14 November 2019

Getting Geeky with LawTech

LawTech, LegalTech (whatever you want to call it) technology is advancing at a rate never seen before, and it's time for us lawyers to jump on board.



Lawyers. Meet the Tech Bros. The Bro-grammers. Your nerdy new neighbours. Sure, it seems like you have nothing in common. You’re talking damages, diligence, and billable hours. They’re talking dongles, biohacking their bodies, uploading to the cloud, and disrupting the world.

But the two of you better start learning how to get on – and soon. Because tech is coming to the legal world. In fact, it’s already here.

Introducing LawTech (or LegalTech, depending on which side of the fence you sit on!). 

It’s the use of technology and software to provide legal services.

Because it turns out the legal industry is not immune to disruption. While “In 50 years, the customer experience at most law firms has barely changed”, LawTech companies are now arriving on the scene and starting to shake things up.

Until now law as an industry has turned its nose up at technological innovation. Mostly out of fear. We avoid anything that might mean higher costs – because higher costs mean higher rates which probably means losing clients. Plus, we don’t want to take risks. Technological errors could have catastrophic consequences for a firm. Like losing a multi-million-billion-pound lawsuit kind-of-catastrophic.

But time’s ripe for change. 

Lawyers are under increasing time and financial pressure. Clients want more, and they want it cheaper and faster.

Today, the real risk lies in not embracing technology. Dismissing its power is dangerous and it’s holding lawyers back. Today’s clients want their lawyers to be tech-savvy and forward-thinking. If you fail to meet these expectations, they’ll start looking elsewhere.

The importance of being tech-savvy has even been integrated into the regulations of practice in many US states where it’s held as a requirement that lawyers keep abreast of the benefits and risks presented by relevant technology. 

To stand out from the competition, lawyers need to stay ahead of the game – and this means understanding and profiting from the latest technologies.

And don’t just do it for the clients. Do it for yourself. Digital technology can streamline the jobs of lawyers just like it has done for countless other industries. It can help lawyers provide services more efficiently and productively, leading to higher client satisfaction, and – in the long run – more business.

What does LawTech look like? 

Legal technology and software can help with many aspects of legal service provision.

On a basic level, online tools can be used to generate legal documents, such as software to help with will writing or immigration document preparation. This means people can do it themselves – instead of hiring a lawyer.

But what if you still need a lawyer? Now LawTech start-ups are connecting people with lawyers in a more efficient way through platforms that function kind of like Tinder but for people in a legal crisis, matching clients to lawyers.

As for lawyers themselves, a large part of LegalTech is about speeding up processes and automating anything that can be automated – such as billing, organising calendars, managing tasks and deadlines, timekeeping, and communicating with clients.

For example, the cloud-based legal software Clio which allows legal firms to track important deadlines, manage cases and documents, and bill clients.

Or programs like DocuSign that allow you to sign, seal, and deliver documents no matter where you are. It’s all about lessening the administrative workload, leaving lawyers free to do what they do best. Which is fight for justice! Or something.

Next up, legal research.

This highly time-consuming part of legal practice could definitely do with some innovative, disruptive, and creative thinking, don’t you agree?

And this means making it as digital and automated as possible.

Harvard Law’s Caselaw Access Project, completed in 2018, was one step in the right direction. This project involved the digitisation of all US case law. We’re talking 6.4 million cases dating all the way back to 1658 – now all freely available online to the public in a consistent format. Mind-blowing.

Harvard’s Library Innovation Lab then created several apps for examining all this data. They can analyse the information much faster than humans and then give us broad insights into legal history and precedent.

But there are startups out there who are taking technological innovation in legal research even further.

For example, Casetext’s Case Analysis Research Assistant, known as CARA. This AI-backed legal research tool allows you to discover relevant cases and briefs based on the information you upload and which the software analyses to return relevant cases. It’s fast, quick, intuitive to use – and makes legal research a lot less painful.

Judicata offers another precise and comprehensive alternative to traditional legal research with its query assist function and advanced filters based on key case attributes such as court, date, and judge.

The American Association of Law Libraries recently selected Bloomberg Law’s AI-powered Points of Law as product of the year. This legal research software uses artificial intelligence to help researchers quickly find key language critical to a court’s reasoning and identify legal precedents. As a researcher scrolls through a court opinion, the tool highlights the essential language so you can get to grips with it more quickly. For each point of law within a case, the software then offers a pop-up that shows the top three cases cited in support of it. The researcher can then select any of these to learn more. Wowzer.

