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July 30 2018

How technology is changing the legal industry

Industry Insights

Karanvir Sagoo

How technology is changing the legal industry

Across all industries, technology has challenged the status quo and the legal industry is no exception. The question is how? The unprecedented pace at which technology is evolving makes this general question difficult to answer in absolute truth.

Having just finished law school and about to enter into the world of law firms, I thought it would be quite fitting to share insight on this hot topic from two familiar perspectives: law schools and law firms.

Law Schools

As Student Ambassador at BPP University, I have witnessed first-hand the curiosity of students on the subject of technology in the legal industry. Law students and future trainees have expressed their main frustration: the thought of having their hard-earned job being entirely replaced by the likes of A.I. Here is a misconception: it is not the profession of a lawyer that will be entirely replaced by technological means, but rather routine-based activities within the profession. McKinsey Global Institute, has estimated that 23% of a lawyer’s job can be automated.  At first, this may not seem like a lot, but considering that a large part of trainees' work can mostly be described as routine-based, that seemingly small figure is given a whole new meaning.

In this context, where do you and I stand in the legal industry of tomorrow, never mind today? Dr Hayleigh Bosher, lecturer in Intellectual Property Law at Brunel University London provides some valuable advice for those considering a career in the field of intellectual property: “In my experience, it has been extremely valuable to be proactively involved in societies, groups, organisations, conferences as well as blogs and twitter for example. I believe that non-legal work experience that relates to the client’s perspective sets lawyers apart. Those who can understand their client’s perspective in such a meaningful way, as is gained from stepping in their shoes, are more effective and appreciated as a lawyer. It also gives you a chance to realise the day-to-day challenges, tasks and priorities that the client faces, which allows you to adapt your advice accordingly and come up with creative solutions – particularly where the law might not quite have caught up with the industry!” Ultimately, by adopting this approach you give true meaning to one of the law firms' favourite phrases - Commercial Awareness. It is never too soon to start!

Law Firms

In my personal view, technology is a breath of fresh air in the legal industry - an industry that for long has somewhat been suffocating with outdated processes and distorted perceptions of its client base. The industry is known for being (too) risk averse and responsive rather than reactive on topical developments and the integration of Machine Learning (ML), A.I, Big Data and Blockchain is quite a daunting leap that expectedly will take time and, more so, needs a great deal of convincing supported by real success stories.  Notwithstanding the progress made with these key technologies, given the nature of law firms, they ought to start by dipping the pinkie in the water before diving in fully. Today, law firms are somewhat taking this measured approach; partnering with legal technology start-ups who focus in on an area of law. Some firms have also launched various initiatives relating to 'Technology Due Diligence' that make use of A.I and ML.  It is a start, but more of these initiatives at a quicker pace need to take place.

On the whole, it is undeniable that technology will continue to require a fundamental cultural and organisational change in law firms. Dr. Bosher believes there will be “a natural progression in the development of the legal industry in line with technology and cultural changes.” This is not something that happens overnight, and it certainly requires the right kind of leadership, from all ranks within a firm – from trainees to partners. The kind of leadership a firm develops very much depends on the kind of individuals they hire: “firms will want well-rounded employees, but I’m not sure it is possible to expect everyone to be able to do everything” says Dr Bosher. Firms will therefore have to reassess their expectations, be clear about what they are looking for in candidates and continue the push for greater diversity.

So, whether you are currently a law student or a recent law graduate, if you have doubts in your abilities to succeed in law; think twice, it’s changing for the better and there is a place for those who see the bigger picture.

Written by Capucine Déroulède