Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain and automation are knocking at the door, and it’s time for the legal sector to respond. Below Francine Ryan, lecturer in law and member of the Open Justice team at the Open University, discusses the future of legal work as part of our Legal Ladder features.
Richard Susskind in ‘Tomorrow’s Lawyers argues that: ‘The future of legal service is neither Grisham or Rumpole. Nor is it wigs, wood panelled court rooms, leather bound tomes, or arcane legal jargon. It will not even be the now dominant model of lawyering, which is face-to-face, consultative professional services by advisers who meet clients in their offices, whether glitzy or dusty, and dispense tailored counsel. To meet the needs of clients, we will need to dispense with much of our current cottage industry and re-invent the way in which legal services are delivered.’ (Susskind, 2017)
So, if the technology revolution is here, what is the future for lawyers?
Technology is already shaping the practice of law, lawyers are advising on the legal dimensions of new technologies such as artificial intelligence, block chain and data analytics. Technology is changing how legal services are being delivered with document automation, e-discovery, online dispute resolution and the development of online courts. Entering practice now requires an understanding of the relationship between law and technology.
The key to future success will be an ability to innovate and disrupt the conventional practice of law. For future lawyers being able to program/code is a skill set that will becoming increasingly more valuable- learning beyond the law will be an important attribute for anyone who is entering the legal workplace. To find out more, a good place to start is Stanford CodeX – the Stanford Center for Legal Informatics. They are developing a number of innovative projects and publish their weekly meetings on YouTube, including presentations and updates.
The opportunities for lawyers extend beyond law firms. Hopefully every law student is familiar with Westlaw! Thompson Reuters legal business division provides legal content, expertise and technology through legal research, know-how, practice management software, e-discovery tools- all of which require lawyers in a variety of roles.
LexisPSL and Practical Law both offer legal know how which is a growing area- the ability to provide standard documents, practice notes, user guides and checklists gives law firms the ability to outsource this function but provides an alternative career path for lawyers.
In the US there has been an explosion of online legal providers; Legal Zoom offer legal forms and flat fee pricing for self-guided or lawyer supported services, Rocket Lawyer also provides documents, document review and quick answers to legal questions- they now offer this in the UK. Online platforms provide new and varied opportunities for lawyers.
In a changing legal market new roles will emerge in legal project management, legal management consultancy, legal programming, and legal technology. It is hard to predict how radical the transformation of the legal profession might be but it is important to engage with the debate and join the growing legal communities discussing digital innovation. Becoming a member of Society for Computers and Law (SCL) is a great idea, you can join for free as an undergraduate and as trainee solicitor or pupil barrister- SCL will keep you updated about the impact of IT on law and legal practice.
Law students have been involved in developing legal chatbots, students at Cambridge University founded LawBot in 2016- now called CaseCrunch. Law schools are increasingly providing opportunities to engage with technology- students at The Open University are able to work in a virtual law clinic and other Universities are supporting collaborations between law and computer science students to develop apps particularly to think about ways in which, technology can be used to support access to justice.
It is a really interesting time to be a law student. Law firms are recognising the importance of innovation in order to leverage technology to deliver an improved and more efficient legal service and this will change the future of practice. In these exciting, but uncertain times law students need to be adaptable and open minded. It is no longer enough to simply know the law- knowledge must be combined with skills, such as understanding how technology can be used to deliver legal services, being aware of developments within the global legal market place, and perhaps most critically people (inter-personal) skills. More and more if you want to practise law you need to become a trusted adviser to your client, you need the ability to listen, to communicate and relate to others in order for you to help solve their legal problems. No matter how technology transforms the legal market place these skills will remain highly prized.
The future for lawyers is unpredictable but take every opportunity at law school to develop both your technology and inter-personal skills and you will be successful.