Finally, there’s e-discovery, which also helps lawyers review the documents they need to sort through. At the beginning of litigation, each party must provide the relevant information, evidence, and records. E-discovery is when this process is carried out in electronic formats – such as emails, instant messenger chats, texts, and so on. Given how much of our communication now takes place online, this task is mammoth. But e-discovery applications help parties pull relevant information from these endless records, eliminating exact copies to speed up efforts. ERM (Electronic Records Management) systems can also help make the process quicker.

Legal research is therefore getting heaps smarter – all thanks to AI powered tools and natural language processing software.

Let’s get analytical. 

While media coverage tends to focus on AI (because it’s so cool and scary simultaneously), it’s actually analytics that has had a greater impact on the legal industry so far. It’s even been suggested that “we could be nearing the point where it would be malpractice for a lawyer not to use analytics.

In 2018, LexisNexis launched Lexis Analytics, advanced tools that harness the power of data-driven law. The product uses machine learning, artificial intelligence, and visualisation tools to make working with data easier, more productive, and more efficient, and to allow firms to gather more meaningful insights. With its comprehensive, integrated, and streamlined suite, it helps lawyers get to grips with data. For example, litigation analytics enables attorneys to draft strategies based on insights drawn from the behaviours and outcomes anticipated. Regulatory analytics allow attorneys to track regulatory developments and predict which laws will pass – again thanks to conclusions drawn from analytics.

And now for the big one. 

Blockchain.

Just another way technology has the power to drastically transform the legal profession and the lives of lawyers and their clients.

Blockchain is a technology that allows digital information to be distributed but not copied. It’s a time-stamped series of unchangeable records of data managed by a group of computers – but not owned by any particular entity. It was originally devised for the digital currency, Bitcoin, allowing transactions without an intermediary financial institution.

Each of these ‘blocks’ of data are secured and bound to each other using cryptographic principles, creating a chain. It has no central authority and so is very democratic as well as being transparent and immutable. Anyone can be held accountable.

For law firms, blockchain technology offers several solutions. One is smart contracts: sets of terms and conditions that can be automated by means of blockchain technology and remain immutable. As blockchain can record events for a long duration of time, this is perfect for irrefutable intellectual property claims or criminal charges.

Blockchain as a concept is also changing how things are done on an organisational level. Legal firms currently spend far too much on infrastructure (office rent and staff salaries, for example). Firms like Legal Nodes are thinking outside the box in order to create a more streamlined and cost-efficient firm structure. Their mission is to build the first ‘decentralised law firm’ – and the inspiration comes from blockchain. The online platform provides entrepreneurs with access to a global network of ‘legal nodes’ – talented and tech-savvy legal experts across the world. Businesses can use their expertise to then ‘mine’ relevant information – just like the ‘mining’ of Bitcoin.

Technology is shaping the future of the legal profession. 

LawTech is improving the consumer experience by making legal provision more efficient, faster, and therefore cheaper and more accessible.

LegalTech also improves the lawyer experience, delegating the admin-heavy, time-consuming work to digital tools, leaving lawyers free to do what they were born to do.

And we, in good old Blighty, are at the forefront of this change. Sure, elsewhere in life, we’re up shit creek (Brexit). But in terms of LegalTech, we’re excelling.

Joe Raczynskiat at Thomson Reuters argues that “the UK legal market is on average ahead of the curve when it comes to the use and implementation of legal technology…” with UK firms embracing technological advances more than anywhere else in the world.

Many firms are now launching their own LegalTech incubators, such as Allen & Overy and their incubator Fuse, where tech companies, lawyers, and clients can collaborate to explore, develop, and accelerate LegalTech solutions.

Examples of successful UK LegalTech start-ups include Luminance, an AI platform for lawyers that uses machine learning to analyse documents just like a human does, and Libryo, an online platform used by global companies to understand the specific regulations they face in their operations.

There’s also Lexoo which provides online access to an inspected international network of lawyers, allowing companies to compare and recruit. Meanwhile, CrowdJustice is a crowdfunding platform for public interest litigation.

UK firms have also been quick to build partnerships with universities to further drive innovation.

Well done us.

Lawyers just got tech-ified. 

The time for turning your back on the techies has passed. Embrace your inner nerd. Today, we hold hands with the tech-bros across the divide. Law and tech are one. Together, we will transform legal provision for all.

Cora Harrison, November 2019