updated on 19 November 2019
Google the term ‘legal tech’ or spend enough time browsing LinkedIn, and you’ll be overwhelmed with an A-Z of buzzwords, such as blockchain, artificial intelligence, smart contracts and many, many more. Trying to grasp this seemingly jargon-fuelled world of legal innovation, especially without a technical background, can at first feel like an impossible challenge. This is only compounded by the many misconceptions surrounding the world of legaltech, such as needing the ability to code in several languages in order to contribute to the legal innovation sector.
In this article, I’ll focus primarily on how to best understand the adoption of legaltech, why it is important and the potential impact it has to shake up the legal profession. After all, it is much more effective to focus on the substance behind these technological changes before trying to understand the specifics of individual technologies.
First, it’s important to realise that the combination of law and technology isn’t as new or revolutionary as you might first think. It’s easy to forget how so many of the tools we rely upon today - Microsoft Word, Google Drive, or even basic email communication - really are ‘tech’ and all faced many of the same challenges of comprehension and implementation in their respective early stages of adoption. One of the biggest differences this time around, however, is the sheer volume of change that could be at stake. Investment in lawtech has nearly tripled over the last two years and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon.
These changes haven’t come about by accident. It is no secret that law firms have historically charged expensive, hourly rates that clients have had to reluctantly agree to due to a lack of a viable alternative. Now, with the increasing adoption of technology and automation (as well as significant moves into the legal industry by groups like the ‘big four’ audit firms), clients are now starting to expect more for less from their lawyers. Efficiency and cost-reduction can’t be improved by just sticking to traditional models such as hourly billing - this is where legaltech can step in.
So how do you go about understanding it? It’s crucial to understand that the most successful adoptions of legaltech are those that:
These necessities can fit into a law firm’s internal model in several ways, such as:
It’s already staggering to see how start-ups are beginning to explore how these conditions fit within the expansive and diverse world of legal service provision. It's also amazing to see the effect this has on traditional career routes - roles such as ‘legaltech managers’ and ‘innovation consultants’ are coming to the forefront now more than ever before. Both of these disruptions are symbolic of the many wider questions that such technology is starting to ask of lawyers. What will trainee solicitors be doing differently, 10 years from now? Just how much of a law firm’s current business can be automated by a machine? What skills will tomorrow’s lawyers need that today’s don’t? Will there ever really be a day that a robot can truly do a lawyer’s job? It’s certainly an exciting time to be entering the profession.
To prepare for it, it is important to start thinking about what the potential answers to these questions might be - and not just because one of them might come up in an interview. They fundamentally challenge the core historical identities of what a lawyer has done and the way they do what they do.
Right now, there’s an unfortunate gap between knowing what the right questions might be and where to find the clear, ‘right’ answer. Along the legal education timeline of today’s lawyer, there’s yet to be a cohesive injection of legaltech education beyond an optional module here or keynote speech there. There’s no ‘legaltech’ curriculum or even a concrete understanding by firms as to what the ideal ‘legaltech’ employee looks like - although it is unlikely that latter question will ever (or should ever, to generate maximum diversity of thought) be answered. Instead, the current reality asks much more of an aspiring legal technologist - to be brave and entrepreneurial in your learning, to learn from those currently exploring this newly developing space and to use your initiative to create your own opportunities.
Having said that, there are several tips I would recommend to any aspiring legal professionals to learn more about the exciting world of legaltech:
I hope this article has helped you develop an understanding of why and how legaltech is starting to impact the broader legal industry. Clearly, we’re some way off fully-fledged ‘robot lawyers’, but the uptake of automation and advanced tech solutions are already on the rise. It is an exciting time to be an aspiring legal professional in an industry that is now brimming with opportunities that have never existed before.
Harry Clark is a 22-year old future trainee solicitor at Baker McKenzie, London. He is an avid legal blogger and is passionate about the future of the profession across a variety of areas. He hopes to help aspiring professionals learn essential skills and information about the industry they may not have had the chance to yet experience. You can read his blog here.