FinTech, AI and online justice: what technology means for the next generation of lawyers

On the evening of Thursday 27 October 2016, Legal Cheek hosted an event at Lexis House to answer students’ questions about the future of the legal profession. The event was titled “FinTech, AI and online justice: what technology means for the next generation of lawyers” and included the following panellists:

The format of the evening was a mixture of prepared and live questions from the aspiring lawyers in the audience at Lexis House and those watching through Legal Cheek’s Facebook Live broadcast (you can re-watch it here and follow the commentary using #legalcheeklive on Twitter). The diverse and significant expertise of the panel coupled with wide-ranging questions from the students led to an evening of captivating discussion. Below just captures some of the discussion around central themes:

Online justice

The first question of the evening was directed towards Lord Justice Briggs and it concerned his recent review and recommendation about online civil courts and how might they widen access to justice. His response was centred around four main themes:

  • Harnessing modern IT solutions where it can be best used and leaving lawyers to do what they do best – bespoke advice on the merits of a particular case and skilled advocacy services
  • Introducing very limited fixed costs to increase efficiency and fairness
  • Taking the “A” out of ADR (alternative dispute resolution) – making mediation and arbitration as core and central parts of the process before going to a court determination
  • Making the court rules and cultures more accessible to litigants in person

Lord Justice Briggs argued that this can be achieved through a design ethos aimed for people with minimal legal help. With this ethos in mind, there is a proposed three stage process.

Stage 1 – online triage with assisted digital processes and wholly new rulebook (not just amending the CPR).

Stage 2 – resolution stage where a case officer will ask and answer: what is the best way to resolve this case?

Stage 3 – This is a determination phase and only reached if the prior stages do not resolve the matter and it might not look like a traditional court.

Lord Justice Briggs tailored his message to the audience and emphasised that law students have an important role to play in the field of pro bono legal advice. Professor Collins absolutely affirmed the need for law students to do pro bono in all its forms but also stressed the value of doing it from a commercial perspective.

Technology and the future of lawyers

There were a few questions around what the impact of new technologies will have for lawyers in the future – what will lawyers do? Will there be fewer lawyers? Paven Sharma, a legal knowledge engineer from Pinsent Masons explained that the focus of his efforts is to take boring tasks and automate them as best possible. Lord Justice Briggs noted that presumably lawyers enjoy legal practice the most when they can use their brains. Technology should be embraced as enabling and empowering lawyers to work on the right work and not shunned for fear of reducing profitability.

Professor Collins discussed the fact that many people in the room will not become qualified lawyers and that shouldn’t necessarily be a scary proposition. There are significant changes coming to legal education and thinking about the skills that lawyers will need in the future – for example Scotland is thinking of offering a course to train legal technologists. Coding is now seen by many progressive law firms as a real benefit, although this shouldn’t mean law students need to urgently learn how to code – ‘however learn to code only if you enjoy it!’ The positive spin was that change will always bring opportunity.

Change in the legal industry

Nigel Rea, Director of Precedents, Drafting and Forms at LexisNexis answered the question of why law firms are often slow adapting to change and conservative with adopting new processes and technologies. He suggested that the heart of the issue is change and how to enable change. It is well known that the barriers to change in law firms involve a very traditional business model in an insular industry, however there has been some interesting research LexisNexis has done in conjunction with the Cambridge Judge Business School around “slack”. Part of the reason it is so difficult to bring about change in law firms is that you are asking very busy people with challenging targets to find time and space to change. Time is something that they don’t often have in the existing system – little to no slack.

Luke Scanlon also addressed the issue of change and underlined that a fundamental challenge is that clients are frequently lawyers in large corporations who are also resistant to change. However, there is the beginning of a cultural shift as legal innovation is starting to appear on the agenda of boards and technology is empowering change regardless of cultural barriers. Pinsent Masons are exploring innovation across a number of aspects of the law firm – on the people side, they have Vario as a fresh approach to legal resourcing. Innovation is happening.

Further reading and events

Our expert summary of the Briggs Review Final Report is made freely available here (links to open a PDF), thanks to our sister Dispute Resolution blog.

On this Future of Law blog, we are frequently providing you with free and expert content on the latest legal technology developments. Some relevant further reading includes:

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