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Technological Innovations in the Legal Industry

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   20-Feb-2024 | Tanmaya Kshirsagar



Introduction

The idea of innovation has been a notion of permanence in the course of evolution over generations and eras. Not only because it reduces stagnation of human trends, belief systems and thought processes significantly, but also because its nature is prominently problem-solving. Innovations are the pillars which help strengthen efficiency, minimise the mundane workload of humans and create newer and more time-saving ways of managing our day-to-day tasks.

In the legal industry specifically, workload of professionals includes a lot of hassle and paperwork on an everyday basis, in addition to inevitable litigation protocols, court hearings, client meetings and other important proceedings, thus building a lot of pressure of extra hours and involves compromises on the personal and health front. To ease out some of the tiring steps of manual work, technology can prove beneficial if incorporated in the legal field. Some innovations can catalyse the taxing tasks of drafting lengthy briefs and documents or summarising cases and reports, in the administrative forte.

Similarly, in countries like India, the legal justice system functions on several decentralised levels ranging from Gram Panchayats and Taluka panchayats to the Supreme Court, not to mention the breakdown of courts into sessions courts, consumer courts, criminal and civil courts, etc. When such complex systems are in place to govern and regulate the concerns and issues of such a huge population, some setbacks often occur in the smooth functioning of the system, leading to delay, misinterpretation, withholding or manhandling of documents, and backlog of cases, putting tremendous strain on the justice system. Given the scope of technological advancements in recent times, such loopholes and obstacles can be overcome by making efficient and strategic use of the said innovations in the legal industry.

Different Types of Technological Advancements

“Legaltech” is a term that is used to describe a wide variety of technological innovations in the field of law. It is especially employed in fields where the problems are well defined, and there are structured processes and rules in place. Some areas that have seen the biggest transformation with legaltech have been litigation management, which in India can be seen as tools and workflows to help lawyers practising in courts, legal research where advances in AI and natural language processing have made a huge difference, case management and analytics, document automation which can make simple legal documents available to all, along with contract management and online dispute resolution.

There are many new technological innovations in the legal industry that are changing the way lawyers work, deliver services, and solve problems. Some of the most important ones are:

  • Generative AI: This is a type of artificial intelligence that can create new content, such as documents, contracts, arguments, or designs, based on existing data and rules. It will save time on the constant revision of briefs and case reports and eliminate the scope of manual errors. This advancement can help lawyers automate repetitive tasks, improve efficiency, and enhance creativity.
  • Natural Language Processing (NLP): This is a branch of AI that deals with the analysis and generation of natural language, such as speech or text. It will aid in analysing depositions and recording statements with objectivity and without biases. NLP can help lawyers with legal research, document review, contract analysis, e-discovery, and chatbots.
  • Machine Learning (ML): This is a subset of AI that involves learning from data and making predictions or decisions based on patterns and trends. ML can help lawyers with predictive analytics, risk assessment, outcome forecasting, and data-driven insights. Since the legal field involves working with assumptions, different types of evidence and opinions to discover truth, Machine Learning can be a revolutionary help in studying patterns and marking changes diachronically.
  • Online Dispute Resolution (ODR): This is a form of alternative dispute resolution that uses technology, such as platforms, algorithms, or mediators, to facilitate the resolution of disputes online. ODR can help lawyers and clients with faster, cheaper, and more accessible justice. The ideation of virtual courtrooms also has been an important breakthrough in diverting the workload on in-person court sessions and faster resolution.
  • Legal Design: This is a human-centric approach to legal innovation that involves applying design thinking, methods, and tools to legal problems and solutions. Legal design can help lawyers and clients with simplifying complex legal information, improving user experience, and enhancing access to justice.
  • Blockchain: It can help legal contracts by enabling smart contracts, which are self-executing agreements written in code and stored on a decentralised network. Smart contracts can reduce costs, errors, and delays, as well as enhance security, transparency, and trust in legal transactions.

