Every law firm whose website you skimread will insist that they are 'future-focused', 'working at the cutting edge' and 'driving innovation in the sector'. Some (as I discovered recently while completing an online vacation scheme application form) even require applicants to demonstrate an understanding of (or at least a willingness to research) developments in so-called 'legal tech'. The problem for those of us without a degree in computer science is that it can be difficult to cut through the jargon, and begin to understand what these developments actually are. In an attempt to help you get started as you wade through the acronyms, in this article I’ve suggested five areas to look into, if you want to find out more about legal tech.
1. Contract automation
This one at least has a name that reflects its meaning. As you might expect, some of the contracts and other documents that were once generated by humans replacing words in a standard template are now being generated automatically. Whilst it is hardly a ground-breaking innovation, contract automation is one of the developments that, slowly but surely, is changing the nature of junior lawyers’ work.
Like contract automation, e-discovery is an example of the use of new(ish) technologies to reduce the time that lawyers must spend on the more routine aspects of their work. It involves the use of digital tools to speed up the process of identifying which information and records must be sent to the other parties in a dispute, and is therefore primarily relevant to lawyers working in litigation.
Some are suggesting that 'chatbots' comparable to those used as symptom checkers or in customer service could also become increasingly common in the legal sector. A key question could be whether law firms themselves provide them as part of their service to clients, or whether independent providers of chatbots compete with traditional law firms to provide certain basic legal services to clients. However, the use of chatbots is currently limited by issues with:
4. Natural Language Processing
Natural Language Processing (NLP) is the name given to computer programmes’ ability to understand human language, with all the idioms, imperfections and illogical omissions and additions with which it’s usually spoken. Limitations in Natural Language Processing are one of the key reasons why legal tech hasn’t already progressed further than it has done.
5. Flexible working and the 'virtual law firm'
Flexible working, including working remotely or working unusual hours, is hardly unique to the legal industry. What is more interesting, however, is how it could interact with firms’ need for different numbers of lawyers at different times. One possibility is that lawyers could work for a law firm, but sit in the offices of whichever client required their services at the time, and communicate with colleagues from their own firm remotely.