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The legal sector is supposedly a late adopter of technology. In fact, today, lawyers are embracing technology more and more. Currently in the legal industry, you can’t escape the word ‘legal tech’, or ‘lawtech’, or whatever the current buzzword is, and the inevitable hype that ensues.
Lawyers are reaping the rewards of investing in automation tools that reduce administrative tasks and increase efficiency. Cloud solutions enable agile working, and AI-enabled research tools give you competitive advantage to compete in court, against your competitors – in your many guises as a legal professional.
So, what’s the latest need to know information on the legal tech front? In this article, we have debunked some of the myths surrounding the topic and looked pragmatically at recent interesting developments.
In 2019, over £62m was been invested in UK legal tech start-ups, compared to £22.2m in 2017 and £25.1m in 2016.
Academics at the University of Oxford have been awarded £213,000 by the government to study the lawtech 'ecosystem', as part of a project led by the Faculty of Law aiming to enhance innovation in lawtech start-ups.
The Solicitor’s Regulation Authority (SRA) has also announced that its strategy until 2023 will involve regulation to help the development of legal tech. Anna Bradley, SRA chair, said:
‘Technology has the potential to help address the problem that far too many people struggle to get the legal help they need. We want to help unlock those opportunities for the users of legal services and for the profession.
‘And in this fast-changing world, we know regulators need to be on the front foot. Our new strategy sets out our commitment to looking ahead and finding new ways of working with other organisations to best serve the public.’
Investment in legal technology in the UK has almost tripled over the past couple of years, with the UK accounting for 44% of European start-ups. All signs point to a significant and rapid development of the sector, with many leading players taking notice and providing the investment needed to push development forward.
As part of this trend, a vast network of ‘tech labs’ have been created by UK law firms, universities and large companies.
Last year, the Law Society partnered with Barclays Eagle labs to create an ‘incubator’, or innovation lab, designed to help bring the right people together and get legal start-up businesses off the ground. As a by-product, investments such as this effectively strengthen the UK’s reputation for excellence in the legal services sector. Academic partners for the Lab included University College London (UCL) and the University of Liverpool, alongside events partner Legal Geek.
In 2017, the Law Society also partnered with crowdfunding platform Seedrs, providing opportunities for law firms to invest in legal tech start-ups. Allen & Overy also launched Fuse, a "tech innovation space" promoting collaboration between lawyers, technology experts and clients.
These new labs address a real need to better define and solve real challenges by bringing the right groups together in lawtech.
Technology opens the door for boutique firms and sole practitioners to compete with the larger players in the industry.
Nothing replaces a career of experience, but advanced legal research tools can now speed up the identification of relevant legal knowledge. A good example of this is LexisPSL. This allows professionals to look up previous relevant cases and the latest legislation quickly and easily.
With new analytics and legal research tools, a small firm can now offer legal advice and compete in new areas, diversifying from practice areas that they are well-known for.
This ability to adapt from niche firms, means that the larger high street firms are needing to find new ways to compete in a more level playing field.
So to summarise, no, the legal industry is not the fastest adopter of new technology, however, it is certainly not the slowest. Perhaps the profession doesn’t immediately jump on the latest gizmo available because lawyers are more discerning in their evaluations?
The technology needs to be advanced enough, sufficiently well-funded and a necessity in improving their every day tasks, to make it worth their while.
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Amy is an established writer and researcher, having contributed to publications, such as The Law Society, LPM, City A.M. and Financial IT. Her role at LexisNexis UK involved leading content and thought leadership, as well as writing research reports, including "The Bellwether Report 2020, Covid-19: The next chapter" and "Are medium-sized firms the change-makers in legal?"
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