A Double Take on Tech

In our first article on the interface of technology and law, we considered the different ways in which technology could be deployed to deliver greater value to clients, to implement cybersecurity measures and to increase innovation and efficiency in processes.

In 2018 - 2019, we expect the impact of technology to continue to grow and drive ongoing changes to the way that consumers engage with legal services.

Technological advances, even in the more limited forms currently being rolled out, will pose great challenges for existing players in the market. Legaltech will remove the need for some areas of legal work and create new areas of demand, in areas such as privacy law.

This suggests that the impact of technology on the legal sector ought to be significant, but whilst there are many interesting applications being developed, these are not necessarily yielding the predicted outcomes of innovative disruption across the sector. For example, most start-up activity in the legal sector is currently focused on helping law firms better manage their processes, or deal with problems like cybersecurity.

The relatively slow rollout of technology in the legal sector is not unexpected. As a regulated sector, it is conservative and off-putting for non-incumbents and slow to attract outsiders. Legal Geek surveys suggest that the current crop of legal tech innovation is being led by former lawyers, rather than technologists. Whilst this means that applications are designed by people who understand the problems at hand, it also means that such businesses are less likely to challenge the fundamental premises on which the sector is built.

Developments in legaltech are also held back by the absence of data. This suggests that there are some key players who ought to be brought into the conversation about technology and legal services who might not be immediately obvious. 

The wider market suggests there may be some even more interesting developments on the horizon which may well be increasingly deployed in the delivery of legal services:

Robotic process automation (RPA) – a relatively low cost and very deployable tech solution. It is already being used by some firms to replace repetitive tasks that would previously have used administrators, paralegals or trainees. Whilst RPA may not reverse the trend towards the creation of law firm regional ‘service centres’ handling lower value work outside large centres such as London, it will reduce the demand for human labour in these centres.

Chatbots – The expanding role and sophistication of these tools will make them increasingly powerful mechanisms to help people understand their legal problems and find further sources of advice, or even solutions.

Initial coin offerings (ICOs) – The use of ICOs in the funding of litigation is a possibility that has been noticed though not yet exploited. There are also other fintech applications which could be used in litigation funding and which are worth keeping an eye on (e.g. various types of crowdfunding and P2P lending).

Blockchain – Applications of blockchain in the property sector, which could reduce the need for lawyers or licensed conveyancers to be involved in the process.

Smart Contracts – The use of smart contracts executed on a blockchain could also remove the lawyer’s role in handling client money in conveyancing, which in turn has implications for regulation and indemnity insurance.

Whilst the technologies mentioned above are already in use, their deployment and application within the legal sectors has yet to be fully developed. Nonetheless, the pace of innovation is such that new technologies, previously perceived as the stuff of science fiction, such as quantum computing, now have a commercial timescale and even foreseeable applications in the legal sector.

Augmented reality – predicted to shape how we will all shop online in future. Such technology could have a use in training or testing environments, or even in courtrooms as a tool for litigants-in-person.

Voice Search –  Studies suggest that around a third of our interaction with the internet will be driven by voice search by 2020 - people will be asking ‘Alexa’ or ‘Siri’ for help with their problems, whether they have identified them as legal or not. Voice activated technology, coupled with ever-improving AI, has the potential to improve how consumers find legal solutions or assistance.

Behavioural algorithms – expected to be used to influence behaviour and could, for example, be used to encourage more people to make wills.

Taking up some of the opportunities and challenges posed by new tech may be held back in its use in the legal sector by skills’ shortages and the need for incentives to be created at entry points into the profession (or at least blockages removed) and to cross-fertilisation between law and other disciplines. Innovation in legal education and training will be critical to maintaining the pace of change and development.