Technology has fundamentally changed the way we think and how we do business. Similarly, it has impacted the way law is practiced and will continue to drive change as law firms seek further efficiencies, lower costs and the ability to deliver more value to their clients.
For many, the notion of innovation in law is synonymous with the use of technology. Characterised by the term ‘lawtech’ this covers a host of different types of technology in legal firms. In practice, the focus has been on the application of technology tools to support high volume, lower priority legal processes – or how lawyers work - and has certainly revolutionised the way we look at legal services.
An area where there has been surprisingly little growth is the application of technology to legal problems outside of the legal process. There’s arguably been some focus on this in the access to justice space. Laudable as that is, there’s still a large gap in how organisations use technology and law to mitigate key business risks, particularly those based around online trust issues.
A significant contributing factor to the lack of progress in this space may be that the legal profession is currently too solipsistic in how it applies technology. This is partly as a result of the transformational impulse in the profession, beginning with a focus on operational efficiency.
This begs the question: is it time to let our imagination run riot with the potential for solutions to address big business problems that could be solved through law and technology? What more can we achieve through focusing on the business job to be done with law and technology, rather than just the legal operations process?
As businesses find new avenues for digital interaction and building trust with their customers, so too lawyers are being asked to build digital trust in interactions, which were previously people centric.
This may, by necessity, lead to new ways of understanding those interactions and ultimately new ways of approaching them. Ten years ago, privacy was seen as a somewhat mundane area of law, explains Kenny Robertson, General Counsel for Outsourcing, Technology and IP at RBS,
“Now it’s shifted to become fundamental as issues around data privacy speak to the very nature of the contract of trust between businesses that use technology and their clients. That’s in part due to the shifting nature of how business is conducted and companies waking up to how customer data can be monetised. Add in some actions around technology and social media companies farming data and using it, and data privacy is now a fundamental issue for businesses.”
The growth in the use of technology is not matched by a similar shift in the ways most of us understand what we do, and conceptualise what we might do beyond analogue processes. It’s not just a problem confined to law. This can produce what’s been described as a ‘tech clash’ according to a recent report by Accenture, Technology Vision 2020: We the Post Digital People.
What companies need to do is to be able to imagine new ways of doing business that is inspired by new technologies, rather than just mapping technology onto past ways of working:
“In the future, people don’t just want more technology driven products and services; we want technology that is more human. Enterprises that ignore this message will face an existential tech-clash, in which today’s models are incongruous with people’s needs and expectations.”
(Paul Daugherty, Marc Carrel- Billiard & Michael Biltz, Technology Vision 2020: We the Post Digital People (Accenture, 2020) p.2)
Until now the application of technology in law has followed well-trodden digital roadmaps created by the original digital pioneers. We can see this being played out where the use of technology has so far mainly been a tool to improve process efficiency and save costs; a replacement for the high volume, low cost application of manpower.
Now technology is starting to be used to spot data trends to inform decision making and deliver value added client services. This is an area where there has been far less focus, but is potentially where the most exciting and creative growth for legal technology exists in tandem with human expertise.
Read the second article in the Business Law series.