Law students can’t fight developments in technology anymore. From start-ups to in-house investments in research and development, tech disruption is on the up across the legal industry. As interest and funding in tech continues to rise, will lawyers be replaced by tech altogether, or will tech merely shift the lawyer’s focus? And how tech-savvy do law students really need to be to succeed?
The current tech situation could give us some clues. LegalTech start-ups have so far focused on specific areas of legal practice, such as machine learning in contract analysis, to automating due diligence and legal research. Other start-ups in the industry offer legal assistance to individuals and businesses: CrowdJustice, Rocket Lawyer and Lexoo being good examples.
Law firms themselves are also establishing their own research and innovation projects, bringing together knowledge from their lawyers, clients and tech specialists, such as Allen & Overy’s Fuse. The aim is to develop tech solutions to common issues faced in practice. Meanwhile, some firms, like Linklaters, have invested in teaching trainees how to code.
An unstoppable trend, then, but not one which could definitely replace lawyers.
US professors Dana Remus and Frank Levy recently produced research comparing billing habits to tech deployment, suggesting that tech developments are unlikely to take over the legal sector completely.
According to the research, technology has a light impact on the main activities which make up the lion’s share of billing time, such as advising clients, court representation and legal writing. This research concurs with the feeling of many in the industry that law is a human profession; technology can’t be empathetic or understanding or give strategic advice.
Professor Richard Susskind, IT Adviser to the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, says that we need to think about tech differently. It’s not about “imitating humans in order to replace them” but rather finding innovative solutions to solve client problems. These include online dispute resolution mechanisms, like those used on eBay.
Susskind also believes that tech could lead to more opportunities for lawyers in the future, creating new roles such as “legal engineers” – people who have both legal expertise and programming skills.
With a world of opportunities ahead, it’s a good idea for students to engage with the tech trend. Become aware of developments in tech and think of ways to deploy them in the industry. If you have the time and the dedication, you could even learn to code – something that will come in handy once programmable smart contracts become a reality.
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