Tech and the law sector: an academic perspective

The legal sector is not immune to the onslaught of technology as it increasingly emerges within business. Nigel Hudson, a senior lecturer at Nottingham Law School, offers his perspective on these technological developments.

  • Last updated May 4, 2018 2:10:48 PM
  • Nigel Hudson, Senior Lecturer at Nottingham Law School

The impact of technology in legal practice over the last 30 years since I qualified as a solicitor has been amazing to observe. My working environment back in 1988 was a world of Dictaphones, typewriters, and Filofaxes. Today, it’s a brave new world of blockchain, smart contracts, and predictive analysis brought about by the rapid development and advancement of artificial intelligence. In a short article such as this, it is impossible to go into length about the breadth and depth of disruption currently taking place in legal practice but here is an attempt to highlight some of the areas that aspiring lawyers of today must focus on.

Deloitte, one of the ‘Big 6’ accounting firms, in signalling their intention to compete in the growing legal management services market, identified what they called ‘the 3 As’ of technology disruption: Automation; Analytics; and Artificial Intelligence (‘AI’). Each of these areas is already greatly affecting the way legal services are currently provided and their effect will be exponential in years to come.

When I qualified, draft documents would go back and forth in hard copy between the solicitors acting for both sides, with amendments and re-amendments handwritten in red, blue, and (if necessary) green ink before a final draft was produced. The final draft would then have to be checked against the ‘travelling draft’ which often entailed one lawyer sitting down and reading out the final version whilst another lawyer checked it against the draft on which the amendments had been recorded. Today, there are document automation systems such as Thomson Reuters’s Contract Express and Leverton’s AI applications that automate document production and analysis more accurately and in a fraction of the time. Other systems such as iManage’s RAVN, Neota Logic, Kira Systems, and Luminance harness powerful AI to analyse data contained in legal documents, creating risk assessment reports and valuable insight into the acceptability of certain clauses which is more efficient and reliable than a human.

Just recently, Ravel, which originated from a collaboration of Stanford University’s Law School and Computer Science Department in 2012, announced that it would be joining with LexisNexis to exploit its predictive case analysis software. This software can analyse cases and look for trends to assist in decisions on how to conduct litigation such as whether a particular line of argument has been successful or not, and what view a particular judge may take if a case is presented in a certain way. Earlier this year, young legal service entrepreneur, Ludwig Bull, pitted his company’s CaseCruncher predictive analysis software in a Man v Machine contest against human lawyers to predict the outcomes of cases over the course of a week. The machine won convincingly.

It’s obvious that the lawyers of tomorrow will have to know how to use this technology and understand how AI can help. The question is, are they or will they be prepared? Many are preoccupied by the impending Solicitors Qualifying Examination (‘SQE’). However, it is no good looking to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (‘SRA’) to provide leadership in this area. After all, their most recent draft assessment specification, on which competence to be a solicitor will be based, does not mention the word “technology” once in all of its 99 pages. Hope is to be gained however from a reinvigorated Law Society under the guidance of its next President, Christina Blacklaws. She has been a very vocal supporter of LawTech and appears to be an enthusiastic advocate of its use at the forefront of innovation in the provision of legal services in the future.

There is no doubt that we live in exciting times. The current disruption in legal practice brought about by LawTech has launched us on a voyage of uncertainty at a frightening pace to a destination we know not where. The ship is sailing and it’s time to jump onboard. 

Nigel Hudson, Senior Lecturer at Nottingham Law School

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