#legaltech. You’ve seen the hashtag. How will it change your life?

As a busy professional working in various spheres including legal practice and IT, I wanted to share my thoughts on the future of the legal profession enabled by  legaltech. It is not by chance that I spent dozens of hours writing software to make it easier to study for law exams or organize legal research. I believe legaltech has a key role in making lawyers’ lives easier.

Here is a great example: I can spend just minutes searching an online database for case law and practice notes on a topic such as data privacy instead of spending hours at a physical law library looking for — and probably not finding — a book with the information I am searching for.

Legaltech is the new fintech

Just like fintech has been disrupting the financial services sector and the way in which it delivers its services, legal technology is doing the same to the legal services sector. 

Legaltech helps to simplify the work lawyers and their team members perform on a day-to-day basis, allowing them to focus on the most value-adding tasks requiring their deeper concentration. It simplifies the work with tools that can organize legal documents, prepare mass legal update notifications to clients, analyze contracts covering certain types of legal clauses, and more. Sounds like there will be no work left to do, right? Have no fear.

Legaltech does not automate everything …  

In 2008, when I was a first-year law student in university, I was telling anyone who would listen that I thought most of the jobs in the world would be automated within the next decade or so, including ones in the legal industry. My dire predictions never became reality (whew!), at least not entirely. 

I have different thoughts about how to address the automation of jobs, and I have matured over the years now having worked within a top-tier legal practice and a highly rated technology outsourcing firm operating globally.

There are still many challenges in the world that require the work of skilled individuals, and the legal services sector is no exception.

… but is becoming indispensable for law firms 

The hourly-rate model of working suggests that lawyers may benefit from taking more time to complete their work. However, this cynical way of thinking about legal work is quickly evaporating with the incorporation of legaltech. 

With clients demanding more predictable costs and faster turnaround times, taking it slow oftentimes is no longer an option for private practice lawyers. Legaltech addresses the performance demand, and with the competition getting the work done faster, it puts practices into the hot spot to decide, “should we be investing more in using legaltech?”.

What used to be a privilege of a selected few …

When I worked within private practice before the pandemic, I used different software or resources to help speed up my work:

  • Billing (to log time spent on billable and non-billable work, such as Elite);

  • Time Tracking (to know generally what I was doing on the computer or on a phone call);

  • Internal Knowledge Bases (to review shared resources within the firm on how certain legal issues could be addressed);

  • Document File Systems (to search for clients, matters, deliverables, and deliverable supporting materials); and

  • Third Party Knowledge Bases (to search for case law and legal practice notes, such as Westlaw, LexisNexis, and Practical Law).

I would also consider the templates I used within Microsoft Word quite a helpful way to produce documents according to the law firm’s standards. 

There are categories I did not consider above, such as e-Discovery, Conflict Checking, Legal Document Review, and various others that can be specific but not limited to business sectors such as real estate, financial services, media, and others.

Although obviously beneficial, using these tools was something typically reserved for top-tier legal practices.

… is now a necessity for nearly everyone in the profession

Legaltech and other communication technologies have been underpinning the massive transformation that has taken place in wake of the 2020 global pandemic and is carrying on into 2021. The proliferation of remote work showcases the results of this transformation the best. 

The implications of applying remote work are significant because the value that can be delivered to clients or internal departments may not depend on physical presence. The value may instead depend on the speed at which lawyers analyze the needs of their clients, obtain any clarifications, and deliver the results to benefit their clients. 

Even throughout most of my time working within a legal practice before the pandemic, meeting the client in person was not required, and such meetings would serve primarily a business development or relationship management benefit. In today’s remote-working world, it is still more than possible to build great relationships with others, and I would go as far as saying it is necessary. It was a different matter if we needed to attend court, but the recent pandemic has shown us that even remote hearings are possible to conduct, and in order to perform business as usual, remote working technology may even be critical to use instead of suspending the court system.

Of interest to me as well, while not directly related to legal work, was whether it would be possible to take a state bar exam remotely and with ease. The results were mixed.

These are just some of the many changes brought about by advancements in legaltech. 

Legal document software is a must for distributed teams … 

With the distribution of working professionals, coordination between them has become more important than ever. The ability to collaborate on documents with colleagues has been possible with technologies such as Office 365 and Google Drive. There is also room for speeding up the work lawyers perform in drafting documents such as legal agreements. 

Keeping this in mind, the role of legal secretaries and paralegals can also adapt to enhance delivery of legal work to provide value for clients and law firms. For example, while secretaries are often expert at formatting documents the way certain lawyers prefer, legal document software can help secretaries to make necessary changes even faster, enabling lawyers to deliver their work sooner and make clients happier. Sounds like a win-win, doesn’t it?

… yet, it’s vital to choose your software wisely 

There are thousands of legal technology products out in the marketplace, so it is important for private practices and in-house legal teams to think carefully about their business needs and choose tech products wisely before making large investments in systems that they might not be able to adopt easily. If the firm decides that this particular tech solution will be beneficial to their performance, it’s a good idea to check regularly if the solution meets their expectations. Luckily, many legal software providers offer free trials, which makes it much easier to prove the (in)efficiency of the tool.   

As legaltech product development continues to gain momentum, I believe more and more products will adapt to changing needs of legal professionals as they will consider all the nuances of the genuine daily workflow whether it is reviewing contracts, preparing notes for clients, organizing research, or anything else they might do while working. Simplifying these tasks will reduce repetitive operations, and it will give legal professionals more time to focus on the most important goals, which could include delivering work to clients faster, reducing stress, or creating higher quality work.

#legaltech — more than just a hashtag

It’s a given that legaltech is changing the way lawyers work. I know it from experience. I saw its potential while I was studying law. I have been using legaltech at work to simplify organization, billing, document drafting, research, and more. 

What’s next? My prediction is that legaltech will continue to reduce repetitive tasks performed by legal professionals on a daily basis making them more productive and valuable to their clients than ever before. Thus, law firms will have to get agile and adapt to incorporate legaltech solutions while striking the right balance between applying innovation (as expected by their clients) and choosing profit-boosting software. 

To wrap up, #legaltech is much more than just a hashtag: it is the future.

Raihan Islam, a business and technology consultant who practices English law and advises clients on legal and regulatory risk.

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