Few solicitors are empowered to utilise innovative lawtech, survey finds

Use of innovative technology in legal services – and subsequent training – remains low among solicitors in England and Wales, a joint University of Oxford and Law Society of England and Wales survey has found.

In terms of solicitors’ preferences for working in “multi-disciplinary teams” versus becoming “multi-disciplinary individuals”, survey respondents were generally positive about the need to become familiar with multi-disciplinary expertise. But no consensus emerged on whether lawyers themselves should acquire such multi-disciplinary expertise.

The Lawtech adoption and training report surveyed qualified solicitors across England and Wales. A third of respondents were junior lawyer, who had obtained their practising certificate in the 2010s.

Commenting on the survey’s findings, Professor Mari Sako from the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School, said: “Given the widespread hype around legal practice innovation in general and AI-assisted lawtech in particular, we have a picture of a relatively low level of take-up of, and training for, lawtech among our survey participants.”

“The survey provides a clear consensus on the benefits of lawtech training. There is no clear consensus, however, on whether lawyers would become multi-disciplinary individuals, or work in multi-disciplinary teams. Further research is needed on this issue, to facilitate the emergence of a tech-enabled, tech-savvy, solicitors’ profession in England and Wales.”

Paul Tennant, CEO of the Law Society of England and Wales, added: “The legal sector is a key contributor to the UK economy, generating more than £60 billion in gross-added value in 2018. Lawtech will be an important tool in increasing productivity and ensuring UK firms remain globally competitive.”

“This survey offers an important snapshot of lawtech adoption in England and Wales and highlights the training solicitors need to improve their expertise. We hope this will prove a useful resource for law firms when considering how best to introduce new technologies into their business.”

Key findings

  • Less than half of survey respondents said they used document automation / workflow technology – and, notwithstanding the current levels of hype around artificial intelligence (AI), less than a quarter of survey respondents said they used any form of AI-assisted technology. The survey revealed the inability of surveyed organisations to capture data effectively. Given that many AI solutions rely on data for their initial “training”, data capture failings may hinder the successful rollout of such solutions in the legal sector.
  • Take-up of lawtech training was also low, the survey found. Only half of respondents had undertaken any form of lawtech training in the past three years, with training in specific software packages the single most popular option (38%). Looking forward, survey respondents were generally keener to undertake training in technology and innovation-related issues. For example, 71% of respondents said they anticipated the need for future training in data analytics – compared with 3% who had already received such training. A total of 44% of survey respondents said they would be interested in receiving training in innovation techniques, compared with the 7% who had done so within the past three years. Four-fifths of respondents believed that further lawtech training would bring about productivity improvements within their organisations.
  • In relation to preferences over “multi-disciplinary teams” vs “multi-disciplinary individuals”, 60% of survey respondents were broadly supportive of the statement that “lawyers need to become familiar with multiple non-legal technical specialism, such as data science, project management, and design thinking”. However, there was no consensus on whether this was best done by working together with non-lawyers or through lawyers themselves acquiring multi-disciplinary expertise: 60% of respondents – the largest single group of response – said they “neither agreed nor disagreed” with the proposition that “I prefer to work with ‘lawyer-coders’ than with ‘non-lawyer-technologists’.

For more information, contact:

Professor Mari Sako | +44 (0) 7894 199350
Saïd Business School
University of Oxford
United Kingdom

Professor John Armour | + 44 (0) 01865 281616
Law Faculty
University of Oxford
United Kingdom

Notes for editors

Download a complete copy of the joint University of Oxford / Law Society Lawtech adoption and training survey

The report is based on an anonymous survey of members of the Law Society of England and Wales, conducted between 12 November 2019 and 13 January 2020. A total of 353 complete, valid, responses were received.

This research project is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) via UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), an umbrella group of research bodies. A total of £3.5 million of funding has been made available via the ESRC / UKRI to support “Next Generation Services”. Other academic institutions to receive funding as part of this award include the University of Sheffield, the University of Loughborough and Lancaster University.

Find out more about the University of Oxford’s wider ESRC/UKRI-funded research projects, which relate specifically to lawtech and artificial intelligence.

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