Pros and Cons

Legal tech innovations are transforming the legal industry in many ways, but they also come with some challenges and drawbacks. Here are some of the pros and cons of legal tech innovations:

Pros:

  • Efficiency and service quality: Legal tech can help lawyers automate repetitive and tedious tasks, such as legal research, document review, contract drafting, and billing. This can save time, reduce errors, and improve the quality and accuracy of legal services.
  • Improved profitability: Legal tech can also help lawyers grow their revenue and reduce their costs. By automating non-billable tasks, lawyers can free up more time for billable work and increase their productivity and profitability, ensuring faster justice and resolution of cases for their clients as well. Legal tech can also help lawyers optimise their pricing, track their expenses, and analyse their spending patterns.
  • Extended market reach: Legal tech can help lawyers expand their client base and access new markets. With the rise of online platforms, virtual firms, and digital service delivery, lawyers can offer their services to clients from different locations, jurisdictions, and backgrounds.
  • Improved work-life balance: Legal tech can help lawyers improve their well-being and mental health. By reducing the workload, stress, and burnout, legal tech can help lawyers achieve a better work-life balance and enjoy more flexibility and autonomy.

Cons:

  • Ethical and legal issues: Legal tech can raise some ethical and legal dilemmas for lawyers and clients. For example, ensuring the confidentiality, security, and privacy of data and information; how to deal with the liability and accountability of automated systems and algorithms; how to maintain the quality and standards of legal services; and how to comply with the rules and regulations of different jurisdictions are important concerns.
  • Skills gap and digital divide: Legal tech can also create a skills gap and a digital divide in the legal industry. Not all lawyers and clients have the same level of access, knowledge, and proficiency in using legal tech. This can create a competitive disadvantage and a barrier to entry for some lawyers and clients, especially those who are less tech-savvy, less resourced, or less willing to adapt to the changes.
  • Disruption and competition: Legal tech can also disrupt and challenge the traditional models and structures of the legal industry. With the emergence of new players, such as legal tech startups, online platforms, and alternative legal service providers, lawyers face more competition and pressure to innovate and differentiate themselves. Legal tech can also change the expectations and demands of clients, who may seek more transparency, affordability, and convenience in legal services.

Indispensability of Human Labour in the Justice System

It is evident that the traditional mode of practising law has undergone many transitions and changes in the last few years. Especially during and after the pandemic, the legal field, like many other industries, have adapted to newer means of the aforementioned technologies in order to embark on new milestones and network globally in their field. These innovations have been extremely useful in reducing the burden of non-billable manual work on lawyers and ensuring a healthy work-life balance in a legal professional’s life.

Nonetheless, it cannot be denied that the combined legal knowledge, expertise and acumen of a lawyer still remains incomparable to the tasks that generative AI can achieve or outsource. A legal practice requires four indispensable skills of judgement, adaptability, creativity and empathy. This feat can only be employed by a skilled professional and remains subjective from case to case and from context to context. Thus legal tech is best perceived as an assistive technology to automate other consuming tasks and simplify the workload on the legal industry instead of a technological avenue which will replace the role of lawyers or any other professional in the field.

Conclusion: Emerging Technologies and the Future Vision

The advent of legal tech has improved accessibility towards the legal system and seeking of justice for people from all walks of life. It has also improved the affordability aspect of the legal industry, it no longer being a luxury of the elite, since justice is the right of everyone, regardless of socio-economic or cultural status. These seismic changes in the legal field have boosted the productivity of the lawyers, enabling more time and clarity to a certain case or client thus bettering the standards of legal services provided.

We will be a witness to further changes and more innovations that will revolutionise the landscape of the legal industry. It is interesting to think if the educational domain of the legal industry will also be subject to transformations in the coming time, like shorter duration of courses, more practical approaches to courtroom learning, or a renewed vision to teaching law in colleges and universities.

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