Legal Technology, or LegalTech, is the employment of technology and software to assist the legal profession with day-to-day operations, primarily to increase efficiency and save time. Most of the work of legal professionals, even when it comes to litigation, is clerical and repetitive.
To give legal professionals more time and space to put their minds to pressing matters which require human instinct and discernment, automated systems are being increasingly implemented. In recent years, the LegalTech industry has boomed with growing interest in the use of technology in all things legal.
The following major advancements have contributed to the further digitalization of the legal profession:
Artificial intelligence (AI) is the ability of a computer or a robot controlled by a computer to do tasks that are usually done by humans that require human intelligence and judgment. In the legal industry, the use of AI has become quite significant over the years in Legal Research, Due Diligence, Contract Review, Risk Analysis and Legal Outcome Prediction.
AI applications: AI has been simplifying research for legal professionals for years now with the help of research databases such as WestLaw and LexisNexis. AI-powered tools¹ can review documents and flag them as pertinent to a case, and once a certain type of document is identified as relevant, machine learning algorithms find other documents that are similarly relevant. Moreover, AI makes contract review more efficient by highlighting the most significant clauses of a contract, thus saving time that would otherwise be spent reading lengthy and arduous contracts. AI also helps identify contractual risks that could have negative repercussions for clients. AI can redline items, revise contracts, counsel clients on whether they should sign a contract or not, and can even help clients negotiate better terms.
AI also significantly contributes to the procurement of client background information for the purpose of due diligence. Additionally, it also helps in predicting the outcomes of legal proceedings, for which it applies² natural-language processing to a multitude of court decisions to locate trends that can be used to a client’s advantage. Thus, the use of AI in the legal sector is increasing manifold and can soon replace human involvement, thereby enabling more human attention to critical legal tasks.
E-billing: With law firms serving hundreds of clients, invoicing becomes a very strenuous task. E-billing³ is the automation of the review and approval of invoices received by the legal department of a firm. Legal e-billing systems enable legal teams to make rules on the basis of which incoming invoices are automatically reviewed, approved and rejected, thereby saving human effort and time while also removing the possibility of human error. Thus, not only is it a simpler record keeping software, in addition to simplifying record keeping, e-billing can also be used to identify cost-cutting measures and data-driven financial strategies. It is the ultimate win-win scenario; who doesn’t like to do less work and still earn profit?
Blockchain and Smart Contracts: Arising as one of the finest developments in the world of algorithms in the later half of this past decade, blockchain is a transparent system whereby information is recorded, duplicated and distributed across an entire distributed network of computer systems. One application of blockchain that excites the legal profession is smart contracts. Smart contracts are basically terms of an agreement written into computational code in such a way that it is devoid of ambiguity and has no need for interpretation. Smart contract code is automatically executed and validated using cutting-edge cryptographic technology, and truly decentralized blockchains also provide protected systems⁴ immune to hacking, forgery, or post-deployment editing. Blockchains enable legal professionals to write and deploy smart contracts that can not be edited after publication by malicious actors and that will function as intended without administration by a third-party authority. All legal professionals should consider investing in this level of security and trustless reliability.
E-courts are systems whereby court documents, right from filing complaints and evidence to the delivery of justice, are administered online. Even though E-filing is not a recent development, the COVID-19 pandemic has definitely increased its importance in the functioning of courts and the entire legal system.
Many courts that have switched to electronic filing also have an electronic docket system. This system allows users to browse through all filed documents quickly and efficiently. File collections that used to take up entire rooms can now be managed entirely electronically. Thus, it is a cost-cutting and time-saving mechanism for both parties and the courts, and further ensures speedy delivery of justice.
Cloud computing: is another jewel in the LegalTech crown. Cloud computing technologies⁵ have been in use since the 1950s, but lately they have been adopted and assimilated into the operations of law firms. Cloud computing provides mobility and work space independence to professionals and can also be cost-friendly; however, it provides a lot of ethical dilemmas and issues regarding data breaches and security, due to potential lack of control of what personnel can access sensitive data. Hence, data protection, access control, and security comprise yet another domain that law firms have begun investing into heavily. Information being the new currency of the 21st century, cloud computing and data protection form the backbone of modern legal services.
LegalTech startups: In recent years, LegalTech startups have been capitalizing on the demand for development of technology compatible with the legal sector. Some legal startups develop AI based software that contribute to cost-efficient and time-saving legal processes, thereby reducing the burden on managers, lawyers and litigants. LegalTech is a very promising and ever-evolving field, with lots of avenues yet unexplored and endless possibilities as technology is only bound to get better.
COVID and its effect on the LegalTech sector: Owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, the prevalence and application of LegalTech has become all the more important in modern times, and it will completely revolutionize the traditional operations of the legal industry.
Although LegalTech appears to be quite an attractive and exciting field, one must not forget that technology is but a means to an end, the end here being justice and societal betterment, something which cannot be completely devoid of human touch.
¹ Bernard Marr, How AI And Machine Learning Are Transforming Law Firms And The Legal Sector, May 23, 2018, https://www.forbes.com/sites/bernardmarr/2018/05/23/how-ai-and-machine-learning-are-transforming-law-firms-and-the-legal-sector/#67d853ac32c3
² Jason Koebler, Rise of the Robolawyers, April 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/04/rise-of-the-robolawyers/517794/
³ What is Legal E-Billing?, https://www.busylamp.com/what-is-legal-e-billing/
⁴ Cameron Haden, How Blockchain Could Affect Your Legal Career, https://www.thelawyerportal.com/blog/how-blockchain-affects-your-legal-career/
⁵ Cloud Computing for the Legal Profession: Challenges and Opportunities, https://theknowledgereview.com/cloud-computing-legal-profession-challenges-opportunities/