Legal technology refers to the application of technology and innovation within the legal services industry, which is generally aimed at increasing efficiency, reducing time/costs and enabling lawyers to provide a wider range of customer services. This is actually not a new concept given the rise of legal expert systems in the early 1980s and the increased investment in legal technology companies over the years. The benefits of legal technology and innovation have undoubtedly gained more recognition, in part as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we believe that emotional and human guidance, support, tailored writing and ongoing monitoring and auditing are as important as efficiency, so how do we bridge the gap between technology and human empathy and support? ? Can we?
Despite the broad ambitions, it seems that most legal tech companies are focused on delivery efficiency and few on truly disruptive, bespoke solutions to traditional legal approaches. This could be because lawyers are bound by high professional and ethical standards and the legal services industry is also tightly regulated. As such, there are concerns and barriers to the extent to which technology can or should be implemented in the legal sector. Some fear that the technology may be biased by those who create the programs; some worry that removing the human element could lead to errors and many professionals, like us, worry that filling in models means that errors go undetected until it’s too late.
What types of legal tech are available?
Nowadays, there are various technological tools available to lawyers and law firms. In particular, the use of video conferencing, cloud storage and e-signature platforms has increased dramatically, especially during the pandemic. In addition, case management, legal research, and billing software can also help law firms improve the quality and efficiency of services and allow their staff to work remotely when possible. Some artificial intelligence (AI) tools have also been implemented to further reduce the time/cost of providing legal services, such as chatbots, virtual assistants and interactive programs to generate legal documents.
This is a great, easy way to collect signatures from multiple parties rather than running face to face and delaying post. However, some legal documents must still be executed as a deed requiring witnesses and hard copies. It may sound old-fashioned, but if a dispute arises and where the signatures were given (according to, for example, IP addresses and locations), the parties could claim that they were not the ones who accessed the e- mail or that they did not actually witness the signing and this could create a dispute for many cases in the future. As such, caution in actually accepting, witnessing, and executing documents still needs to be given, while embracing new, faster processes.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
The term “AI” in the context of legal technology refers to a wide range of technologies designed or intended to replicate actions traditionally performed by legal professionals, such as communication, drafting, and reasoning. So fill out documents, clauses and send automated messages, for example. Typically, AI involves programming computer systems to process large volumes of data and “learn” how to answer questions or perform specific actions. As a result, AI is theoretically considered capable of making more informed, efficient, and consistent decisions unaffected by human errors and capabilities. Notable developments in the field of legal AI include document analysis, contract intelligence, and prediction of business outcomes.
Main risks associated with the use of legal tech
Despite the various benefits offered by legal tech, law firms and clients should still be wary of relying heavily on its products at this time for the following reasons:
- Some providers promise the delivery of documents or agreements within short deadlines for reduced costs, which may seem very attractive for start-ups or individuals on a small budget. However, one should not blindly rely on these tools as they still have many limitations and the release documents probably do not adequately reflect the needs of the clients as they will not be tailor-made and they will not understand the appetite for the risk or commerciality of certain transactions which on paper may not stack up.
- This software usually uses templates that very often depend on the clients to fill them in and therefore they fully understand the questions they are being asked or the wider implications. Often start-ups tick a box to give consent to investors but let’s say there are 10 and you need their signature on every document which is just not practical or commercial and yet all the documents were signed accordingly.
Therefore, clients should always ensure that their documents and contracts are reviewed or verified by qualified and experienced attorneys before signing to avoid these risks, including potential disputes and liabilities. As often, these checkboxes focus on the customer to figure it all out. Often the fine print also suggests that legal advice is sought on the documents.
- Moreover, it can be extremely difficult to measure the accuracy of legal technology because there is no “meaning check” and there is a real risk that once an error is made, it could spread quickly and complete other paperwork creating other problems relatively quickly. Often with legal agreements, the problems are not immediately obvious, but rather arise when you need to be able to rely on the documents, often in litigation or when needed. Legal tech should, at least for the moment, be implemented with caution to help with certain legal procedures, and not to replace advice & audits: audits by human legal professionals in our opinion.
Potential legal and regulatory risks for lawyers and law firms:
There are model generator companies using this technology that are not regulated or managed by lawyers, so they have limited liability. In a law firm, it is ultimately the lawyers who are responsible for the legal services provided to clients because they are regulated service providers and bound by strict professional and ethical rules as well as high insurance premiums. As such, they are insured and they should critically and regularly review their use of legal technology tools and what they produce to guard against the risks of breach of legal and regulatory obligations and to provide clients with correct documents and solid ones that reflect all of their needs. As you hope, you are in good hands.
We believe that, although making great efforts to support the profession, legal tech has not yet reached the stage where it can sufficiently and reliably replace human functions. We embrace technology, but we do so understanding its limitations, and ultimately advice, business support, assistance and bespoke writing cannot be replaced.
As the popularity of legal technology integration grows, security risks for law firms and clients remain prevalent. Cloud storage is often touted as a more secure way for law firms to store and protect data from security breaches. However, studies have shown that law firms are still considered rich choices for cybercriminals, as they tend to hold a lot of sensitive customer information, and the technology vendors themselves are susceptible to cyberattacks. As lawyers and law firms remain ultimately responsible for the data stored in their digital storage, they should choose their providers carefully to ensure compliance with applicable data protection legislation and minimize the risk of data breach. We maintain our current hard server data for this very concern, despite being tech-savvy lawyers ourselves, as we are assured of 100% protection.
Working with many innovative tech clients, including those truly looking to disrupt various markets including legal tech, we have witnessed the good, the bad, and the future in the making. Although we use many forms of technology in our practice as we are paperless, we can work remotely and use many of these resources, we always offer our clients honest, business and legal advice, we understand technology as well as legal issues and implications. and are able to ensure that our customers do too. As such, we are embracing technology, but not yet ready to retire.