Lawyers have always been perceived as reluctant to adopt technology, with seriousness and personal confidence playing a key role in the very traditional profession. However, the pandemic has proven that technology is not optional for lawyers; it’s a necessity.
The pandemic is likely to increase reliance on legal technology to provide clients with a service comparable to that offered before coronavirus. This involves the use of video conferencing and other online collaboration tools, but there will also be a greater need for law-specific technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence.
This has also raised the relevance of legal technology in the LL.M. curriculum. Madrid’s IE Law School, for instance, has designed an entire Master in Legal Tech degree. Students on the course embrace the newest technologies in the legal industry, as well as the management and business trends. The new LL.M. also has a specialization in intellectual property and legal technology, where students explore how key tech developments intersect with the law.
Swansea University’s School of Law has also said that it will launch a new LL.M. program in Legal Technology. And the Bucerius Law School has a fresh specialization in Legal Technology too.
Opinion among course administrators, practitioners and professors is split on whether this marks a watershed moment; lawyers have been using online research tools for decades, through dial-up modems, even before the proliferation of internet use.
“Firms already were driven to the adoption of digital tools by clients’ demand for efficiency. And they long ago shrunk their libraries to decorative books in conference rooms,” says Matthew D’Amore, director of the law, technology and entrepreneurship program at Cornell Tech in New York.
“It might be an exaggeration to call this a turning point; implementation and reliable use of legal technology takes time and requires careful consideration, training of staff and a change of mindset,” says Joanne Atkinson, principal lecturer and director of postgraduate programs at Portsmouth Law School in the UK.
“However, it may well be the case that the pandemic has forced more law firms to consider new technologies and to embark upon this journey in order to remain competitive.”
The legal profession’s tech revolution
Competition and clients are one factor driving the technology revolution in the legal profession. “Law firms need to deliver quality legal services in an increasingly cost-conscious manner,” says Cornell Tech’s D’Amore. “As clients become more demanding regarding service and pricing, firms will need to innovate to reduce costs, or differentiate their offerings from others.”
But clients are changing as well. Some companies are using legal technology to reduce their dependence on pricey law firms. “Law firms need to adapt to this too, as some are doing by partnering with clients to develop and deliver these lower-cost solutions,” says D’Amore.
It’s also the growth of the legal tech industry that is bringing about a digital revolution for the entire legal profession, according to Alejandro Touriño, co-director of the Master in Legal Tech at Spain’s IE Law School. “Many tech manufacturers are developing software and tools that help lawyers perform their job better,” he says.
This includes machine learning and artificial intelligence that make lawyers’ lives easier by predicting outcomes based on case law, or algorithms that help to price deals, or ones that automate document creation.
“Also, young lawyers are keen to adopt technology and new trends in management, so it is both the development of new technology and the changes in our behavior which will drive dramatic change in the sector,” says Touriño, who is managing partner and head of IT at the law firm ECIJA.
Atkinson, at Portsmouth Law School, agrees. “Great advances in the areas of big data analysis, AI and blockchain technology, allow us to digest and evaluate data, such as law cases and judgments, to an unprecedented extent.”
Some barriers to new tech adoption
However, there are many barriers to greater adoption of such technology, including a lack of familiarity with these technologies. Education will help change this situation.
At Portsmouth, Atkinson has designed a legal technology curriculum with practitioners and providers of legal technology. The LL.M. course gives students a strong foundation in law and computing. That is followed by hands-on training in how the most promising legal technologies can create value and expand access to law.
IE’s Touriño agrees, and adds that the law is a key barrier to further adoption of technology in the heavily regulated legal sector.
D’Amore, at Cornell Tech, adds that there is some resistance among the law firms themselves. “They became used to leveraging associate billable hours, and legal technology disrupts that model by reducing the hours it takes to deliver the same work.” He says that law firms can turn services into products, leveraging technology instead of time to deliver a higher quality service at increased scale.
His students look at challenges like this across the curriculum. Cornell Tech teaches the “Delivering Legal Services through Technology” course, which introduces students to the field of legal technology and gives them the opportunity to build a legal tech application.
As a result, some of his LL.M. graduates have gone on to careers in legal tech at companies like Elevate and Neota Logic, or into legal tech roles at law firms like White & Case, or Dentons. D’Amore says: “Legal technology is helping more people access better legal services, and we’re proud of our role in shaping and propelling that progress and in helping students thrive in this exciting field.”