By Hannah McMurrough
The development of the relationship between law and technology is an important and relevant topic of discussion, especially in the midst of the current COVID-19 pandemic. With the necessary shift to remote working, the benefits of technology have become increasingly apparent. Communication software has made the shift from an in-person work environment to working remotely more seamless. However, for decades the legal profession had appeared reluctant in its attempts to modernise and implement new technologies. As a profession which for centuries has placed emphasis on the importance of tradition and human expertise, it is not surprising that the expansion in legal tech has arrived at a slower pace in comparison to other industries.
In recent years we have seen a shift in focus towards modern technological development within the legal profession, especially in large law firms who have sought to not only implement these new systems but also invest in and encourage the development of legal tech through legal tech incubators. In 2018 the government announced its initiative to invest £3 million into boosting the development of technology within the legal and financial services industries with a focus on enhancing the use of Artificial Intelligence. It is evident that the evolution of technology has and will continue to impact the legal sector in many ways, but what benefits and drawbacks does this bring?
Nigel Rea, in his report on Lawyers and Technology, states that those who are the most receptive to technological developments and those who are proactive in adopting these new methods of working will stand to benefit the most. He states that new technology will not change the fundamental job of lawyers. At the core there still exists the fundamental roles of problem solving and collaboration. What technology aims to provide is new methods of problem solving that are efficient and cost effective.
One type of technology that aims to do this is Artificial Intelligence. This is an area of technology that has gained widespread coverage for its ability to perform tasks that would normally require human intelligence. Systems that have been developed using artificial intelligence have been effective in drawing conclusions based on information given and prior experience and can therefore be supportive in the decision-making process for lawyers. One example of artificial intelligence that is currently being used in the legal profession is that of Ross Intelligence which has the ability to search through billions of documents and extract facts and relevant information in a matter of seconds. Its impact on legal research cannot be underestimated. The system incorporates machine learning and allows lawyers to input questions in plain English which it then processes, understands and contextualises to produce an accurate output of relevant documents.
Artificial intelligence software aimed at simplifying case management will significantly reduce the time-consuming administrative role of lawyers and allow them to focus more of their time on other important tasks such as interpreting the law and personally providing advice to clients. As Mr Arruda, the founder of Ross Intelligence, claims, these systems do not aim to replace the lawyer, but instead to enhance their skills and allow them to do their job more efficiently and productively. Large law firms such as Slaughter & May have led the way in implementing these modern technology systems, for example through document review software to assist in corporate transactions. Innovative and automated systems have been introduced in creative ways to save time by up to 40-50% and increase efficiency, for example through automated due diligence processes in complex mergers and acquisitions.
A study completed by LawGeex (https://www.artificiallawyer.com/2018/02/26/lawgeex-hits-94-accuracy-in-nda-review-vs-85-for-human-lawyers/ ) on reviewing non-disclosure agreements highlight the increased accuracy associated with artificial intelligence software. The results showed that ‘artificial intelligence tools finished with an average accuracy rating of 94% compared to that of 85% for human lawyers.’ Furthermore, the results displayed the time efficient nature of these systems where results were found in just 26 seconds compared to the average of 92 minutes taken by human lawyers using traditional methods. It is clear that in terms of efficiency, accuracy and cost, technology stands to benefit the legal industry.
However, concerns are raised about the possible negative effects of increased automation on the relationship between the lawyer and client, especially in regard to the question of whether these automated systems will result in a reduction in the need for human expertise. However, Mary Bonsor, a former property litigator, states that the relationship between client and lawyer will not be completely eliminated, if this was even possible to do. In fact, technology provides the opportunity for this relationship to be enhanced as new platforms and software will help the lawyer better understand the needs of the client and provide them with an accurate and efficient service. Technology will enable collaboration, rather than inhibit it.
Firms such as Allen and Overy, Clifford Chance and Slaughter and May have also been key in enhancing the evolution of technology within the legal sector through their legal tech incubators. Incubators such as Slaughter and May’s Collaborate Programme seek to promote technological development and present opportunities to ‘high potential legal tech businesses.’ Incubators give legal tech providers, usually start up business or those in early stages of production, access to real world markets which boosts investment and development.
Legal technology is here to stay and therefore the legal profession must adapt to these advancements in order be productive and efficient in how they operate, especially for clients. While there are uncertainties and ambiguities associated with the evolution of technology it cannot be denied that it provides numerous benefits to the legal profession as a whole.