Like most of the employment landscape, the legal sector is changing with the advent of technology. A recent survey of law firms found that one third of the respondents believed emerging technologies were poised to have the largest impact on the practice of law in the next five years. Elements of this change are already apparent. AI, chatbots, case management systems – it’s a whole new world.
The role of technology in the legal landscape
Introducing technology into how your firm functions is rapidly becoming a necessity. Automating certain aspects of the law profession – especially those tasks that are repetitive and take up a considerable amount of time – streamlines the legal process. It frees up employees to dedicate their efforts to more nuanced and complex tasks, and cuts down the total costs for your clients.
Law firms are recognising this role of tech. In 2015, Dentons invested in Nextlaw Labs, which is a global platform focused on developing and deploying lawtech in the legal landscape. The Law Society has recently partnered with Barclays Eagle Labs to create a law tech incubator that helps legal technology firms start and scale up. And these are only two of many. Here are some ways in which the legal profession can expect to change with technology.
1. AI and machine learning
In the context of the legal sector, AI is poised to take over some of the more mundane tasks related to research and data. If trained properly, AI can be configured to go through large amounts of data to provide the relevant information needed to make a case. The use of predictive coding – which reviews documents for the relevance of e-disclosure – has now been sanctioned by Brown v BCA Training and Others, and will feature more in how the legal industry functions.
EXAMPLE: According to The Times, 40 firms among the 100 biggest UK firms are already using AI systems on active files – this is quadruple the number of firms doing this two years ago. Approximately 30 more top firms are currently piloting systems, and still more are considering a pilot.
Simple forms of technology, such as chatbots, are now helping lawyers in their day-to-day jobs. They also function on client interfaces to tackle some of the simpler queries, so that employees are not stuck with routine tasks that eat into their time.
EXAMPLE: Billy.Bot is a chatbot that functions as a robotic junior clerk. Developed by Clerksroom, the bot currently functions via decision trees and is not based on AI. It appears on client-facing interfaces to direct them to relevant legal information, including finding the relevant barristers and making appointments. According to Mr Ward, founder and chief executive of Clerksroom, creating a new matter alone requires 167 human actions per enquiry. From 4,000 enquiries, Clerksroom handles 1,500 new hearings a month, so using Billy.Bot would save 250,000 “clicks and keystrokes” per month.
3. Cloud-based case management software
Already now widely in use among legal firms, cloud-based case management software is addressing all the main gaps in the legal world. It allows lawyers to work outside of the office, giving them the freedom to answer client queries as they come in and complete tasks on-the-go. It gives clients the opportunity to log on to the interface and check the progress of their case, as well as keep in touch with the law firm beyond the traditional 9–5 working hours. In addition to organising all the hundreds of pieces of information associated with a case, such platforms update automatically, keeping pace with changes in the technological landscape.
EXAMPLE: Applications like DPS Spitfire are transforming how law firms work, and are perfect examples of how technology can be harnessed effectively.
4. Big data
Big data refers to the large amounts of information uploaded to various online databases. Such information is invaluable for analysing trends and seeing the shape of the global landscape. Law firms also possess their own form of big data, collected through details of the cases they’ve handled over the years.
EXAMPLE: Lex Machina is a platform that analyses big data to help lawyers decide on litigation strategies based on past cases.
Innovative law firms
Several law firms have embraced lawtech, allowing it to transform how they function. Here are some of the most successful stories, according to Legal Cheek:
- Allen & Overy – In partnership with Deloitte, Allen & Overy developed ‘MarginMatrix’, a digital derivatives system that is widely considered one of the best lawtech innovations in recent years. This system reduces the processing time of a document from three hours (charged at lawyer rates) to three minutes, saving Allen & Overy’s clients a lot of money.
- DWF – This firm invested £12 million in its IT systems, developing new software like DWF Draft, a contractual automation product, and launching DWF Ventures, which is a new ideas incubator.
- Taylor Wessing – This legal firm works closely with tech innovation, with members of its Cambridge office establishing close ties with leading legal tech researchers. Among the many projects it has going on, Taylor Wessing works closely with Brainspace, a machine-learning platform, for UK litigation analysis.
The future of law
While technology has certainly gained prominence in recent years, these tools can’t replace the value brought by a lawyer. All they do is make the legwork easier. The actual thinking, understanding, strategy and planning – essentially, all the nuance and intelligence lawyers bring to their roles – can’t be replaced. The role of the lawyer may be changing but it can’t become obsolete. The future sees lawyers positioned more as business partners who function as enablers and strategists, showing their clients how to harness the changing landscape to protect themselves from risk and creatively maximise their company’s potential.
To learn more about how technology can help you realise your firm’s potential and save your clients money, get in touch with our friendly team today.