Our partners, The Student Lawyer covers the benefits, challenges and relationships law firms have with consumers and legal technology, by author Elizabeth Adeogun.
‘Legal technology’ essentially means the use of technology and software to aid, supplement or replace traditional methods for delivering legal services, or improve the way the justice system operates.
In this article the growing applicant and use of legal technology will be analysed. Although there are obvious benefits, there should be the realisation that it has the potential to detrimentally impact the legal job market.
Legal technology covers a wide range of tools and processes, such as, document automation, advanced chatbots and practice management tools, smart legal contracts and knowledge management and research systems.
The benefits of legal technology
The benefits of legal technology in consumer interaction are reported to include increased efficiency, productivity and growth, reduced costs and better outcomes for clients and organisations. The 2017 Law Firm Flexibility Benchmarking Survey found that 64.7% of law firms allow their lawyers to telecommute.
Incorporating unified communication software enables lawyers to work remotely and diversify the ways they communicate with clients and each other. In effect, these tools enable lawyers to be more productive as lawyers can communicate with clients from wherever they are needed.
Software developers focused on the smooth running of law firms have been busy in recent years creating a large range of applications targeting improving case management, and law firm internal operations and services.
Law firms are becoming increasingly invested in collation platforms and online portals providing shared access to documents and key information. Clients and their lawyers can therefore easily share documents without worrying about email size limits.
Undoubtedly, developments in the legal tech industry will support not only departments within law firms, but also their overall reputation. It will make lawyers’ lives easier by assisting them to provide legal services in a far quicker, and more cost-efficient way than ever before.
The UK legal market
The UK legal market is saturated, meaning that firms are competing for the same work. The larger the firm the larger share of the market they will desire to acquire. Legal technology is increasingly seen as a way of differentiating firms from their competitors, and the effective use of such technology allows them to be more competitive when it comes to client onboarding.
A 2015 PwC report showed that improving the use of technology was the top priority (94%) in law firms for 2016. The use of technology is generally viewed a positive especially with the previous discussion as to increased efficiency however there has been a call to scale the use of tech as it is argued that these developments could replace many parts of a lawyer’s job.
For instance, it is predicted that technology could enable “no touch” law firm invoicing. This is where the information of tasks completed by lawyers are pulled from systems and are automatically calculated at the end of the working day.
Should law firms decline to embrace technology; it will be the client that suffers in the short term because they will be paying for inefficient work and it will be those law firms who suffer in the longer term as the client will instruct other firms who quotes more competitively.
Clients are aware of the available technology and will expect law firms to use it to deal with their instructions as efficiently as possible.
With that being said, surprisingly, currently 9% of the UK population are considered to not have any digital skills at all, with a further 21% lacking basic digital skills. These statistics are certainly important to keep in mind during the provision of legal services discussions.
The challenge for legal technology
The challenge for legal technology services now is that, in many ways, technologies can reflect the worldview of their creators resulting in technologies perhaps having built-in biases which when combined with layers of complexity, can influence the outcomes of the service in ways that disadvantages certain consumers.
For example, some states in the US use machine learning tools to assist with pre-trial bail determinations by categorizing defendants as a “low,” “medium,” or “high” risk of not re-appearing for court or reoffending. They have found such tools to have heavily biased outcomes based on race, social class and other characteristics.
Some are against the use of these tools, giving that the algorithms, even when intended to remove biases, proved to result in more bias. The use of such tools in the criminal justice context is an unfortunate example of how technology can affect people’s civil rights.
It may become a necessary measure for firms to plainly explain to consumers how services are delivered, and detailing how the algorithms used in the delivery of such services arrive at their conclusions.
This issue presents a very real challenge to the sector; however, it is critical to ensure consumers’ rights are protected, and that service users are empowered to make well-informed purchasing decisions.
The emergence of technology in the legal world is clear. It will likely be left to the regulatory frameworks that currently exist in legal services to determine how technology impacts the sector and consumers, and the extent to which society embraces it.