A few years ago, a plethora of online articles introducing a shocking idea of ‘Robo Lawyers’ created fear and panic throughout the legal profession and among a staggered public. Will the number of lawyers be diminished? Will human lawyers even be replaced altogether?
Although the idea of ‘Robots’ dominated the headlines, the wave actually embodied more tangible and concrete advancements that have by now taken over the legal market. The rise of legal technology tools in law firms, followed by a revolutionary disruption of LegalTech companies and startups, have deranged the legal profession and business, including —but not limited to— the integration of Artificial Intelligence in day-to-day tasks.
It is imperative for us to understand how technology is disrupting the legal market. Legal technology does not exist to replace lawyers, but lawyers should become part of this technological revolution to maintain their skill and demand. Lawyers should be able to have control over the future of technology disrupting the legal profession… by being part of it.
For instance, AI company Luminance, the market-leading artificial intelligence leading lawyers, has had 30 percent increase in customers since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has over 250 customers across the world, including one-fifth of the largest 100 law firms in the globe, and all of the Big Four Accountancy firms.
The modern law firm
The time when lawyers could ignore the information on the internet is long past; and the time when lawyers cannot escape the disruption of legal technology is fiercely coming.
There are plenty of technological tools that enable law firms to boost the efficiency of their case management and back-office work nowadays, such as cloud storage systems, legal collaboration platforms, cybersecurity solutions, and of course, Artificial Intelligence. Technology has given the opportunity for large firms to have global exposure and for small firms to use free and low-cost tools available to compete with these large firms and their large research and technology budgets.
Just a few years ago, all lawyers used to spend hours and hours reading contracts and legal documents. Yet today, AI will read these documents in 10-15 minutes. AI will likely provide applications that can produce self-enforcing contracts; it will flag anomalies in contract clauses and will put the information from the documents into charts and diagrams. It will also compare similar documents and shorten the reading process. There have been many AI legal applications that advanced from primarily technology-assisted review in e-discovery to incorporate legal research, document automation and transactional law.
Many law firms are starting to use AI platforms that would provide advanced solutions to aid lawyers manage more complex aspects of their legal matters, such as analyzing data from previous court judgments to assess the odds of winning a case in litigation; and some law firms have even launched their own legal incubators.
Matouk Bassiouny & Hennawy is one of the first few law firms in Egypt to adopt legal technology. In 2019, MBH launched a Knowledge Management project with aims to share, use and manage its knowledge and information with a multidisciplinary approach that captures and leverages the combined know-how of their lawyers in order to produce unified team efforts rather than a group of individuals. This continues to make a significant change in the knowledge management of the firm as it ensures that their lawyers can access the right information precisely when they need it.
The use of technology enhances knowledge management, as it significantly speeds up the manual research process, making it more efficient and relevant; and it creates a knowledge base that is easily accessible and collective.
LegalTech companies are transforming the legal profession as we know it.
The abolishment of the billable hour, which has been greatly criticized, is one of the main targets of LegalTech. The billable hour is known for rewarding lawyers for the number of hours they have worked, instead of the actual work they put in. In other words, it rewards input rather than output. The reconsideration of the current revenue model of big law firms by augmenting the billable-hour system into partial or fixed fees based on quantifiable success against clearly defined deliverables will not only have significant implications on law firms’ incentive structure, but it will also motivate lawyers to be more efficient and quality-oriented. Therefore, the shift will eventually affect the entirety of a firm’s operations model.
The past decade witnessed a significant growth in the sheer number of LegalTech startups. According to Stanford CodeX list, there are over 1250 startups that offer solutions to different inefficiencies in the legal profession, such as contract automation, online dispute resolution (ODR) and legal document management. Many law firms are also forced to invest in LegalTech companies to ensure a seat at the table. For instance, US law firm Orrick began a new startup venture fund in 2018, which aims to make investments in promising LegalTech companies on a global scale. Moreover, in 2019, UK-based law firm Slaughter and May launched their own LegalTech program that joins a growing number of top-tier law firms to create innovation spaces and incubators for LegalTech companies.
How can we own this wave?
Unfortunately, law school still does not teach soft skills, practical skills of a lawyer, and the importance of providing excellent client services. To survive in today’s tech-heavy world, law students need to learn how LegalTech will benefit clients and how it will provide more certainty to the pricing of legal services.
Aspiring lawyers should familiarize themselves with legal technology and learn about how this will inevitably change the industry for them to be part of the evolution of the legal profession. Notwithstanding that coding or programming is not a requirement for lawyers to be part of this evolutionary movement, it will put them at an advantage; and eventually, the knowledge of simple coding will become the new legal edge.
There should be efforts to inject legal innovation into legal education by providing programs and courses in legal technology and operations. The young lawyers should be able to familiarize themselves with basic business fluency, knowledge and operations management, and to adapt to technology tools that serve the legal profession. Moreover, law firms could alter the way they train their lawyers by introducing technology into their trainings and through an execution of a good knowledge management module.
Taking a look into the Glass Ball of Legal Business, one could probably envision that a strong implementation of legal technology solutions in law firms would decrease the number of entry-level, junior, and associate lawyers and paralegals as there would be less need for manual standard and low-skill legal tasks. However, it is likely that the number of employees in a law firm will remain the same, as there will be a need for legal technologists and project managers. The drastic decline in the employment market for lawyers will therefore revolutionize the legal education; and law school curriculums will be forced to invest in the development of law students’ technical and business skills. Law firms will also be eager to invest in their lawyers with specific legal tech skills, such as database management, statistics, and analytics to avoid the possibility of a high risk of being edged out of the market by legal technology.