The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic brought about a momentous shift in the way we deliver legal services and use digital technology. Almost overnight, ‘hopping on a video call’ became business as usual. We had to quickly navigate the etiquette of the mute button and get used to catching glimpses of our colleagues’ pets and home décor choices in our daily meetings.
A range of new digital solutions have entered the world of legal tech and become critical tools for improving service quality, keeping clients engaged and enabling remote work. A study commissioned by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and conducted at the University of Oxford found that in the 12 months to July 2021, more than half (55%) of firms had either improved or expanded their use of existing technology. And a further 35% had introduced new digital solutions into their legal practices.
What’s possible today?
Thanks to the proliferation of application programming interfaces (APIs), multiple technology systems in an organisation can now talk to each other and share data securely. This means that in-house legal teams can seamlessly connect their legal systems to ERP platforms for greater data accessibility, collaboration and the ability to manage workflows digitally. For example, teams can now use Salesforce to initiate a commercial contract workflow in-house. The result? Colleagues can collaborate with each other from anywhere. Connecting systems also makes reporting and analytics easier, so legal leaders can quickly sift through mountains of data to monitor the status of a matter, accelerate research, and draw valuable insights to rein in costs or strengthen client relationships.
Automation opportunities have grown significantly as the technologies that make automation possible continue to become more accessible. Many legal workloads involve repetitive tasks and routine document-related activities that are perfectly suited to automation. Automating these activities allows legal professionals to redirect their attention to higher value work. Gartner predicts that by 2024, in-house teams will have automated 50% of the legal work involved in major corporate transactions. And by 2025, legal departments will triple their tech spend.
Robotic process automation, or RPA, is a software solution that is revolutionising the way legal work gets done in countless organisations around the world. RPA makes it possible for firms to create robots (think virtual assistants rather than Star Trek-inspired androids) that work alongside legal staff to automate the routine tasks that usually drain hours and hours of people’s time. Essentially, any task that can be digitised and easily defined, and that needs to be carried out consistently at high volume, is ideal for a software robot. Some examples include transferring data from system to system and compiling reports using structured data from multiple sources.
Artificial intelligence and its sub-category machine learning go beyond robotic execution to “thinking”. AI and ML can discover patterns and relationships in large volumes of data, and predict several possible outcomes. Use cases extend from reviewing documents and deciding whether these are relevant to a particular matter to predicting the outcomes of legal proceedings.
How do people fit into this picture?
As technology advances and media headlines continue to cause anxiety about intelligent machines’ growing abilities, it is understandable that many in the legal profession are concerned about the dangers of AI. (Alexa, cue the Terminator soundtrack.) One topic worthy of discourse is job security in our profession. The World Economic Forum warns that one-third of all jobs across all sectors could be at risk of automation in the next decade. However, it’s important to understand the other side of the coin. There is also a possibility that there will be more jobs created than lost by automation in the near future.
As legal tech grows more intelligent and more prolific, the most successful companies will be those that harness technology to make lawyers and paralegals more effective, rather than redundant. This can be achieved by harnessing technology to give people more freedom and flexibility to put their uniquely human abilities to work – including their professional judgement, strategic thinking skills and emotional intelligence.
Tech-enabled. Human first.
Obelisk Support was an early adopter of a flexible, digitally-powered business model. However, we have always taken a human-centred approach and combined technology capabilities with unique human skills to generate the most successful outcomes. We firmly believe that technology should be used to add value, not create extra complexity and admin.
We also remain open to the opportunities that future tech advancement may bring. Whether it will one day benefit our freelance legal professionals to embrace virtual reality videoconferencing and hold meetings in the “metaverse” remains to be seen, in the meantime we can already see how remote working technologies enable people to participate in the legal workforce who might otherwise be excluded due to location, caring responsibilities or limited mobility. With a responsible and forward-thinking legal tech strategy, all of us in the legal industry can give people more opportunities to do work that is more fulfilling. This will not only be of higher value to our profession, but also have a positive impact on the businesses and clients we support.