Is the future of legal advice ‘Lawbots’? Just how is Technology transforming the way the legal sector operates?

The legal sector is often seen as a profession that has proved mostly resistant to technological disruption, perhaps driven by the importance of human relationships and the need for creativity and interpretation.

But that is now changing…

The legal profession is on the cusp of a ‘lawtech’ revolution that is ensuring it’s fit for purpose in the 21st century as firms increasingly look to identify better ways to streamline, work efficiently with clients and improve price transparency. The law sector is poised to embrace Industry 4.0.

While we’re still a little way off from legal work being done fully by machines or ‘bots’, the exponential growth of technology means the legal industry is especially appetising, as a sector that could benefit from technology adoption.

As a result, legal services will be fundamentally different than today in terms of both job function and the way legal services are provided.

According to Deloitte’s report, ‘The case for disruptive technology in the legal sector’, the tech will “change not only the practice and the scope of the law but also the shape of the law firms themselves.”

The report outlined some of the most important ways in which technology has challenged the practice of law. Key messages from the report included…

  • Cloud computing provides critical advantages to lawyers but only 38% currently use it. Cloud computing is already part of daily life, it says, but the tech goes much further than simple storage – it allows collaborative data sharing between lawyers and other professionals, and high-level communication with clients.
  • Lawyers that specialise early in blockchain will capitalise on the new areas of legal practice this will create. The adoption of blockchain is likely to create a vast new area of legal practice, including data protection, dispute resolution, jurisdictional issues, and the regulatory implications of an intrinsically unregulated technology.
  • Big data is making the process of discovery more complex, lawyers need to know what to ask for. Lawyers now must find, search, and analyse multimedia data, such as audio and visual records but interrogating these vast databases requires sophisticated and analytical capabilities which are not part of the traditional legal skill set.
  • Artificial Intelligence can highlight pattern recognition from big data and hence can offer predictions of future behaviour. Big data is not an impersonal construct, it is the record of many acts of human behaviour, and the lawyers need to understand the potential of pattern recognition within these records. The databases held by many corporations contain not only a record of past actions but also patterns of activity that are predictive of future behaviour
  • Changes in the business model as 114,000 legal jobs likely to be automated in the next 20 years.

So how are ‘lawbots’ going to help improve and streamline today’s law firms?

If you think of bots you think of manufacturing lines in factories. But automation has come a long way impacting across all industries and sectors of all types, large and small.

Robotic process automations can help the day-to-day working lives of lawyers by automating time-intensive manual tasks, that are repetitive, predictable and often involve little legal experience or qualification.

Martin Keelagher, CEO of Manchester-based Agile Automations, a Mills & Reeve Top Tech 2020 firm, says: “There’s a number of tasks that lawyers and barristers, as well as their teams do on a day-to-day basis that make the profession perfect, to benefit from automation.

“These include straightforward drafting of contracts in litigation and conveyancing work that can be automated; through template design and client management platform integration. Through to client billing and financial account reconciliation”

Technology research and advisory company Gartner forecasted that by 2023 lawbots will handle a quarter of internal legal requests.

Intense pressure on legal departments to increase their responsiveness and efficiency is leading them to look toward automation, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and natural language processing, according to Gartner, Inc.

Said Martin: “The main advantage of RPA is the reduction in time and costs, especially when considering that the most common method of charging used by law firms is by the hour; to have a bot, do the heavy lifting, increasing efficiency and reducing waste is extremely appealing.

“Software robots can complete tasks several times faster than human workers, without error or indeed any management requirement.”

He continues: “The future of robotics in the legal profession isn’t about making the jobs of lawyers obsolete, if anything it’s about making sure they are spending their time practicing law and working with clients while the time-consuming repetitive tasks are being done by bots.

“Technology has disrupted industries across the globe, but those that harness new technologies are seeing opportunities to scale and grow and tap into new markets. The same should be said for the legal sector too, we don’t want to see them lose out.”

Such is the importance of lawtech in the profession, London South Bank, Ulster and Limerick follow Manchester University in creating courses to develop legal technology applications, to help them understand how technology is impacting the legal sector and how they might adapt to the new environment.

In Deloitte’s report, forensic technology partner Jarrod Haggerty also warns that those businesses that adapt to technological advancements are the ones that will survive.

He said: “Big data and AI are already realities, but there are also new data-based technologies with deep legal implications that today are at the tipping point between proof of concept and real-world application.

“Soon they will change not only the practice and the scope of the law but also the shape of law firms themselves. And when it comes to survival readiness in the law, there is still much work to do.”

The sector is set to change dramatically, as we move forward, don’t be left behind.