How is Technology Changing Legal Roles?

When industrialization established its roots in 18th century England, it brought with itself, a fair share of critique and mistrust. While it did replace many jobs almost immediately, it also eventually stirred a paradigm shift from labour to knowledge work.

When legal technology evolved as a discipline, the same projections were made about the legal profession.

This time however, innovation is mindful of human interests at work. Law transformation technology is being professionally sought to help make the switch from labour intensive operations to knowledge functions. Prof. Richard Susskind, OBE sees technology as an enabler that helps legal teams get “from the back office to the front office.

As technology evolves, we dive into the four trends that will eventually shape the future and workplaces of lawyers -

1. Transitioning from worker to creator roles

Traditionally, the legal industry’s approach has been - running head-first into the problem. This idea has been both fostered and romanticized (even with its own dedicated popular subculture in TV shows). It is therefore, the intellectual variant of the pre-industrialized workforce. Labour was law.

Many law firms and service providers, bill by the hours. That means, when law firms require analysis of voluminous legal documents (sometimes in the millions), they earn money by throwing an army of junior lawyers and paralegals into a pile of documents.

Today, an expert in the legal field has merely to go through a small sample of the data-dump (i.e. the contracts) and indicate the kind of information they are to collect. Once equipped with the sorting prerequisites, Artificial Intelligence takes on the task of going through the data dump and isolates the required information from the rest.

Legal Research - as old as 2011 - indicates that technology far outperforms the effort put in by junior lawyers and paralegals, and at a much faster rate.

What is even more interesting is that lawyers of today are the ones building these systems. Often to - liberate professionals from arduous manual processes. Legal digital transformation is increasingly giving rise to the many nuanced and technical roles-

  • Legal knowledge engineers
  • Legal risk managers
  • Design thinking experts
  • Legal process analysts, and many other

Takeaway: Lawyers are more empowered now to command administrative roles. This also helps them diversify their subject matter expertise.

2. Making legal departments client focused

Study shows that legal service to clients is well interpreted when client-side functions like speed and technology adoption are prioritized
Clio Legal Trends Report 2020

Two different studies, identified client-facing factors like responsiveness to query and client satisfaction as the most important factor in defining success for legal professionals.

There is general consensus that - for the legal industry to grow better, there is a need to move towards client-centricity. There are two categories of technology that have already moved the needle in this direction-

a) Faster execution

Innovations like eSignatures, eBillings and document collaboration tools have been the cornerstone for client-centricity in the legal industry. These technologies are directly used by clients in making execution or deal-closing faster while tracking outcomes.

b) Process improvement

Another way technology is enabling legal teams to be client facing is by helping them make complicated processes simpler. Contract management solutions are minimizing the need for organizations to be communicating over email and maintain a logbook of all their legacy and active contracts.

eDiscovery and project management tools help lawyers research better and make it more accurate, thereby earning client trust better.

At the end, the more cerebral functions like ensuring compliance, and building a formidable legal framework are still best left in the hands of the professionals. It is these steps in between that technology is trying to accelerate.

Takeaway: More free time means legal teams can be more responsive to client needs, and automating redundant processes liberate professionals to function at their most productive levels.

3. Changing the delivery of legal services

The need for transferable skills is going beyond just legal practice. It is also increasing the demand for generalists who can both manage legal operations and proactively take on consultation and business development.

Conversely, not only is technology evolving lawyers in corporates, it is also introducing corporates to law.

Case in point - virtual courtrooms. While in-courtroom skills are still paramount, the ability to communicate effectively across digital platforms and the delivery of arguments and judgement online is also equally important. The emergence of new soft skills are an integral prerequisite to bypass traditional challenges like the need for physical presence, generating hard-copies of documents etc.

The pandemic made it pretty clear that there is a latent need for industries to make a digital shift, and has gradually turned the wheel towards a fresher digital delivery of legal services.

Takeaway: Technology simplifies complicated processes, making professionals agile. It also accelerates access to legal services and self-serves knowledge upgrades.

4. Upgrading legal academia

For long the single most pertinent challenge to technology adaptation in legal was the fact that many of today’s law schools still follow yesterday’s curriculum. That perspective is gradually changing.

Recently, SpotDraft tied-up with the Surrey Law and Technology Hub - an initiative at the University of Surrey School of Law. It helps students, academics, business leaders and legal practitioners forge close links to work on complex digital transformation and law related research topics.

Initiatives like these have direct bearings on legal functions of the future by fostering-

  1. Openness to technology
  2. Design and development thinking to improve existing processes
  3. The ability to associate data-driven methods to conventional legal work

There is now a concerted effort in soft-skill and technology vocation in educational institutions. Many also have dedicated incubators to help students of law solve tomorrow’s problems today.

Law was always a mixture of cognitive science and practical skills. With the introduction of technology, it is also gradually becoming measurable. This significantly improves the quality of life for general counsels and legal professionals by providing more actionable insights.

SpotDraft is itself a result of years of deliberation to improve some of the mundane processes around contract works in an in-house legal professional’s life. We know, we understand, and we can help - here.