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Commercial Question

New-wave legal technology: what's required from lawyers of the future?

updated on 26 November 2019

Question

How will new-wave technology change the way that lawyers work?

Answer

Legal technology has recently entered the realm of favourite interview questions, alongside Brexit and the mythical ‘commercial awareness’. Understanding the types of technology available and their practical application is of increasing importance as examples continue to manifest themselves in the legal industry. ‘New-wave legal technology’ is a collective term for innovations that have the potential to significantly alter the supply and demand of legal services. Often-cited examples include artificial intelligence and machine learning, which has been applied to due diligence, compliance and contract management. Elsewhere, data analytics programs mine data sets of legislation, case opinions and contracts for any consistencies to draw conclusions about judicial opinions, opposing counsel arguments and contractual amendments.

Lawyers are often deemed reactive rather than proactive in a profession constructed upon a system of legal precedent and incremental change. As such the perceived utility of technological innovation is divisive: proponents highlight the potential increase in knowledge-led decision making, efficiency and value added, whereas sceptics foresee a marginalisation of employees and a net devaluation in the expertise of lawyers. It is important to adopt an open-minded attitude and not readily dismiss or reject the potential benefits. Although training in such disciplines could be incorporated within professional development programmes, it is unrealistic to think that all lawyers are required to become overnight experts in coding, programming or database administration. Instead, lawyers must adapt to a wider set of knowledge sources and learn to adopt technological instruments to enhance their efficiency.

A basic technological competency in operating intuitive hardware will likely be a pre-requisite for the successful future lawyer; easily achievable given the modern-day frequency of interacting with mobile phones, laptops and tablets. Beyond this, various platforms and online resources can provide software introductions such as those of Legal Geeks, the International Legal Technology Association Gateway and LawTech podcasts, suitable for a morning commute. More comprehensive training is available in the form of online learning platforms edX and Coursera. While many commercial firms encourage participation in knowledge sharing and internal seminars, individual engagement will be the key to ensuring longevity of understanding.

Given the lack of emotional intelligence of current technological interfaces, a key differentiator of lawyers is the ability to appreciate human behaviour and communicate effectively. Aspects of law often involve discussion of sensitive personal or confidential issues and there is significant value in effective human interaction in these areas. Furthermore, the disaggregation of legal work and outsourcing to teams of technologists, paraprofessionals, counsel and other professionals shall necessarily entail collaboration with a wider spectrum of individuals. To be effective, inter-personal skills will be required to meet an array of cultures and personalities. Emotional intelligence, empathy and patience are vital to develop a constructive relationship that affords primacy to client needs.

There is perhaps some truth that tech innovations may disturb the supply and demand of legal services. However, choosing to view such innovations as problematic would be the real failure. While change is inevitable, this does not entail a redundancy of legal expertise but merely a requirement to adapt current methodologies and working practices. If adequate preparations are made on an individual and industry-wide scale, technological innovations will enhance, not displace legal services.

Wupya Nandap and Douglas Collins are, respectively, associate and trainee associate at Weil, Gotshal & Manges.