OK. I fess up. Last month, I ghosted a memo which commended the report of the Law Society of England and Wales on Technology, Access to Justice and the Rule of Law. However, I said that ‘the next report should aim for a more clearly defined audience. The key question seems to be this. What could the Society produce on technology that would be read with interest and benefit by, for example, a two person firm in Newcastle …’ Well, the Society has only gone and done it with its Introduction to Legal Tech. I claim influence of the highest sort but, alas, it seems more likely that the Society had this up its sleeve all the time.
So, I commend this publication – which seems valuable for lawyers around the world, not just domestically. The aim is exactly what the earlier post called for: ‘We want to ensure that practitioners have the necessary information to make informed choices about whether to adopt new technology and how to go about it. Our research showed that small firms had less information available on LawTech than large ones. Therefore this guide aims to provide information and advice to smaller firms and sole practitioners, who may lack the resources of larger legal businesses when considering the adoption of technology.’
The publication is supported by podcasts; direction to youtube videos and meetings. Additionally you can hear the Society’s Director of Strategic Insight and Influence (sometimes, it is time to lay down even my light, ghostly burden) on comparisons between the law and accountancy. The report is structured around the answers to nine questions:
- What is LawTech?
- Evolution or Revolution?
- What does the market for LawTech look like at the moment?
- What LawTech products are currently available?
- How do I evaluate if LawTech will make my legal business more competitive?
- What are the barriers to adoption?
- What are the drivers for effective adoption?
- How do I successfully implement LawTech products or services?
- What is the future of LawTech and legal services?
There is a lot of very solid material under each topic and the Society manages to find a tone which best negotiates some of the underlying potential tensions. For example, the report includes billable hours and the partnership model among the barriers to adoption. It notes that ‘A significant number of law firms still have a number of manual processes in place. Historically, law firms’ higher gross margins have had the effect of dampening the need to standardise processes, automate or offshore these processes. Automation has often had the greatest success in high volume, low margin industries.’
The report covers the range of LawTech developments. It includes reproduction, and links to, the maps of LawTech products put together by Deloitte’s and Thomson Reuters. Its overall analysis is that ‘In the UK we are witnessing two discernible waves of AI in law:
- The first rules-based wave leading to IT solutions such as document automation, legal diagnostics and legislative analysis tools.
- A second wave more focused on data-based prediction to identify outcomes of disputes, analyse documents and perform legal risk assessments.’
The Society is interestingly generous to the experience of the non-for-profit advice sector: ‘Advice sector: LawTech is being used by the not for profit sector offering legal services to help people with unmet legal needs and increase access to justice. The majority of organisations use LawTech for back-office processes, for instance to improve their practice management systems. However, in the past few years it is also being used to develop technologically enabled frontline services for public legal education, information and advice. Technology has also been used to increase their reach and improve user interaction to give advice, such as through chatbots, legal aid eligibility calculators and triage tools.’
So, the Society has followed exactly the advice of its one-time manager from beyond the grave. And the only piece of unsolicited assistance to remain is the value that there would be from ‘a compendium of practical experience and analysis’. Picture the lawyers for whom this publication is written. They are probably over 50; conscientious about their firm; and very likely the ‘salt of the earth’ types driven by a passion to help people rather than master objects and systems. They are the ones we have to persuade about technology. Among them must be a few who have suffered Pauline conversions to the value of technology. Let them be heard to persuade the others.