Over the past few decades, automation has drastically changed entire industries. Automation technology has transformed how many companies do business, from the finance industry (e.g. Xero) to human resources (e.g. Culture Amp). Unsurprisingly, the legal industry is no exception. 

In this article, we will look at:

  • what automation means for legal work; and 
  • why it is worth the investment. 

Most importantly, automation allows in-house teams to streamline tasks and develop better processes.

This is part one in a three-part series on legal automation. In the next two articles, we will look at how to plan and implement a successful transformation project.

What Is Legal Automation?

Legal automation refers to software that allows companies to streamline, automate and manage legal tasks. For example, it includes:

  • document automation; 
  • legal project management; and 
  • document review. 

Legal automation allows legal teams to:

  • streamline legal tasks; and 
  • develop smarter, better processes.

Streamline Legal Tasks

Document automation, legal project management and document review all streamline the delivery of legal work. Together, these processes can simplify work flows and deliver better efficiencies.

The key functions of each process are set out below.

Document automation Document automation streamlines the process of creating legal documents. For example, this software can automate the generation of contracts.  
Legal project management Cloud-based legal project management portals allow users to streamline and manage legal tasks. For example, this includes automatic email notifications, reports, progress tracking and messaging. 
Document review Document review software streamlines the document review process. For example, some software can read, identify and collect specific clauses or paragraphs.

Smarter, Better Processes

Automation initiatives also provide lawyers with smarter and better processes to tackle legal tasks. With less administrative work on their plates, lawyers can: 

  • focus on core legal tasks;
  • spend more face-to-face time with business stakeholders; and 
  • implement high-priority, high-impact initiatives. 

As well these benefits, technology can increase lawyer engagement. This is because automation can help manage recurring low-level tasks that must be done but do not require a legal expert. Therefore, lawyers can spend more time on engaging work.

Using cloud software and technology tools to streamline legal tasks can also enable staff to work from home or on the go, addressing the need for flexible work arrangements.

Lastly, legal automation means that the automated aspects of the work are less dependent on individual knowledge. This is because knowledge is no longer trapped inside individual lawyers’ minds. Instead, it has been automated. As a result, it is easier to hand over or replicate. 

For example, the process of amending a particular contract can be recorded by the lawyer who would usually prepare those contracts. This process can then be distributed to team members, promoting knowledge sharing and allowing other lawyers to assist with a particular drafting task.

Legal Automation Is Here, and There Is More Change to Come

Legal automation is no longer a futuristic concept. According to a 2016 survey of lawyers and paralegals in the US, around 22% of lawyers’ workloads and 35% of paralegals’ workloads can be automated. On the one hand, this shows us that automation has a key role to play in the legal industry. Importantly, however, it also shows that almost no job can be fully automated. 

Despite all the benefits that automation can deliver, we are still far from developing machines to replace lawyers. It is a common misconception that if a segment of a job can be automated, the rest will follow immediately. In fact, in almost all cases, some elements of a task are easy to automate and others are impossible. As a result, legal tasks will likely always require human capital.

That said, however, predicting how new technology will impact the law is challenging. Although we can be confident that automation will continue to transform legal services, exactly how these changes will play out remains to be seen. 

Key Takeaways

Automation is reshaping many industries. Legal automation, which helps streamline legal tasks and provide for better processes, is already here. In-house lawyers and business stakeholders are increasingly aware of the benefits of automation for productivity. But, how do you actually make the leap into automation? In the next article of this series, we will set out the key steps involved in planning a successful transformation project. 

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Melanie Gilbert
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