal tech and artificial intelligence. Also the idea of having an online court through virtual meetings/hearings can be very time-saving and cheaper than having to attend court.
Humans are naturally fearful of change. According to Mike McGlinchey, we must overcome the fear of data and accept new possibilities. “But collating data on, for example, the type of work the in-house legal department is doing and the capacity required could be beneficial in understanding how the department can run more efficiently.”6 He went on to add that we no longer see the traditional lawyer as their roles have changed to also being responsible for creating profitability and effective strategies in a completive environment where alternative business structures and new competing models are now growing. “In a nutshell, data-driven legal decisions can help lawyers focus on value-driven activities. The role of the in-house legal department has changed. They are no longer just the legal function.”7
Negotiation periods become shorter, new revenue streams come in faster – and the legal team has made a positive difference to the business’s income.”8 Therefore technology can help focus lawyers on more important areas.
Reliance on technology in criminal law is controversial. Whether you can rely on a machine to be accurate to result in a conviction than conventional methods have caused public uproar. We live in a democracy and different rights need to be balanced with the right of the individual being able to have a fair trial.
Community outreach programs:
Being able to offer help and support to community residents through education or planning policy is a moral argument which some may be in a better position than others to provide.
It is agreed that law firms are now operating more like a business and therefore have a greater impact upon society at large. If they are able to adopt and use the latest technologies they can improve their surrounding society through pro bono initiatives or raise awareness. Offering free legal advice or training residents in certain aspects of legal tech certainly helps individual autonomy and this independence may empower those people to then help others creating a chain. This means that education has a long-term wider positive affect. This adds to the positive PR effect of firms and helps lawyers almost be seen in a different warmer light.
Giving back to society and advancing knowledge creates a better climate for everyone. Better ideas and even collaboration can help to grow developments.
However, it is all about how you use technology. Overuse could mean that when systems are down, your firm will be unable to operate where everything is online. Also, AI brings risks and large amounts of data stored affects privacy laws if breached. Privacy links to courts and ethics. Is blockchain safe?
Adoption is not easy as people need to be trained and this is very time-consuming. People are adaptably and society is constantly changing which compliments using new tech tools. It is a learning process.
According to Magnus Lindberg, ‘tech is only good as you use it’. Therefore if you spend vast amounts of money on new systems but never train staff or encourage use, it is futile and redundant.
Attending the ‘Uncertain Decade’ series where Richard Susskind and Mark Cohen debated the future of legal services and the digital transformation, provided valuable insights. Mark believes that the existing model of partnerships firms is a problem as it “is not designed to invest in the future and tends to produce a short-term perspective—distribute profits, not reinvest them.”9
The pros of tech in the legal sphere have to be well met with scrutiny and challenged as data protection measures must be first secured and tested. Adequate training and time dedicated to learning new technologies implemented in work should be taken. Once established, having community outreach programs or pro bono work helps to practice the implementation of legal tech and develop ideas further not to mention education and improved accessibility. It is a short-term investment with a long-term effect!
4 See https://www.lawsitesblog.com/2020/06/mark-cohen-on-turbocharged-transformation-in-legal-and-a-peak-at-his-newest-venture.html.