Until recently, many lawyers didn’t understand the full value of using artificial intelligence to work smarter, such as tools to speed up document reviews, or to spot key words amid reams of court filings. Now, however, the legal technology market is rapidly expanding. And, as lawyers better understand the predictive, analytical and strategic benefits of AI, more legal professionals are embracing the technology to provide better services to clients.
“The pace of change is accelerating, the number of players is growing exponentially, and, most interestingly, competition for talent is increasing in a really positive way,” says Erika Concetta Pagano, who teaches a course entitled “Innovation in the Legal Market” at IE Law School in Madrid. It’s an interactive, experiential learning course that takes a multidisciplinary approach to building students’ 21st century professional skills.
“These changes are forcing people to think, work, plan, price, and spend differently,” adds Concetta Pagano. “They’re questioning some of the fundamental tenets of the industry — and giving rise to new roles, pathways to progression, and educational opportunities for those interested in the field.”
More organizations hiring legal tech experts
The big accounting companies and tech firms have spent lavishly on hiring legal technology experts to expand their own legal departments, competing with law firms for the kind of talent coming out of the increasingly wide array of legal technology LL.M. courses.
“The legal technology market is continuing to expand and mature,” says Matthew D’Amore, associate dean at Cornell Tech in New York City. “The response of the legal industry to the pandemic made legal departments, firms, and courts turn to technology like never before.”
But a lot of the pandemic response was to embrace the established workplace tools and not necessarily “legal technology” – for example, the New York State court system adopted Microsoft Teams for virtual court appearances. Similarly, tools that enable remote depositions and hearings can build on established general tools like Zoom.
Other tools that helped firms in the pandemic emphasized practice management infrastructure – ensuring people could find, retain, and develop clients, and stay connected to each other and collaborate – compared to the latest and greatest AI solution for due diligence.
“This back to basics approach paid dividends in ensuring stability, continuity and in many cases growth,” says D’Amore. “The question is whether this reliance on backbone technology will translate into a greater willingness to adopt additional technologies that make the practice more efficient.”
A case of ‘too many tools?’
Michele DeStefano, professor of law at University of Miami, says that legal tech is growing so much that legal professionals do not know all that is available or how to assess it. Often, purchases are made that are not fit for purpose or that don’t work with new or legacy systems.
Part of the disconnect is a failure to understand how legal professionals work and a failure to consider how new tech will impact their clients. “More and better collaboration between IT, procurement, and legal professionals is needed,” says DeStefano.
Being a great digital lawyer is less about digital and more about culture and people, she says. For graduates with the right skills, there are ample career opportunities post-LL.M. “A huge opportunity exists for these grads to work at the Big Four [professional services firms] and also the law companies like Elevate Services and United Lex,” says DeStefano
“There is also a huge opportunity for these grads to work at traditional law firms in knowledge management or innovation services — there is a growing need for law firms to have legal and tech savvy young professionals,” she adds.
The coronavirus pandemic has increased the already high demand for technologies to make lawyers’ lives easier. “The demand has always been around and will continue to exist as technology continues to develop and clients’ needs change,” says Concetta Pagano at IE.
But the crisis has also driven home that tech is not a panacea — oftentimes, it’s the human elements, like collaboration and listening, that can make or break a situation, experience or deal.
It’s Concetta Pagano’s belief that a successful digital lawyer needs to be a bit of an octopus — be able to juggle multiple tasks at once, and be responsive to different and dynamic situations. “It’s unfair to ask successful digital lawyers to be experts in all subject areas; rather, the common factor is a mindset and skills that favor innovation, collaboration, and excellent client service,” she adds.