Legal tech engagement higher than ever

Confidence in being able to roll out legal tech persists and growth could even be outpacing fintech, according to some reports.
28 October 2022

Self-service trend: Long arm of the the law gets a digital hand. Image credit: Shutterstock.

Technology has been supporting the legal profession for much longer than people may think. The Law Society – which represents solicitors in England and Wales – noted ‘the rise of an agile working culture’ long before the global pandemic, when writing on the topic of cloud computing in the legal profession. And document management and case management tools have been around for years. But few would deny that there’s noticeably more talk about legal tech, or lawtech (as it’s sometimes referred to) than there has been in the past.

“Lawyers are now pushing IT harder because they want to engage,” Mike McGlinchey, Head of Client Consulting at law firm Pinsent Masons Vario told TechHQ. The global pandemic accelerated the adoption of digital solutions worldwide, including within the legal profession. “It brought confidence in rolling out new technology and having people adapt to it,” said McGlinchey. “If you design it right, you don’t need a big training program.”

Rules and logic

Document automation tools have become more self-service for legal teams to create thanks to low-code and no-code solutions. These make it easier for legal teams to encode the logic that adds and removes clauses based on a user’s questionnaire – for example, so that clients could generate their own sales contracts. Previously, plumbing this text together would have required input from ‘legal engineers’, but lawyers themselves can now get hands-on. This does, however, raise a question.

Lawyers are expensive, so there’s likely to be a limit on how much time you would want to dedicate such a resource to building automated documents – even if it is low-code. But the opportunity is now there. Other innovations that have long been spoken about, but slow to progress – until the global pandemic – include document signing and e-witnessing. “You had to do something, and so you did it,” said McGlinchey.

The challenge with witnessing a document electronically is that, legally, both parties must be in the same room. And, in terms of the workflow, the privacy of the person signing the document has to be protected – the witness just needs to confirm the signing, not the contents, and shouldn’t receive a copy. In the UK, this was enabled using features such as geolocation and time stamps. Other countries passed temporary laws to permit e-witnessing to take place on digital platforms and used screenshots.

Fact-finding missions

Knowledge sharing on advancing legal tech is now much easier to track via platforms such as Remote Courts Worldwide, which was created in March 2020. In its own words, the platform ‘provides a systematic way for remote-court innovators and people who work in justice systems to exchange news of operational systems, as well as of plans, ideas, policies, protocols, techniques, and safeguards’. And recent updates include a fact-finding mission by UK representatives to Delhi, which is mutually beneficial as India is doing similar work on e-courts.

Worldwide, a huge number of countries are engaging with legal tech to streamline proceedings and discover new ways of delivering the multitude of services that encompass today’s legal profession. Remote Courts Worldwide has had updates from 168 jurisdictions, and there are other examples too of the scale of digital transformation.

The Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) – a global body promoting collaboration between legal operations and law firms, technology providers, law schools, and other stakeholders – introduced a recognition program in 2020 to acknowledge the innovative work of member institutions. Encouraged by the wide range of applications received, the program was soon expanded to allow submissions across the entire legal ecosystem. And now qualifying institutions include legal service providers, law firms, academic providers, and in-house teams.

Lawtech sandbox

In the UK, Tech Nation has followed the success of Fintech’s regulatory sandbox by introducing an analogous ‘Lawtech Sandbox’ to ‘help lawtech pioneers accelerate through their development cycles faster than they could alone’. According to Tech Nation, lawtech (or legal tech) is one of the fastest-growing technology sectors in the UK – outpacing climate tech, fintech, and health tech. It believes that the benefits, in the UK alone, of greater adoption of legal tech by service providers could bring productivity gains equivalent to £1.7 billion.

Firms participating in the sandbox – which helps companies to navigate regulations and governance, and provides support by matchmaking members with suitable legal data sources – include Avvoka (document automation, negotiation, and analytics), Feesier (spreading the cost of legal fees), Hunit (natively digital legal agreements) and Valla (a DIY law platform). There’s no shortage of bright ideas and based on the success enjoyed by Fintech’s sandbox cohorts, the prospects for legal tech firms are strong.

There are training opportunities too. If you are curious to learn more about legal tech themes such as distributed ledger technology, smart contracts, automation, and other related topics, then Lawtech UK has a series of bitesize online courses that might inspire even more innovation in the field.