The opportunity to innovate through leveraging technology

Technology is changing how we work in all aspects of life and the legal profession is no different. The profession is facing considerable change as growing pressures are forcing law firms to innovate in how they deliver their legal services.

This is also impacting barristers and how they practice.

Changing Landscape

Traditionally the legal profession has been slow adopters of technology, but this is changing as barristers need to explore how legal services are delivered, largely to better meet the demands of their clients.

For many, legal innovation is simply exploring new ways to deliver legal services.

Trends are showing consumers of legal services are starting to look for fixed or capped fee structures, are wanting more value at a lower price, and are not necessarily looking to traditional legal resources for legal services, they’re going to innovative professional service firms that offer a wider range of options.

The fundamental practice of law will remain the same, although it’ll be enhanced by innovation and use of technology to deliver legal services faster and more accurately.

New Opportunities

Innovation should be embraced as an opportunity and not seen as a threat.

Innovation through leveraging technology is becoming a game changer for providing legal services. It is the opportunity to do things better, better than what we do at present and for less money. The profession is only starting to take advantage of the opportunities that technology brings – opportunities that many other industries have embraced for many years.

Different parts of the journey

Many are at different parts of this journey – some will be at the forefront of legal innovation, whilst others will only be starting this journey.

Those just starting’s experience may be considerably different to those at the forefront of innovation and leveraging technology. Even if you are not innovating yourself, or simply just starting your innovation journey, it is important to be aware of what is available, what others are doing and what the future holds.

Being tech savvy is becoming an essential skill for practitioners and will become more so as technology evolves further. We’re seeing refreshing examples of those who see the opportunities in exploring new ways to innovate and drive efficiency, and a growing number of legal professionals recognising that to address these pressures and challenges they need to look to technology.

The legal profession need to re-skill to take advantage of the developments in technology to stay relevant in your particular field. This could require many to diversify their skillset. This in turn creates a whole different area of law embark on.

You do not have to be a mechanic to be able to drive a car !

There should not be an expectation that barristers need to learn technology so in-depth, or even learn to code or develop software.  Technology will never do everything, critical skills like analysis, judgement and problem solving are just as important as they have ever been, it is just that technology can be used to assist in this.

It will help to be aware of the solutions that are available, to help you perform your job better.

What’s new?

How we access case law, research, manage documents, dictate, bill and communicate is all changing. These tasks previously were manual exercises and took considerable time to complete. Many of these tasks are now being performed quicker, cheaper and more accurately through the assistance of technology.

Artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, court technology, the general automation of repeatable tasks and embracing the cloud is becoming more mainstream.

Artificial intelligence

AI is all around us with examples like Siri, Amazon Echo, Alexa, Netflix, Amazon, Spotify and Pandora radio. These are all forms of AI with recommendations tailored to your previous choices. This is learning from the information that the technology has put together, related to your preferences.

The same technology can also be applied to the practice of law, to make barristers life easier, to work smarter and ultimately ensure you are more profitable.

AI involves machines performing work that traditionally could only be completed by humans, although also has the potential to go deeper having machines think like humans. AI capability is moving ahead at a rapid rate, although we are still a long way off lawyers becoming obsolete.

As far as AI relating to the automation of repetitive and routine tasks, some of the uses include –

  • Legal research
  • Document generation and templates
  • Due diligence
  • eDiscovery
  • Chat boxes or Robo-advice

A prominent example of AI earlier this year was JP Morgan developing a program called COIN for contract intelligence which interprets commercial-loan agreements, that had previously taken 360,000 hours of lawyers’ time annually.

eDiscovery is a process that has long embraced AI and automation. There are tools that help to provide smarter ways to address a process that can quickly become time consuming and costly, especially with the ever-increasing volumes of data. Technology Assisted Review is popular as it can save barristers hundreds of hours looking at documents.

Blockchain

Blockchain is a development that is still in its infancy, especially for the practice of law.

Put simply, Blockchain is a piece of software with a digital ledger of information. This includes a record of transactions grouped into blocks with references back to data in previous blocks. This creates a chain of blocks, known as blockchain. Transactions are broadcast to all participants to be validated. The use of blockchain will evolve, but is often used for identification, copyright and patents, Smart Contracts with share trading and property auctions.

Court technology

Technology that is used in a courtroom is developing significantly.

Preparing briefs, pleadings can be hyperlinked to documents, with the ability to collaborate and annotate key evidence. How technology is used preparing for trial (whether it be a courtroom or an online process), will evolve. At present the use of technology is largely imitating the same practices as conducted with paper. This is not always more efficient, and not innovative.

Embracing the cloud

The cloud is dramatically transforming how barristers work.

Embracing the cloud is an appealing option for barristers that will not have the big budgets of large law firms or corporates to make an expensive investment in on premise technology. In almost all circumstances cloud solutions are more cost effective, more secure, and enable greater access to leading technology that barristers may never have been able to buy themselves.

What does the future hold?

These developments will continue to transform how the profession practices. They will help make barristers life easier, work faster and ultimately more profitable.

In the future, there will be further automation of tasks that are time consuming, costly and presently performed by humans. There will be a greater adoption of AI, and embracing the cloud to improve the access and cost of these solutions. The profession will be able to focus on practicing law and providing expert legal advice for their clients, instead of being restricted by time consuming administrative tasks.

Even if the legal profession is not currently embracing some of the technologies available, it is important to keep abreast of what opportunities that technology may bring, both today and into the future. Those that are open to innovation and embracing technology will be the ones that lead the way. The ones that choose not to, could be left behind by an increasingly competitive market.

There are exciting legal tech start-ups in New Zealand. Some are led by lawyers, who have identified a problem and developed a solution to address these issues.  To name a few we see the work of Automio, LawHawk, LawVu, and CataLex.

Be part of what LawFest has to offer

LawFest continues to lead the way in New Zealand in raising awareness and preparing the profession for what comes next.

After the success of LawFest 2018, which attracted over 250 legal professionals from across the country, LawFest 2019 is back again in Auckland on 21 March 2019. There is a limited time 2 for 1 ticket offer to encourage even more legal professionals with an interest in innovation and technology.

The NZ Legal Technology Index and the LawFest membership are both fantastic new initiatives. The membership enables greater access to anyone interested in learning more about innovation and leveraging technology, whilst the index enables legal professionals to explore and connect with the right people and right technology to solve business challenges, to help deliver legal services more efficiently.

This article was originally published in the New Zealand Bar Association’s ‘At The Bar’.

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