Legaltech and the Law Society: a comparative analysis

The Law Society of England and Wales is getting its act together over Legal Tech. It has just published a comparative analysis of the adoption of legal tech in the UK and in other jurisdictions. Access to justice plays a minor part in this study but the state of law tech provides its surrounding context. This report is worth looking at and, because it is cross-jurisdictional, it merits a larger than domestic audience.

In the modern fashion, the report eschews a straightforward narrative form and is more like a set of powerpoint slides. It is remarkably internationally orientated but this is the Law Society of England and Wales so it takes pride in the assertion that there is ‘a decline in funding towards tech start-ups on the US West Coast and India, but increased funding for tech start-ups in Canada, on the US East Coast, and towards Northern Europe and East Asia.’ This may even, it speculates, ‘reflect a shift of start-up power away from Silicon Valley’. A picture of the world suggest declining rates of growth in Silicon Valley/Los Angeles/Vancouver/Seattle in favour of Toronto/Boston/New York and London/Amsterdam/Paris, Beijing/Shanghai and Tokyo. Berlin is also shown as declining – which seems a bit doubtful to me.

The report’s estimate of total investment in law tech is $926m (£704m or 836m Euros). It confirms the commercial orientation of much of this investment though there may well be some access to justice applications of some products: ‘Growth areas … include: legal analytics; legal project management; governance and compliance; and contract management. More established areas include: collaboration tools; document management; IP management; and e-billing.’ Foreigners have to put up with some nationalistic tub-thumping – ‘Global tech investors are drawn to London for its strengths in developing the latest cutting-edge technologies, with the UK capital topping the European investment charts for funding into fast growing sectors such as artificial intelligence (AI), cybersecurity and Fintech. London ranks close to the San Francisco Bay Area in three specialist markets for AI suppliers: insurance (88% the size of the Bay Area), legal (70%), and education (48%) … The UK is playing a significant role in lawtech on the world stage.’ As far the UK is concerned, however, London is unrepresentative – which may well help to explain Brexit differences: ‘London’s digital tech sector turnover currently sits at £64.1bn in the capital. On average, the rest of the UK has £528m.’

There is more information on other jurisdictions – Singapore, Hong Kong and the Netherlands. The latter is of the most interest in relation to access to justice in large part due to the work of the Hague Institute for Innovation of Law and the role of ‘Belgian and Dutch social impact funds, like Social FinanceNL, Social Impact Ventures and Dutch Social Impact, have invested in several projects to increase the rule of law … In addition, the Dutch government have granted social impact funding to businesses seeking to modernise land rights through the creation of land registries, i.e. Netherlands Land Academy and the Land Dialogue.’ This gives the Dutch an institutional interest in social impact which is unique. 

The report contains discussion of Justice42, the successor to the Rechtwijzer. This is a description of its ‘process map’ – worth repeating because it still represents a model for an online process supplemented by individual assistance and automated procedures:

    1. Registering Your Plan:
      Starts the online divorce proceedings by allowing the user to select a plan which suits their situation, i.e. if you have minor children and are married you will need an additional parenting plan. There are different payment schemes depending on the needs of the user. 
    2. Answering Intake Questions:
      After registering for a plan you will be asked intake questions which provides an indication of needs from both partners. 
    3. Working on Appointments Together:
      After answering the intake questions, the user is presented with suggested texts, which the user can adjust. The users are given a case manager to answer questions. If both users can not agree on a final agreement, additional specialist advice is provided. 
    4. Checked by Case Manager, Reviewed by a Lawyer:
      Once the divorce plan, and other plans selected in step one, are finalised, the case manager completes an initial review. Then an independent divorce lawyer does a review to ensure the agreements are fair and complete. 
    5. Plan Completion:
      Following a few adjustments, the agreements are finalised. The legal specialist completes it at court. 

The report recognises the UK’s instability in its current market position: ‘The closest competitors are Singapore, Hong Kong and the Netherlands. Although the UK leads in some aspects, it is lagging in others, and overall the gap between the UK and the competitor nations is not large. This means that in order to, as a minimum, retain our position, we are likely to need to invest – and more so if we aim to improve our competitive edge.’ Too bad that Brexit will destroy the ease with which Europe’s brightest and best can end up on our shores. Personally, I would put long term money on Berlin – which could have an implication for access to justice since Germany has traditionally not been so engaged in the public funding of legal aid as the UK. 

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