While the legal profession has traditionally been slow to embrace innovation, for various reasons, there are signs the tide is turning in this respect.
Fuelled by the vast number of legal tech platforms entering the market, which themselves are often driven by substantial funding, legal firms are embracing innovation in ways never seen before.
What is legal innovation?
In any sense, innovation means doing things differently and in such a way that you improve how you work and deliver value for your clients.
How are lawyers already benefiting from legal innovation?
If your legal practice is not already embracing innovation, it is time to catch up! Those who are not currently using legal tech and taking advantage of innovation are often stuck in a world where their services are lawyer-centric, rather than being focused on their clients. It is also typical for lawyers to be focused on the risks and potential downsides of something rather than the opportunity.
Legal tech allows law firms like yours to use artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and automation to do a significant volume of your work. This makes your internal workflows more efficient and means you can deliver work to your clients quicker and at a lower cost. In turn, this helps to drive growth in the legal sector, as law firms can harness these tools to take on clients and cases they might otherwise have had to turn down.
From a client and even an individual perspective, lowering costs helps to make access to justice more affordable, too.
However, embracing tech and innovation does not necessarily have to mean using AI! Even having a user-friendly client portal that can help you make case management easier or using a time tracking tool that helps you bill your clients accurately is innovative and could make a massive difference to how you work!
What are some of the potential legal conflicts in innovation?
While there are many benefits to embracing legal innovation, you will also potentially come across some conflicts while doing so.
What are these, and how can the legal profession deal with these to ensure we continue to embrace innovation?
- Regulation around new and emerging tech. Technologies such as blockchain are common within legal tech and drive the use of things like smart and self-executing contracts. While blockchain regulation is light in most places at present, as authorities continue to pay more attention specifically to cryptocurrency, it is likely that different cross-border rules will eventually come into force around blockchain in general. For platforms and law firms that rely on blockchain to deliver projects and specific automated tasks, this has the potential to provide a challenge.
- Challenges to whether certain things are legally enforceable. Legal design is one of the most significant developments driven by legal tech in recent years. Law firms – and the business world in general – are getting on board with the idea that contracts and other documents do not need to be unwieldy walls of text. Yet, there continue to be challenges around whether specific designs and contracts are legally enforceable. However, this is more around firms and individuals who take it upon themselves to use "legal design" without considering whether they are still producing a legally sound document.
- Data protection concerns always surround tech use, particularly as data privacy and protection regulations continue to tighten worldwide. Potential conflicts here include migrating data across platforms, particularly given the level to which integrations are a vital part of modern tech. You need to ensure that whatever tools you use protect your clients' data and that of their customer base.
- Misusing or being complacent around technology. Once we are happy that tech can help us with enhanced data protection, it is easy to fall into the trap of believing our job is done. Potential conflicts will occur if technology fails, and legal cases start to emerge where it becomes unclear where the accountability lies for a data breach, for example.
- Innovation outpacing the law. We see innovation outpacing the law everywhere we look; how much trouble have social media communications caused because jurisdictions did not have laws to adequately cover things like hate speech? There is a potential risk here that legal innovation could even slow down because the law cannot keep up. Who wants to take a risk using a new innovation or platform if there will likely be drawn-out legal challenges around using the data or evidence they help us acquire?
What are the additional challenges around legal innovation?
The challenges around legal innovation and legal tech specifically do not end with those connected to the law. The attitude of the profession towards legal tech will provide a range of potential challenges:
- Using tech for the sake of it is not going to deliver favorable outcomes for your clients, because you will not be fully invested in its use, nor will you know how to get the most out of it. If you tell your clients you are using a specific tech platform, they will want a tangible outcome, like their work done quicker or at a lower cost. Ensure you choose innovations that help you do this and meet the challenges you face in your practice.
- Not embracing tech will become increasingly unsustainable for legal firms and lawyers throughout this decade. Frankly, the biggest problem is that the legal profession shies away from change through the fear that innovation and tech will take away their jobs. This will not happen in the way you might think. Instead, innovation will redefine what you do and how you deliver your services. You will just spend your time on higher-value tasks while tech automates things like research and document creation!
- Forgetting what the endgame is for legal tech innovation. Ultimately, the whole point of legal tech and innovation is right there in the definition. You want to improve how you work and deliver value for your clients. If you fail to focus on ensuring the innovations you embrace do this, you will lose clients to law firms that do.
How can the legal profession embrace innovation?
The most significant things the legal profession can do are:
- Accept that innovation is here and is in many ways driving the industry forward.
- Recognize that innovation is a continual process.
- Embrace the conflicts innovation may create and work collaboratively to resolve these and ensure innovation can continue.
For an industry famously resistant to change, each of these might prove a significant challenge.
However, the best way for modern law firms to succeed is to engage with innovation and take a leadership role in shaping what future innovations will look like. Get actively involved in the journey instead of just being there for the ride!
How innovative is your legal practice?
Legal innovation will continue to push boundaries, come across situations of conflict, and evolve to move past barriers and onto the next challenge.
Your clients will increasingly expect you to be at the forefront of such activity. Many may already be asking you what innovations and tech you use to make your service delivery better than every other law firm out there.
Make sure you can give them a great answer next time they ask!