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It’s the start of the vacation scheme and training contract application season for many students, meaning that there will be a plethora of application questions to be (frantically) answered. My experience thus far has shown how important it is for students to understand the effects of technological advances on the legal industry.
The relationship between law and technology continues to develop at lightning speed, so I thought I would help you by suggesting a few topics that are relevant when researching how to answer application questions.
Artificial intelligence (AI) enables machines to operate and make choices which mimic human intelligence. Machines can quickly digest large volumes of documents and then use algorithms (think of rules) to analyse the data, learn patterns and produce reports. It can highlight risks and issues in contracts and prompt counsel to negotiate different terms. This is extremely useful as AI is quick and efficient and can help to predict the outcome of legal proceedings. This should hopefully translate to speedier and cost-effective services for clients, while freeing up time for lawyers to pursue other objectives.
When answering application questions, it is important to explore some of the uncertainties that AI brings:
- How will AI affect job availability?
- How much of lawyers' roles can be taken over by AI?
- Do we have robust enough security to protect all of the data that AI controls?
Cloud computing is arguably one of my favourite technological innovations because it benefits all parties involved. It allows lawyers to work remotely, while still remaining in contact with their employers and clients. Further, all information can be held on an easily accessible central company server, which helps to organise e-documents and encourages collaboration by breaking down physical barriers.
The ability to work remotely has many benefits, including:
- improving employees’ attitudes;
- giving autonomy and control to individuals, thus allowing them to dictate their working day; and
- increasing productivity.
However, it is important maintain high security standards by, for example, using strong passwords and encryption and maintaining an up-to-date network security system. One of the most basic safety tactics (which is easily broken in a busy moment) is to never leave your device unattended when there is a risk that someone could access any private information.
Technical innovation has a significant impact on the legal industry (eg, the digitalisation of the judiciary through the courts moving online). E-courts will be more cost effective, efficient and make litigation easier to understand (to the ‘man on the Clapham omnibus’).
One of the current issues is the amount of paperwork passed between parties, as some of this documentation may be lost. The move online will create a paper trail, ensuring fast access to important documents and streamlining the process. Alongside AI – particularly data analytics programmes that mine legislation, case and contract data – lawyers will have access to up-to-date legal advice. Another issue is that cases are becoming back-logged (more specifically a big issue in criminal cases) due to the lack of time and space in the courts. Online trials could help to remedy this.
London is classed as a central hub for outstanding litigation; therefore, digitalisation of the judiciary will ensure that the UK remains desirable and meets demand, while following global trends (eg, Australia and Turkey have successfully moved their judicial system online). This will positively affect law firms by allowing them to create bespoke packages for their clients’ needs, with accurate predictions as to the likely outcome of their case and the total cost.
In light of this, here’s some food for thought:
- Do people want face-to-face interaction in the court room?
- Will litigation become less personal and more prone to bias and assumptions based on stereotypes?
- Does the population have the digital literacy to successfully participate in an online court trial?
Alternative business structures
Alternative business structures (ABS) are initiative – but not technological – innovations on their own; however, when you combine a law firm and people with a background in technology, the magic happens.
ABS was introduced by the Legal Services Act 2007 (but the first licence was not issued until 2012) and the Solicitors Regulation Authority oversees it. ABS is a structure that enables lawyers and non-lawyers to form a business and allows non-lawyers to be involved in the management and ownership of businesses that provide legal services. This creates a one-stop-shop for clients that can get a multitude of services under one roof.
Subsequently, alongside technology, this should provide cost-effective, multi-disciplinary solutions for clients, while offering lawyers access to services and products they might not have otherwise had in a traditional law firm in order to continue to expand their knowledge and deliver an outstanding service.
What do you think? Will ABS help to challenge traditional law firm stereotypes to meet the needs of Generation Alpha? Do you think they will have wider implications on the quality of legal services provided?
This blog was a whistle-stop-tour of some of the ways that law and technology are being integrated. Hopefully it has provided inspiration and talking points on the advantages and disadvantages in this regard and potential vantage points for you to explore in your applications.
- The Law Society, “Legal tech in 2018: threats and opportunities”.
- Lexis Nexis Report, “Lawyers and Robots”.
- Ministry of Justice, "Fit for the future: transforming the court and tribunal estate".
- Chambers Student, "Alternative Business Structures"