It is becoming increasingly clear that new technology is overtaking traditional ways of working, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic increased the value of the digital sphere through the need for remote working and communication. Tech development is also rapid, spurring debate around the impact of areas such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) in particular.
The legal sector is not exempt from this technological revolution, or the debate surrounding whether tech is really changing things for the better. Some argue that the benefits far outweigh the potential limitations, or risks. For example, a LawtechUK report predicts that increasing the use of legal tech could lead to productivity gains of up to £1.7 billion annually. Others, however, cite concerns over cybersecurity as a reason to be wary of implementing new tech programmes without thorough scrutiny and regulation, particularly considering the sensitivity of the documents and matters that lawyers handle.
But what tech is being adopted, and how will it impact legal practitioners, companies, and clients?
Remote working, in 2023, is hardly exclusive to the legal industry. An Office for National Statistics report showed that in May 2022, almost a quarter of the British population were hybrid workers (24 per cent). But for legal practitioners, tech can provide distinct benefits that make remote working far easier.
For example, gathering all necessary signatures on a document can be time consuming and unpredictable – everyone is busy, and some might find it harder than others to travel to the office. However, e-signatures can provide sufficient and instant authentication to verify a document and they are far easier to gather. Furthermore, numerous legal forms and processes that previously had to be carried out in hard copy have now also been digitised, particularly since COVID-19.
In a similar way, videocalls and conferencing make it simpler for lawyers and clients to communicate. Neither needs to travel as frequently, which is particularly beneficial for those who find travelling harder because of work or care commitments, or because they have mobility difficulties. Clients can also contact lawyers who might live further afield but have specialist experience in the area of law the client requires. Legal representation is now far more accessible, and this benefits everyone in society.
Remote working for lawyers is not possible without a suitable tech set up, especially for the sensitive nature of legal work. Bespoke legal technology is not new, law firms have long needed solutions for the unique challenges and safety requirements that they face in efficient case and client management. Cloud-based legal technology is the new frontier.
Cloud-based technology has become an essential part of modern life. Companies like Google, Microsoft and Apple are well known for providing customers with the ability to access their documents, emails, photographs or any other electronic possessions across devices and locations, so long as there is an internet connection. This provides the scope for greater freedom and flexibility in where, when and how people work. For lawyers, this can be translated into the ability to provide clients with the most comprehensive and rounded service possible, from multiple devices and locations.
However, cybersecurity remains a concern, especially when dealing with such sensitive data. Whilst one contention is that the cloud offers better security for legal documents than traditional paper storage, cybersecurity specialists say that this should not be taken for granted. Cloud services are often provided by a third party, internet connections are not always secure, and malware on a particular device can corrupt the whole cloud system. Extreme caution is required, including regular training of all lawyers and law firm staff on cybersecurity risks. Nonetheless, as cloud working expands, cybersecurity will need to evolve alongside it.
While automation is generally seen in a positive light in the legal sector, there is some concern that it will encroach on the role of more junior lawyers or paralegals, or that over-reliance on automated tools will reduce critical thinking, a sentiment echoed across sectors. However, AI and automated systems can offer numerous benefits to the legal sector, to speed up and streamline processes for both lawyers and clients.
For lawyers, automating systems frees up time. For example, whilst there is no replacement to a lawyer’s grasp of the broader legal context, data analytics tools can assist in researching large quantities of documents to reduce the time paralegals and junior lawyers need to spend finding the right answer to a legal issue. Time that could instead be spent on client care and adding value, as well as perhaps training and business-related tasks . Similarly, Machine Learning (ML) software can analyse contracts to identify mistakes and ensure the correct information is presented. Both of these tasks are time consuming, and for a client, their lawyer’s time is money.
New technology has already made a marked difference on the way lawyers and clients interact, and how the industry operates. Change is constant, and so there are likely to be more developments on the horizon as new tools are released . But despite some concerns over job and cyber security, it is clear that implementing new legal tech is largely beneficial for all involved, freeing up more time for lawyers to spend on complicated case work and facilitating greater flexibility, transparency, and accuracy of legal services.
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