The legal digital transformation has begun for the legal industry in more powerful ways than before. Here is a quote by Richard Susskind
“Patients do not need surgeons, but health. Whoever buys a drill actually aims to a hole. And those who go to a court or a lawyer want justice or the solution to their problem”
There is no doubt that the pandemic has altered the way we live and work forever. It has forced industries to interact with consumers online wherever possible. This change has brought companies into contact with their own digital futures far sooner than they imagined — and hastened change for lawyers too. Thus, the legal digital transformation has begun for the legal in more powerful ways than before.
The initial impact was associated with lockdowns, working from home and video conferencing via websites such as Zoom. But the pandemic also accelerated at an unprecedented pace the use of online technologies in industries and sectors as varied as healthcare, retail and beauty.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been the trigger that has forced governments to swiftly rethink and readjust the digital government services to meet the demand on existing public services in every sector in the short term, resolve socio economic consequences in the mid-term and reinvent the structure of its services and tools in the long-term.
The justice sector, which holds a crucial social and functional role, has been no exception to this trend, as the legal digital transformation has really begun to take hold than before.
In times of problematic access to justice, the pandemic has only augmented the issue and has driven certain key initiatives. Many jurisdictions started thinking about transferring some of the litigation processes online, replicating in digital form the existing offline processes.
Where their corporate clients are going already, lawyers are finally set to follow.
In 2020, Microsoft said it had witnessed “two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.”
In industries such as groceries, the pandemic has hastened the adoption of online shopping; in medicine, it shifted face-to-face consultations to remote appointments.
Wolfgang Münchau, a Financial Times European commentator, recently dubbed Covid-19 the “end of the analogue era”, to explain the shift from technology as a support function to the use of, say, mobile phones as producers of real-time data.
Digital revolutions come in waves, and until now, professionals such as lawyers and accountants have been largely immune to drastic change. Those groups deal mainly in knowledge rather than products, according to author David Moschella, and that focus — and healthy profit margins — has in many cases protected them from being forced to overhaul their business models entirely.
Unlike goods and services, such as taxi hailing or retail, the legal industry has so far escaped serious disruption. But the incursion of machine learning and artificial intelligence into legal departments puts lawyers in the “foothills” of profound change, says Richard Susskind, who has spent some 40 years writing about the impact of technology on professions including the law.
To enter this new playing field, lawyers must comprehend the influence of technology across sectors and explore the intersection of law, business and technology.
However, grasping the concept of true disruption has been—and remains—an especially difficult exercise for those who have a long track record of succeeding by doing “what has always been done.” This is the case with most large law firms and organizations, where there’s a rift between lawyers seeking to preserve the “profession” and the needs of consumers and an industry intent on satisfying them.
The big digital shift that took place between 2006 and 2016 concerned moving from ownership models to sharing and streaming, cloud-based computing and the development of apps using location services such as taxi-hailing service Uber and food delivery services online. But the current phase is more drastic, according to Mr Moschella, and will have a more radical effect on the business of law.
“The first 60 years of legal technology [were] devoted to automation rather than transformation — using technology to streamline and improve the way you already work. It is not about changing, it’s about grafting technology on to traditional legal practice,” says Professor Susskind.
“If you look at other sectors, what we’re seeing is something different, where technology fundamentally changes the nature of the service . . . there you would be talking less about the transformation of lawyers and more about the transformation of their business models.”
Lawyers are a traditional lot and cultural change [which is so important if we want our lawyers to adopt the use of innovative tech] is exceptionally difficult.
It is safe to say that a plethora of legal technology companies have emerged, many of which use an element of machine learning or artificial intelligence to make lawyers’ lives easier.
Those include Ravel Law, which predicts outcomes based on case law, contract analysis specialists such as Kira Systems to speed up due diligence, and Virtual Pricing Director, which helps price deals using algorithms, Legalpedia which uses AI algorithms to deliver reliable answers to lawyers in their legal research etc.
Yet plenty of barriers remain to the technological disruption of law. In its most recent annual law firm report, PwC found that the adoption of digital and emerging technologies had advanced again, with a greater proportion of top firms establishing “some form of mobile apps, automated document production, data visualization, AI, and smart contracts”.
In an increasingly complex and dynamic digital economy, lawyers must develop the reputation of being enablers of change. “Lawyers have to re-engineer themselves to deliver the outcomes that clients want or be swept away for indeed, the legal digital transformation has begun in full force and there is no holding back the tides of change.