What does new technology for the legal services market mean for the role of junior lawyers, wonders James Kitching
FinTech (financial technology) is a term that many of us are familiar with. It is an area now receiving billions of pounds in investment, seeing new start-ups every week and that even has its own awards event. Now it’s the turn of LawTech.
While lawyers may traditionally be late to the game to integrate technology, things are now rapidly changing across the profession. LegalTech has become a talking point across not just the legal world but across the entire media. Forbes, the Financial Times, and even the Royal Society have all commented on it in the past few months, with articles and reports exploring the future of artificial intelligence in law.
LegalTech is many different things. Berwin Leighton Paisner (Ravn), Linklaters (LinkRFI), and Slaughter and May (Luminance) all have AI systems in the workplace and they all operate in different ways and do different things.
Some firms are focusing on it as a means to quickly read huge swathes of documents, picking out key terms for due diligence, others have used it to issue mass debt collection notices, and there are those that simply use it as a first point of call for client enquiries.
It’s not just big-city firms that are part of the LegalTech growth. Barristers are also getting involved. Some of you may have already come across ‘Billy Bot’ on LinkedIn and Twitter. For those of you that haven’t, it is an AI programme created to fulfil the role of a junior clerk. It will suggest suitable barristers, take your bookings, and even provide fee quotes.
There’s also the government’s involvement. As Mr Justice Birss recently made clear, LegalTech will continue to be used to enhance the court system with online courts becoming a reality and a pilot launch scheduled for the end of July.
Sally Wokes, a partner at Slaughter and May, believes the use of AI ‘cuts out work that people find the least interesting and does not cut out analysing the results and looking at the importance of transactions and relevant details which clients care about’.
Arguably then, AI means less time for junior lawyers spent doing lower value work and a quicker transition to getting involved with more complex matters.
On the other hand, a 2016 report from Deloitte predicted that 114,000 legal jobs are likely to be automated in the next 20 years. Already entry to the legal profession is incredibly competitive; the growth of LegalTech, and the AI it ushers in to fulfil lower level work, could increase the competition for training contracts and newly qualified roles.
They say that when one door closes, another opens and this is the approach we should take with LegalTech. Its growth should not be seen as a death knoll for the legal profession, especially as it is still in its infancy and very much an unknown. Instead we should see it as a sign that our profession is about to go through a change. In the same way that computers and emails have greatly changed the way we work and the demands on us as professionals, AI will form a new landscape to operate in.
If you have experience of AI in your work place or just have thoughts you would like to share, positive or negative, on what you think it means for junior lawyers, please email. I would love to hear what you have to say.
James Kitching is a solicitor at Coffin Mew and a members of the Junior Lawyers Division Executive Committee
This article was first published by Solicitors Journal on 20 June 2017 and is reproduced by kind permission.