We are in a midst of a technological sea change that may well not have any kind of ceiling on it, but to imagine that the legal sector is any different from most other industries – whether media, finance, retail or any other – would be very myopic. Yes, like it or not, technology is disrupting the old paradigms and is here to stay.
Whether you use an Oyster card to commute to work, have replaced your Compact Disc collection with Spotify playlists, shop at Ocado or share your family photos with grandparents on Facebook, the chances are that you are more embedded in the age of digital technology than you might first assume.
Over the past few years so much has happened to alter the shape of the legal industry – cloud-based technologies, mobile apps, advanced analytics, IBM Watson, Oratto – yet, despite this, too many law firms remain resistant or worse, oblivious, to the impact legal technologies are having on the provision and quality of legal services.
Perhaps it is because of the resistance and naivety of some firms that it is only when you scratch the service that you begin to get a feel for just how much things are changing. In fact, they may even take reassurance from the fact that the legal sector remains stagnant in terms of pure economic growth, but beneath these still waters there is a dynamic and fast-paced evolution taking place that is full of opportunities.
But, as Charles Darwin theorised, evolution can be a ruthless business and even the most powerful of behemoths can be left behind if they fail to adapt to a changing environment. This has already been proven true, and dramatically so, in recent years with the collapse of global law firms such as Howrey, Dewey & LeBoeuf, and Bingham McCutchen. It would be easy to characterise the once unimaginable failure of these firms as being a product of old-fashioned mismanagement. However, to do so would be to miss the point as these failures are at least in part attributable to a misplaced overemphasis on economic growth and profit at the expense of intelligent consideration of the changing global legal landscape; a landscape that is increasingly defined by technology and the ability of both lawyers and clients to understand its uses.
The legal services sector has reached a critical juncture in its history and it is only those firms which proactively embrace and chase change who will survive and thrive as we move further into the twenty first century.
Patrick Susskind, IT Adviser to the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, and considered by many to be the world's leading expert in legal technology, is of this view. Simply put, in his opinion, if firms are to prosper over the next decades they are going to have to find a way to achieve "more for less".
Although, at a superficial level, this might sound like a recipe for disaster for the consumers of legal services, it is actually a response to their changing needs and demands. Old-style legal firms that are reliant on staid and stultified ways of practising, whether through a commitment to old-style paperwork and file management or through inflexible adherence to "billable hours" fee structures, are increasingly anachronistic, often to the point of becoming irrelevant.
It is becoming increasingly clear: from conveyancing to commercial law, technology is revolutionising the legal sector. But is this good news and what, precisely, does it mean for the solicitors and lawyers working across the United Kingdom, and, of course, their clients?
According to Deloitte, more than 100,000 legal sector jobs are expected to become automated over the next two decades, meaning that although clients can expect some innovation in technologically sound legal solutions – including artificial intelligence and robotics – the solicitors accustomed to providing services on a human level could be forgiven for feeling nervous about the future of their jobs.
Financial technology, or what we now know by the name FinTech, has had an enormous and profound impact on clients of the economic industry. Where there was once a large degree of scepticism regarding whether FinTech was simply a way to cut the financial cost of human interactions, there is an acceptance – on both sides of the fence; client and financial adviser – that FinTech has made things easier and more efficient. In fact it has been largely beneficial to consumers, ensuring that the market has been opened up to innovators, who, through the intelligent use of technology, have been able, to some degree, to level the playing field with the established operators, really helping clients find the products and services that work for them.
So, what of Legaltech, as we will call it, does it too have an important part to play in revolutionising the way that clients and consumers access the legal expertise that matters to them?