Is the legal profession stuck in the past?
With a history spanning almost two thousand years, the legal profession is one of the oldest in the world. Unsurprisingly, this historic sector is filled with tradition and idiosyncrasies. However, popular opinion assumes these archaic roots are accompanied by stuffiness, a slowness to change, and a desperate need for innovation.
But are these impressions right?
We reached out to our network with this question: does the legal industry have a problem? And can legal tech help to solve it?
According to the experts, the legal industry – like all sectors – does have its inefficiencies. However, the sector is self-aware of its challenges and is using technology to innovate improvements. Here’s how…
Challenge: Inflexible working
When you rely on a large number of documents or accessing great quantities of data to do your job, you can be limited to how, when, and where you’re able to work. Especially when you consider the potentially-sensitive data handled by law firms.
It’s well-acknowledged that flexible working is good for employee morale, reducing stress, and employee loyalty – all of which are ultimately good for employers too. Conversely, when an employee is experiencing difficulties, the last thing they need is added pressure about whether or not they can make it into the office.
Luckily, technology is allowing those in the legal industry to enjoy the benefits of remote working. The right cloud-based framework can allow legal professionals to work anywhere.
According to PwC’s Law Firms’ Survey 2017, 70% of firms have delivered or embarked on remote and mobile working. Research published in the New York Times shows that up to 43% of law/public policy employees have spent some time working from home.
Harry Perrin, a corporate commercial lawyer, praises the increased opportunity for remote working in the legal sector:
“Since I started working in the law, the rise of flexible working has continued apace. Cloud-based file management systems now allow lawyers to work from anywhere, their homes, their clients’ offices, and service their clients’ needs on the move. This has taken a lot of the stressful elements out of my day (the commute if I am working from home, difficulties in accessing files if working remotely) giving me greater capacity to think about my clients’ issues and how to reach solutions. A lot of legal practice, for me, takes place in quiet reflection: thinking, assessing, strategising, hypothesizing. Stress can hamper this process, so any technologies which remove stress help me do my job.”
Challenge: Data vulnerabilities
Like many businesses that process large amounts of customer data, law firms are increasingly finding themselves at the mercy of cyber attackers.
While the recent Panama Papers controversy is an extreme example, data breaches or leaks happen often in the legal industry. According to this article in CIO, 40% of surveyed law firms had experienced a data breach in 2016 and did not know about it.
Although cyber attacks are – to a certain extent – a problem created by technology, it is also providing a solution. Many law firms are starting to create their own in-house cybersecurity teams to tackle the problem, while others ate outsourcing SaaS to tighten security.
Challenge: Time-consuming processes and research
No matter how busy you are, there’s still only ever 24-hours in the day. Our contact, Harry, said: “Lawyers value their time highly — and are right to do so. The more we can avoid spending time on work which our clients feel is at the less valuable end of the spectrum for them (the administrative, the routine, the low-skilled) the better.”
One of the biggest ways technology is solving challenges in the legal sector is the use of AI for process automation. Legal work involves a great deal of research and preparation which previously had to be carried out by legal professionals. For example, legal tech software Verifi by Linklater sifts through 14 UK and European regulatory registers to check client names for banks and process thousands of names overnight. A junior lawyer would take an average of 12 minutes to search each customer name.
Harry continues: “The increasing use of artificial intelligence technologies for routine, high volume work (such as contract analysis, due diligence, e-discovery) is positive as it can offer better value for money for clients, as well as a quicker turnaround of work.”
By using artificial intelligence legal tech to automate ‘simple’ but time-consuming processes, you are freeing up the time of legal professionals to ruminate on more difficult cases. No matter how skilled AI becomes, it won’t replace the need for human experts. At least, not yet anyway.
Challenge: Training and professional development
Unfortunately, the introduction of AI legal tech is not a flawless solution. Many legal professionals begin their career by assisting with this ‘admin’ type work. If we automate the entire process, are we taking away a valuable learning opportunity from junior lawyers?
Harry Perrin shares this concern: “I would be concerned if it meant fewer roles for lawyers at the start of their careers. Many lawyers will have cut their teeth on corporate due diligence, for example.”
Some corporate clients are now even refusing to pay for work carried out by junior lawyers. Since they know AI can be used to automate ‘simple’ processes, they don’t want to pay for a human to do it.
While this initially seems like a problem caused by legal tech, Harry says law firms are negotiating this challenge:
“The answer, I think — and I see this happening in the firms I know which are rolling out artificial intelligence technologies — is to ensure that entry-level lawyers retain a full, high-quality workload, but simply deploy them in areas where they can be more efficient. Potentially, these lawyers will actually have a higher quality of training, as their judgment and analytical skills will be called on at an earlier stage (as opposed to their photocopying and filing skills).”
Challenges and opportunities using legal tech
As we’ve seen, legal tech is the solution to overcoming a number of difficulties experienced by law firms. While technology may introduce a few of its own challenges, these are outweighed by the overall benefits it can bring the sector.
As our legal expert, Harry Perrin, has shown, legal tech is changing the face of many UK law firms. According to PwC’s report on the state of the legal industry, continuous innovation is essential to the longevity of law firms:
“Firms will need to embed best in class technology into all of their legal processes and will need to continuously innovate as better software tools are developed. Work will still be led by people but they will be augmented by technology, including Artificial Intelligence. Data will also play a huge part in the successful law firms’ future.”
We look forward to seeing what happens next!