Law firms and government departments have been using new technologies to provide legal services for years. It could be argued that anyone working in the profession who does not already recognise themselves as a “technology” lawyer should get comfortable with the idea that he or she will need to become a technology “geek” in the years to come. This article will consider some of the latest IT innovations affecting the profession.
The term “lawtech” is used to describe technologies that aim to support, supplement or replace traditional methods for delivering legal services or administering the operation of justice systems. Lawtech covers a wide range of tools and processes, such as:
Automated legal research
Client/due diligence checking
Providing legal advice
A common misconception is that lawtech can only be used to automate administrative tasks. The truth is that current technology has been put to far more innovative use. One of the examples above – providing legal advice – is vastly more complex than simply having Artificial Intelligence help to store and draft legal documents. Recent innovations now allow AI to help with dispute resolution and have proven so effective that the Court Service is adopting AI-supported online systems like those used by eBay.
The reason the profession is investing in lawtech is to try and obtain benefits like:
Increased efficiency, productivity and growth
Better outcomes for clients
Taking a closer look at some of the recent developments in AI, we have focused on a few aspects that will have an impact on current legal processes.
Predicting case outcomes
Studies carried out in 2017 by three universities found that analysis by AI of 584 judicial decisions was able to predict outcomes with 79% accuracy. Fletcher’s, one of the largest UK firms dealing with medical negligence, have been trialling their own “robot lawyer” as a decision support system. However, before we start predicting the end of human lawyers, note the “advice” provided relies heavily on the quality of the data collected. As any lawyer will tell you, judges can be unpredictable and the quality of case reporting variable. The old saying “garbage in, garbage out” will limit how far any robot lawyer can really advise.
Systems have been created to help with analysing documents used when carrying out standard due diligence checks on clients. UK firm Slaughter & May have used such a system in conveyancing transactions and are now adapting it to check contracts for issues linked to changes such as those related to Brexit and GDPR compliance. The system used by Slaughter & May and similar ones developed by competitors are designed to mimic traditional document scanning and risk assessment done by lawyers or their teams.
AI can take on board vast quantities of historical information and draw conclusions. One application of AI that you may have come across in other areas of life is “chatbots”. These act like virtual assistants such as Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa. Legal chatbots ask clients about their problems and make initial assessments and recommendations. The idea behind using a chatbot is to let the lawyer speed up their work and provide a better service by helping clients to serve themselves. Chatbots try to mimic human intelligence, but not all can find the right mix between intellectual and emotional responses. If you want to test a law chatbot for free, the DoNotPay legal chatbot has been designed to help dispute parking tickets. In early trials, the software recorded a success rate of 64% based on 250,000 enquiries. It is foreseeable that a clever AI system combined with chatbots may replace some of the knowledge value a lawyer brings to a law firm.
Preparing for any change can be as much about your attitude and behaviours as about your knowledge. Exactly how the legal profession will use technology in the future is not clear, but ask yourself – are you organised, efficient, willing to learn? If you can say yes to questions like this, then you have the right approach to deal with any change in the nature of the legal role. In the future, job titles such as “Legal Process Manager” or “Legal Technician” may exist, but within these roles, people will still be assisting lawyers in the same way as Legal Secretaries and PAs.
Building digital know-how is something anyone can do at any stage in their career. Whether you are entering the profession for the first time or have worked in it for many years, the key to succeeding is simple. Have an enquiring mind and be willing to learn. These are qualities that anyone recruiting for the law firm of the future will value.