Even the legal industry isn’t immune to technological disruption.
The legal industry is like banking and insurance. There’s a lot of red tape to wade through as it’s notorious for relying on physical record-keeping and having an eye-watering amount of administration. Practices have remained practically unchanged for centuries. Many startups are keen to disrupt this £26 billion industry in the UK, and beyond.
Far from being replaced by robots, the legal profession is set to be enhanced by the new technologies that have already reshaped much of our world.
The rise of legaltech is being treated with the same excitement and anticipation as the growth of fintech a few years ago.
Definition of lawtech
Lawtech is generally defined as the use of technology to provide legal services, with such technologies set to disrupt the legal sector.
While the tech industry is firmly on the pulse of lawtech, the legal industry itself is heavily founded on tradition and custom. Many lawyers are still blissfully unaware of the impending disruption.
Despite some being slow to take up these new technologies, business as usual will no longer be an option in the near future, as has already happened in many other industries including publishing, retail and travel.
There are some sections of society who are currently virtually excluded from obtaining legal services due to the cost barrier. Some company founders therefore have a vision to remove this barrier with technology that can provide basic legal services to customers on a budget.
Lawtech is bringing new challenges and more opportunities. It’s already well-established in the United States, but is gradually spreading to Europe.
Examples of lawtech
Lawtech can involve using Artificial Intelligence to support the role of lawyers, removing the tedium of some aspects of legal work.
For example, AI technology called ROSS has been trialled to sift through data previously handled by people, and can be controlled with natural language queries. This means non-programmers can use the technology by typing commands in the form of questions or search strings.
An app has been trialled that can draft confidentiality contracts. More software for will creation is also being trialled that helps people overcome the barrier of going through the tedious and unpleasant process of making a will.
Blockchain technology is enabling the exchange of digital legal contracts and avoiding the risk of security breaches like the high profile Distributed Denial of Service attack against Dyn. The Internet of Things refers to connected devices, and in legaltech such technologies are being employed to gather data intelligence for smart contracts.
The world’s largest law firm is trialling software that predicts the trajectory, cost, length and even the outcome of litigation by applying machine learning techniques to case law. It could help prevent some cases from going to court by analysing the most appropriate course of action.
Virtual assistants such as chatbots are growing in popularity in the legal sector. For example, they can provide a neutral and non-judgemental platform that supports people who have been a victim of crime. One app helps users send reports to the police in legal terminology that increases the chance that their crime will be taken seriously.
Advantages of lawtech
Lawtech has the potential to save time and money for law firms. It could possibly automate time-consuming legal processes such as document review.
Computer games can be used to teach employees about compliance and significantly reduce the risk of policy breaches. This will save both money and the reputation of law firms.
At the moment, there is still much less incentive for legal companies to cut costs compared to other industries because all costs are passed on directly to clients. If all lawyers charge similar fees, clients have no choice but to pay the going rate.
In disrupting the industry, lawtech benefits the consumer by forcing companies to innovate and provide a service that is better value. This will drive up customer service levels in the industry overall.
Lawtech can also make the legal sector more transparent by making firms more accessible. If the client has access to a piece of software predicting the cost of their litigation process, law firms will be more compelled to justify the fees they actually charge. This empowers the client to better understand a complex industry.
Hackathons can promote social justice by producing technological solutions that help people to obtain vital legal services. Examples include access to legal help in rural areas, or for people who don’t speak English as their first language.
Lawtech is an industry ripe for disruption and these changes can benefit both clients and lawyers. Cost predictions can be made more accurate with machine learning software, improving operations within law firms. A vast amount of tedious work can also be eliminated for lawyers themselves.
More clients will be able to access affordable legal help without necessarily needing to turn to a lawyer. Access to legal representation will be vastly improved by potentially removing the need to physically travel to a firm’s location and services can be tailored to better suit the needs of clients.