The legal industry as a whole is often portrayed as technology averse. It is easy (and even sometimes fun) to characterise lawyers as being stuck in the past (the wigs, robes and pervasive use of Latin hasn’t helped). However, to convey lawyers as technophobes is simplistic. In fact, technology is already indispensable to the practice of law for many (if not most) practitioners today.
We think that the law and technology have a lot in common:
- The law is based on a set of principles that govern the majority of situations – like computer code;
- Lawyers make decisions by extracting information from a vast library of data – statutes, judgements and commentary – like intelligent machines; and
- The law requires the intervention of a decision maker – the court or another arbiter – when a routine application of the principles is not appropriate – just as machines still need a human to program them, make use of their functionality and to fix bugs.
LegalVision consciously enacts a program of innovation to try to challenge the orthodoxy of how things are done in the legal industry. One of the ways we do this is through a focus on the use of technology. We employ six full-time tech developers who design and implement technological solutions to assist our lawyers to do legal work as efficiently as possible. Importantly, we don’t think that computers will replace lawyers. But they will certainly change the way we work. We’re excited about technology scaling human lawyer capability and capacity and allowing us to perform better than ever before.
The Future of Technology in the Legal Industry
While the law may have been slower on the uptake of technology than many industries, we are now coming to the party. Consider some of the technological advancements that the legal profession has adopted in only the last decade or so:
- Online legal research;
- Wholesale adoption of email as the primary means of communication;
- Electronic filing in Australia’s Federal Court (with other courts now following suit); and
- The use of video links in court proceedings for cross-examination of witnesses.
Technology is crucial to LegalVision’s approach to the practice of law. However, technology should not be adopted just for its own sake. We believe that technology will only enhance our ability to service our clients (or allow clients to perform their work better) if it is deployed in response to a real need that clients or other end-users of our services feel. Technology is not inherently valuable – it is a tool that can be used to solve a problem. Like all tools, it is most valuable when used for the right job, and by a person who knows how to handle it!
At LegalVision, we think about technological innovation as falling into two broad categories:
- Facilitative Innovation; and
- Experimental Innovation.
Facilitative innovation refers to technology that supports lawyers to promote the efficient delivery of services. Here we’re talking about things like document automation and project management tools.
Experimental innovation refers to technologies that could have a profound impact on the way we practice law. These are often speculative, and not ready for wholesale adoption in the legal industry. Some of the most important examples in this category are machine learning (Artificial Intelligence) and blockchain.
Over the coming months, we will write in more detail about some of these different types of technology, and the benefits that they can provide to lawyers. For now, we want to focus on an approach to choosing the right technology out of the myriad options available.
What Technology is Right For Me?
The statistics suggest that the legal profession is committing to obtaining the benefits that technology promises to provide. In FY2015/16, law firms increased expenditure on technology by an average of 3.3%. This continues an upward trend over the past few years and suggests that most law firms recognise the value of technology in their business (although, the ‘benefit’ of some technological advancements is a matter of debate – 24/7 access to emails via a smartphone, for instance). However, accepting that technology has the potential to improve the ways that lawyers do their job is only the first step.
If you are committed to using technology in your business, you must determine what technology will best achieve your goals. Remember, technology is merely a means to an end. Not the end itself. For example, if your goal is efficiency, there are hundreds of different options that could be used to address that concern. You could employ technological solutions as diverse as:
- Document automation tools;
- Online decision trees for delegation of authority questions;
- Speech to text services;
- Timekeeping tools; or
- Document management and retention systems.
This list is by no means comprehensive – any of these tools (and many others) could be beneficial to a business seeking to do things more efficiently. But then, so could more standardised and well thought out manual processes. Presumably, your budget is not unlimited, so you must choose wisely. We often hear clients tell us that they have obtained a new system for their team, only to find themselves using a fraction of its capabilities, or not using it at all.
As a startup, our budget is anything but limitless. Even with our own in-house tech team developing these solutions we don’t have technological carte blanche (tech developers do need to sleep, occasionally). These limitations mean we need to make effective choices. To do this, we undergo structured ‘design thinking’ workshops where we try to think from the perspective of end-users so identify the greatest pain points and the best ways to address them. Often these workshops reveal that our initial instinct for what is needed to solve a problem is not the right one. Moreover, sometimes technology is not the answer!
Deciding Who to Go With
Even if you have determined that technology is the best answer to a problem facing your business, and made a judgment about the best technology to address the problem, you may still confront a hurdle of determining which provider to choose. The proliferation of legal technology providers means that there are sometimes many providers offering the same service.
We were recently discussing technology with one in-house team who were interested in software for data extraction and contract analysis. Our CTO was aware of several companies operating in that space and was able to suggest a few to the client. However, even with someone skilled in the field to guide us, desktop research in the area was difficult. We ultimately weren’t able to make a definitive judgment of one over the other. Luckily, the increased competition in this area means that providers will always be willing to offer a demonstration or free trial of their services.
The cost of selecting the wrong tech provider, platform or solution can be crippling and so you should prioritise research during the assessment process. Ensure that you arrange a trial or demonstration wherever possible and pay close attention to the support mechanisms.
The market for software solutions like these is relatively limited (particularly in a market the size of Australia) so software companies with competing products will often fall over themselves to try to provide the best service (including on factors like price, add-ons and training). However, the option with all the bells and whistles is not always best. Sometimes, the one that focuses on performing one function well can be far more effective. We would always recommend that you try before you buy and think about what aspects of a service you can actually see your team using on a day to day basis.
You can read more about the challenges and opportunities technology presents the legal profession in our white paper, Transforming the Legal Landscape: The NewLaw Philosophy.