The Rise of LegalTech: What are the implications for lawyers?
My perspective as a legal intern and ex-LegalTech professional.
The legal industry has traditionally been slow to adopt technological advancements. However, with the recent emergence of generative AI (Artificial Intelligence), it seems that technology may bring about a revolution in the legal industry sooner than anticipated. Having worked in the LegalTech sector for several years, I was thrilled to finally have the opportunity to experience the LegalTech world from the user's perspective as a legal intern this summer.
Author: Mark Kim, Summer Legal Intern
During my first week at Ravenscroft & Schmierer, I tried my hand at various legal tasks such as drafting legal documents, conducting legal research, visiting the court, bundling etc. These are undoubtedly typical examples of legal work given to law students and recent graduates, but what also caught my attention were the numerous conversations in the office about LegalTech.
I was surprised by how open-minded most people were to using technology to improve their workflow, or at least to acknowledge that there is always a better way of working. As someone who previously worked in the LegalTech space, it has become second nature for me to constantly question if the delivery of any legal work could be improved using technology. These conversations led me to consider many interesting questions and motivated me to write this article to share my perspective on this mysterious intersection between law and technology.
What is LegalTech?
‘LegalTech’ is not to be confused with ‘technology law,’ as I have seen many law students and lawyers do. LegalTech (or law tech) refers to the use of technology to improve and streamline legal services and processes. It includes using tools and software such as document automation, e-discovery, contract management, legal research, and online dispute resolution. Technology law, on the other hand, refers to the legal framework that governs the use and development of technology. It includes a wide range of legal issues related to technology, including intellectual property, data privacy, cybersecurity, and e-commerce. These two terms might be similar in their names, but they are by no means equivalent in any sense.
Many practising lawyers may think LegalTech is just another buzzword like cloud, big data, or blockchain that have, so far, had little impact on their work. However, LegalTech can offer many benefits to legal professionals and clients, with increased time/cost efficiency and improved job satisfaction. With the right LegalTech solutions, many routine and time-consuming tasks that lawyers must perform manually could be (semi-)automated – examples include translation, contract drafting and document reviews.
By automating these relatively mechanical tasks, lawyers can save time, increase productivity, and focus on more complex and intellectually challenging tasks. This can lead to lower client costs and simultaneously allow lawyers to take on more clients, generating more revenue for their firms.
Lawyers would likely also have increased job satisfaction as mundane administrative tasks are reduced. After all, many lawyers would prefer to spend their hours on legal research or brainstorming innovative legal arguments for their cases rather than performing document reviews on thousands of evidential documents until well into the night.
What is stopping lawyers from adopting LegalTech?
I have worked in LegalTech for three years, and know that it is still a fairly novel concept to many legal professionals. I once interviewed a group of young lawyers about what came to their mind when hearing the term LegalTech, and a few remarkable answers were – Wi-Fi connection, printing, and filing emails. These are unquestionably the backbone of most law firms, but also show how far we are from the ‘promised land’ regarding LegalTech awareness and adoption.
Although many law firms are starting to develop a serious interest in LegalTech, below are two of the main challenges hindering lawyers from adopting these technologies.
Resistance to change One of the biggest challenges of adopting LegalTech is resistance to change by lawyers. The nature of the legal industry could explain this phenomenon. Since legal work is often of high stakes, it is natural for lawyers to choose the safer route and be comfortable with their existing workflow to avoid any room for error. Moreover, lawyers and law students are trained to look for and rely on ‘precedents’ for much of their work. For example, commercial lawyers would prefer to draft a contract using a precedent template from a previous matter of similar nature rather than starting from scratch. Along this line, many lawyers may not be willing to be the pioneers in trying new technology, but they will most likely adopt a ‘wait-and-see’ approach. When most lawyers are reluctant to change for the above reasons, it explains why LegalTech is still not widely adopted in the industry.
Lack of technical skills and knowledge Another key challenge for LegalTech adoption is the lack of technical skills and knowledge. As LegalTech is a niche area, requiring a high level of expertise in both law and technology, we will need talents who are either: (i) technologists who understand the legal practices inside out or , (ii) tech-savvy and innovative lawyers, which are both rare in the legal industry. Even if law firms are eager to be innovative and try new ways of working, they may not have the right talents and expertise to implement LegalTech immediately. Though there are countless exciting LegalTech solutions in the market, the lack of technical skills among lawyers (which may not be their fault) will likely prevent them from fully appreciating the beauty and benefits of LegalTech. While LegalTech adoption can be a challenge for lawyers, there are things they can do differently to embrace technology more easily. It is important to develop an innovative mindset - to question the status quo and think outside the box. By starting small and being willing to experiment and learn, lawyers can gradually be accustomed to LegalTech and realise the infinite possibilities brought by LegalTech.
Should lawyers be worried about “the threat from AI”?
While AI has the potential to improve the efficiency and accuracy of legal services, there are also valid concerns about the impact of AI on the legal industry. One common question is whether AI will replace human lawyers. So, should lawyers be fearful of AI? Will we ever see a world where AI lawyers dominate the legal industry? I do not have a crystal ball, and, as cliché as it may sound, we never know what could happen. I genuinely believe that AI will only complement, but not replace, human lawyers, especially since there will always be a need for human judgment and expertise in the legal industry.
We have seen the power of AI tools, such as ChatGPT. Still, it cannot replace the element of judgment, emotional intelligence, and human touch essential to the legal profession. Take a divorce case, for example; not only do clients need a lawyer’s expertise, but they also frequently require emotional support and guidance through their difficult circumstances. These are qualities that currently only human lawyers can provide. Therefore, lawyers will continue to play a critical role in the legal system, even as AI and other emerging technologies continue to evolve and mature.
What is next for me?
Owing to my interest and experience in LegalTech, I have become more excited and motivated to try different types of legal work during my time at Ravenscroft & Schmierer.
My experiences will hopefully prepare me to become a better solicitor upon graduation and allow me to develop a new perspective on LegalTech - this time as a legal practitioner.
Would you like to hear more about my motivations and tips for switching from the tech field to the legal domain? I made a podcast about it, listen to it here:
Mark Kim was a part-time GDL (Graduate Diplome in Law) student at the University of Law and a legal intern at Ravenscroft & Schmierer in the summer of 2023.
Summer Legal Intern 2023