The pace of innovative disruption in the legal industry is accelerating, and we’re on the cusp of a transformation that will see artificial intelligence change the way legal work is executed. For now, it is easy to ignore technology, but that won’t be the case for much longer. The future will arrive faster than we think.
There has been a lot of speculation around automation in the legal industry, and while predicting future trends and developments doesn’t mean staring into a crystal ball, it’s all about making informed decisions based on the information available. To help shed light on the topic, we caught up with two experts in the field to give some insight and debunk some of the most common legal tech myths.
Myth: Lawyers will become obsolete in the age of automation.
Fact: Roles will change, and fewer will lawyer in the “traditional” sense.
Renowned international legal futurist and CEO of the world’s first impartial robot lawyer, Chrissie Lightfoot warns that “bots” are coming, but believes that, while machines will progressively take over specific legal tasks and roles in the next 5 years, and more dramatically in the next decade, we don’t need to be afraid.
“There will always be a need for human lawyers. Machines are great at delivering answers, but poor at asking the right questions and considering context. The lawyers of the future will increasingly rely on their “soft skills” such as emotional intelligence, empathy, instinct, intuition, negotiation and persuasion skills, commercial nuance, and the ability to strategise,” says Lightfoot.
So, technology alone won’t transform the legal industry; lawyers will have to collaborate with other professionals and machines to drive transformation that improves legal access and service delivery. A recent Forbes article, which mentions Lightfoot’s Robot Lawyer, LISA, concludes that the line between law and other segments are becoming blurred. The article states: “Legal delivery is no longer about high-priced firm lawyers billing countless hours to solve legal challenges. It’s about integrating necessary expertise and leveraging it with appropriate resources—technological and “right-sourced” human ones— to solve personal and business challenges efficiently, cost-effectively, holistically, and measurably.”
Myth: If you’re a law student, you should probably quit now.
Fact: This is the most exciting time to study law!
British author and legal tech advisor, Richard Susskind’s famous quote, “If you’re studying law now, stop!” has many running scared, but his statement needs to be contextualised. Lightfoot has taken a different view as she believes that legal markets are likely to grow due to burgeoning technology that will facilitate alternative and DIY legal services. New customers who have never had access to legal services before might have to make use of machines but also look to human lawyers for additional help related to those self-service automated systems. “I would even go so far as to say that this is a tremendously exciting time to be a student of law as there are, and will continue to be, a variety of opportunities for tech-savvy, ambitious and entrepreneurial school leavers”.
Additionally, as local legal futurist and head of the Futures Law Faculty, Adv. Jackie Nagtegaal points out; a growing world population means there is more scope for lawyers and opportunity for future lawyers to enhance current and new systems. However, Nagtegaal also asserts that current law teachings in South Africa are not necessarily geared for the modern world: “Law students have to read up, equip and upskill themselves for an exciting new world of opportunities”.
Myth: The digital revolution is still years away in South Africa.
Fact: Most firms are already using some form of tech.
The tech revolution is speeding up globally, but South Africa is still behind. According to the renowned consulting firm, McKinsey, Africa lags behind other emerging markets on iGDP. But, Nagtegaal doesn’t see this as a negative: “The benefit of this is that we can see and learn and improve on international trends”.
Leading law firms and legal departments have already embraced a range of technologies to enhance their services or product offerings. For example, some have adopted e-discovery, chatbots, robot process automation, AI, cognitive computing, expert systems, machine learning, blockchain, smart contracts, etc. “Lawyers and businesses should identify the relevant “tech matrix” to assist in making their business more efficient, profitable and future proof,” agrees Lightfoot.
Adopting the right mix of technology will lead to more job satisfaction for South African lawyers, increase productivity levels within law firms or legal departments, bottom-line results from the lawyers, and ultimately more loyalty thanks to better service and improved quality of ‘augmented advice’ and legal products.
Keen to meet and hear from the experts themselves? Chrissie Lightfoot will deliver a masters session on Emotionally Intelligent Lawyers & Artificially Intelligent Machines on 14 March in Cape Town and Adv. Jackie Nagtegaal will share Lessons from LawBot on September 12 in the Mother City.