The “Modern Lawyer”: Evolving Role of Technology in the Legal Industry
Updated: Oct 11, 2020
The legal industry has been notoriously slow to integrate and utilise technological advances in their firms and practices. As technology has become more pervasive in each aspect of our lives, its use in the legal sector has typically been regarded as a threat to the traditional role of lawyers. However, as larger firms begin to embrace and invest in legal technology, the whole industry has slowly adapted to incorporate technological advances, potentially changing the landscape of the legal world.
Law firms are exploring technology in three primary ways: adopting legal tech in their own firms, implementing tech in their clients’ businesses, and establishing a digital transformation across the entire industry. It is largely high revenue, City-based law firms that are leading the way in exploring ways to integrate technology into their everyday practice.
For instance, Allen & Overy has instituted a Legal Technology Group that aims to work with lawyers to transform their day-to-day work through the development of technology applications to streamline caseloads and cultivate closer relationships with clients. They are working to implement technology that would allow lawyers to utilise artificial intelligence to review legal documents and extract data more accurately and efficiently, automate legal analysis and drafting, and instantly review financial data to increase the accuracy of reporting. Similarly, Clyde & Co have introduced a Data Lab which integrates technology in the day-to-day tasks of a lawyer by automating some daily tasks, and in case proceedings by developing AI techniques that can predict the success of a case.
The streamlining of such time-consuming everyday practices arguably make for better lawyers who can instead devote more time to problem-solving and designing more creative and innovative advice for their clients. These clients, in theory, can then benefit twice-fold. For example, A&O’s Legal Technology Group aims to bring these same benefits to the operations of their clients through a collaborative effort to inform them of the latest developments in the legal tech market.
Firms are not the only actors working to make technology more accessible and more embedded within the legal sector. A wealth of startup and established companies alike have developed legal tech advances that have already gained traction to transform the way law is practiced. Long-standing company Thomson Reuters developed Westlaw Edge in 2018, a platform for legal research that utilises advanced artificial intelligence to aid legal professionals far more efficiently in their research than its previous, widely-used platforms.
A startup called Casetext has developed a product called CARA in 2016 which has the ability to analyse legal briefs uploaded by lawyers and use AI technology to identify relevant cases that the user may have missed. As innovative legal tech ideas like CARA are developed by companies across the industry, they are increasingly welcomed into the fold as large firms seek out the latest developments and invest in new and creative ways to implement technology into their practices.
All of these developments and the growing recognition of the importance of a global legal tech community, have irreversibly reshaped the legal industry. The provincial culture of the legal industry, where law has historically been practiced within strictly demarcated territories, has been replaced by one much more interconnected and globalised. Not only has technology blurred borders and undermined the unilateral nature of territorial practice and jurisdiction, but it has also broadly removed communication obstacles across different time zones, resulting in legal practice becoming vastly differentiated. Law firms now offer their clients a more globalised delivery of advice and expertise as technology allows them to collaborate with other firms and providers. The culture has subsequently changed to become more encouraging of multi-firm and cross-border collaborations through the creation of international networks. Increased utilisation of technology has also allowed firms to open offices of their own around the world. Freshfields Bruckhauss Deringer, for example, recently opened an office in Silicon Valley to allow for greater access to tech companies, signalling a future of greater investment in legal technology.
COVID-19 will further accelerate the growing technological dimensions of law and business and will lead to a greater recognition of the vital role technology will come to play in the legal sector. As entire companies move their workforce online and turn their focus towards remote working, there are increasing third-party compliance risks. Innovative solutions will have to be delivered to clients who must continue to ensure their employees and third parties comply with business regulations while working remotely. Enforcement agencies are unlikely to be sympathetic towards companies who let compliance issues slip during this crisis. Data protection compliance, for instance, may be compromised as companies navigate the challenges of extending their technological infrastructure to the homes of their employees. This is just one example of the increasing emergence of issues that centre around the pervasive use of technology at work or at home. Law firms will have to adapt quickly to find innovative and technologically-focused ways to guide their clients through COVID-19 and beyond.
The rise of technology has certainly changed the landscape of law for good. Some fear advancements in AI and other legal tech may threaten the traditional role of lawyers altogether. In the next ten years, Deloitte has predicted a decline in the number of traditional lawyers employed at law firms as they reconsider the type of people suited to deliver a newly-informed business strategy in a technology-driven era. However, law has first and foremost been about people and connections. While technology will inevitably change some aspects of the legal practice, it will not devalue the key qualities of emotional intelligence and human connection that build the relationships of trust between clients and lawyers and are the foundation of the entire industry. It is only within this framework of trust and collaboration that legal technology can truly thrive and reinvigorate the sector.