When it comes to new tech, the legal industry tends to move at tectonic speeds: slow build-ups of tension and time, then a sudden lurch that shakes the filing cabinets. We’ve already seen this last year, when Forbes reported a 713% spike in LegalTech investment, now up to $1.63 billion. Musty, traditionalist firms have been resistant to change for a long time, but increased competition and rising client expectations are shaking them out of complacency.
“While the use of technology to automate legal processes probably started as an efficiency and cost cutting drive, the focus seems to have evolved in the last few years,” says Joni Pirovich from independent firm, Hall & Wilcox. “Our clients are experimenting with emerging technologies, and they expect us to understand those technologies, so we can get straight onto the business of advising and managing legal risk.”
So what are the big LegalTech trends for 2019? And how fast is tech adoption moving in legal circles?
A shift to the Cloud
It’s fair to say the legal industry came late to the Cloud, but that was largely driven by (pretty legitimate) security concerns. This year we should see more widespread adoption and migration to cloud-based platforms, which are generally cheaper and more flexible. Firms no longer have to build their own resource-heavy, IT infrastructure, and they can access files remotely from anywhere. According to the ABA 2018 TechReport, mobile data access is a big driver behind legal cloud adoption, not to mention the obvious advantages with disaster recovery. Data security and sensitive client information are still a big concern, of course, which is why we should see a bigger focus on education and training: upskilling lawyers in data best practice, cyber hygiene and emerging digital privacy regulations (like the new NDB Scheme).
Pirovich agrees that 2019 is the year we’ll see LegalTech education go mainstream. “I think upskilling lawyers with technology skills will be a big legal technology trend for 2019 and beyond,” she says. “Increasingly, the practice of law requires a thorough understanding of the client and their industry, in addition to legal principles. As technology trends are pervasive across all industries, it’s incumbent on law firms to make sure lawyers have a good starting language.” Tertiary institutions (including RMIT) are already jumping on the trend, creating up-to-date qualifications and online modules to fill the growing skills gap. Check out RMIT Online’s Graduate Certificate in Emerging Technologies and Law for more information.
Legal AI is a slightly fuzzy field. It’s biggest application at the moment is forensic and document-heavy review procedures, but there are some interesting start-ups emerging. UK-based Case Crunch has shown that algorithms have an edge over humans when predicting the likely success of PPI complaints. AI programs are already performing Due Diligence. JPMorgan’s own in-house software can apparently do 360,000 hours of contract analysis in a few minutes. And CaseText claims their algorithm can even predict opposing counsel’s arguments at trial. But Pirovich thinks “truly disruptive AI…like JARVIS from the Marvel movies” is still a way off. “I think the efforts around machine readability of our laws will fuel this sort of technology and allow for greater and more affordable access to legal services,” she says.
One thing you can say for paper filing systems – they’re very difficult to hack. As cloud-based platforms become more common, law firms will need to keep a sharper eye on emerging cyber security trends. All indications are that threat levels will escalate in 2019. The American Bar Association believes cyber attacks on law firms are becoming so common that breaches are “a matter of when, not if”. The two biggest concerns are usually hackers targeting sensitive client data (this has been a growing problem for big firms for years) and business email compromise (BEC) scams, which have already reeled in some big fish. The really worrying bit? A 2018 GlobalX study found that a third of Australian firms don’t invest in adequate cyber training.
Despite some gains in recent years, a 2018 study found that female partners in US law firms still earn (on average) 24% less than their male colleagues. It’s a similar story everywhere. Australian firms have made a lot of noise around diversity (11 big firms pledged to gather data and boost inclusivity in 2017) but the jury’s still out on the results. Some experts believe that tech-supported diversity initiatives will help drive this trend forward in 2019. Microsoft already incentivises its preferred provider firms by monitoring diversity metrics (their law firm diversity program celebrated its 10-year anniversary in 2018). The ABA and Legal Technology Resource Centre celebrates influential women in LegalTech each year. And companies like Diversity Lab are even hosting firm-wide hackathons to help push the gender needle.