When we talk about ‘Legal Technology’, one would instantly interpret it as the technology used by lawyers or a technology that would be used for legal purposes. But, other technologies exist, like Microsoft Word and Gmail that lawyers happen to use for the work that they undertake. So, the question is – “What exactly is LEGAL TECHNOLOGY?” & “How Technology can impact the way Lawyers Work?”

LEGAL TECHNOLOGY

The term ‘Legal Technology’ embodies a multitude of concepts of technology, making it difficult to define the concept precisely. However, ‘Legal Technology’ as the term denotes, is a class of technology that is specifically designed and developed keeping in mind the system of legal judiciary and the legal work undertaken by lawyers and legal professionals while discharging their duties. It is basically, the implementation of latest technology, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning to enhance the capabilities of all the stakeholders in the legal sector.

So what we are looking at are really tools built specifically for the tasks that lawyers do, technologies that could probably change the business altogether. So, tools around contracts, tools around predicting the case items, tools around helping people to negotiate or bring scientific tools to negotiation; are all tools specifically designed to enable lawyers’ work efficiently. Microsoft Word, Gmail, Word press and others are utility software that are used both in law or, otherwise, they were developed keeping a business viewpoint in mind; so they are merely technologies that lawyers happen to use versus ‘legal technology’.

Before proceeding to analyse the concept of Legal Technology in detail, it is necessary to understand the revolution in legal practices and the subsequent changes in the demand for legal services, that are the two very essential driving forces of legal technology.

REVOLUTION IN LEGAL SERVICES

Ten years ago, clients with a legal matter primarily had two options; either to send it to a traditional law firm or to handle it in-house. Today, in the 21st century, globalisation, technology and liberalisation of markets have created a more complex and more competitive legal marketplace- a legal market that is more diverse, dynamic and multi-faced than ever before. Technology offers innovative ways to deliver legal services. By automating tasks that were traditionally performed by lawyers and by making legal services and products available on the Internet, these technologies are making legal services more affordable and accessible.

Different providers are mushrooming and new types of legal services are made available to clients, including the following:

  1. Contract Lawyers: Self employed, independent lawyers who provide flexible legal services by engaging in a matter for a short/ fixed period of time or by filling an absentee position.
  2. Document Review Services: Subcontracted organizations that review high volumes of legal documents, usually for litigation or due diligence purposes, at a lower cost.
  3. Managed legal Services: Independent legal providers who undertake all or part of the function of an in-house legal team, either on an annual basis or on contract basis.
  4. Online Legal Services: Legal professionals providing advisory and other legal services through online portals, this includes online filing services, online creations of legal documents etc.
  5. Legal Consultancy: Independent consultants who advise on management and operation of a legal department or the structuring of a business.
  6. Hybrid Legal Solutions: Collaboration of two or more of the above providers often combined with process and technology innovations.

One of the most significant obstacles preventing clients from seeking legal assistance from traditional law firms is the potential for outsized and uncontrollable costs. Given the wide variety of service models, clients are more inclined to turn to some or all of these “non-traditional” delivery models, providing greater accessibility, choice, transparency and value, to help solve their most complex legal matters. Clients regard these legal matters as business challenges that raise legal issues and therefore, like any other service, are determined to get the right advice for the right transaction at the right price. For example, a client may rend only advisory services from well-experienced lawyers of a traditional law firm and would further conduct offshore- legal document creation and review, from multiple contract lawyers at lower cost. These service delivery options are predominantly enhanced by the use of smart technology; creating an entirely new hybrid solution to the client’s specific legal challenge, i.e. more efficient and cheaper than traditional law firms.

It is important to sit back here and understand that the underlining reason of these changes is not technology, but the end users. Clients have the freedom to choose between alternative legal solutions that are made available to them. The availability of smart phones and other devices combined with ever increasing Internet speeds and storage options, have made access to information and services easier than ever before. People and businesses are becoming more tech savvy, which is not only increasing the overall trust and familiarity with technology but also increasing technological adaptability.

In the given situation, traditional law firms are juggling with their workload as well as increasing competition from new entrants to the legal marketplace. Practice skills are no longer enough, lawyers must also understand the tools that drive more efficient delivery of legal services to clients; which would not only include business fluency and an ability to collaborate but also understanding technologies’ role in legal services, project management and basic data analytics.

The PWC 2017 survey in fact shows law firms continuing to struggle with the constant challenges of optimal resourcing and competitive remuneration. The report explicitly identifies the role of technology in impacting the skills required when it states that ‘Agility will be key in wider workforce planning as firms adapt to the myriad of changes facing the sector: technology and changing client demands will impact the mix and skillset
of staff required, and indeed, artificial intelligence resourcing tools may ultimately help firms to achieve optimal staffing.’ On one hand, the legal realm is changing and on another, increased client demands have set traditional law firms in fix; no wonder the report particularly emphasises- ‘the winners of the future will be those who best respond to the changing needs of clients.’

INCREASING SIGNIFICANCE OF TECHNOLOGY IN PRACTICE OF LAW

Diligent research, careful crafting of arguments and documents, and credible advocacy on behalf of a client are all core elements of the practice of law. However, most lawyers would admit that they spend a challenging time away from these duties, focusing on routine but necessary business and clerical responsibilities of a working law practice. These tasks are highly repetitive and monotonous (given the availability of user-specified templates and fixed procedures to be followed) and latest technology is effectively implemented to streamline or automate these routine aspects of legal work.

Clients demand efficiency. At the same time, they want an integrated global service with simpler and more efficient output. Whilst clients are still willing to pay a premium for the best advice, they want to know that their providers are making full use of available technology so that they are not paying for expensive resources to undertake repetitive work manually. Meanwhile, technology allows lawyers to achieve the same outcomes in less time and with fewer resources for clients, ultimately not only saving clients money and their own time but also achieve competitive advantage over the others in the industry.

Lawyers like other professionals, are not only benefitting from the vast accessibility of information that is already accessible on the internet, or from the opportunity to share their knowledge and cater to their clients online; but are also benefitting from specialized software developed for the legal industry. Legal software are developed using latest technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data and block chain to manage and automate the work undertaken by lawyers. Such Legal technologies would include software for case and practice management, time and billing, documents assembly and trial presentation; enabling lawyers to generate a work product at a faster rate for a lower cost, in order to achieve efficiency.

With profitability under pressure, and with a digital revolution inevitable for professional services firms, lawyers are compelled to acknowledge technology and be open to change. Even though, core differentiated expertise, skills, and judgment still remains the exclusive province of lawyers; digitalisation is bent on automating, standardising, and routinizing most tasks of a working law practice.

CONCLUSION

An abundance of such legal technologies have emerged and as pointed earlier, have revolutionised today’s legal landscape. The role of the legal professionals have evolved over the years and the automation of legal processes have prompted lawyers, paralegals, legal secretaries and other legal professionals to become more proficient at an ever-increasing array of automated legal solutions.

Technology has impacted every aspect of the legal field- from law firm and corporate practice to courtroom operation and even document automation.

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