Thursday, 06 September 2018 17:08

Legal profession confronted by ‘unprecedented’ digital disruption: experts

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Legal profession confronted by ‘unprecedented’ digital disruption: experts Image courtesy of JanPietruszka at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Australia’s legal fraternity is grappling with unprecedented digital disruption as work traditionally undertaken by lawyers is handled better, faster and cheaper by technology, according to a newly published report.

The research report, from Thomson Reuters, also reveals that the emergence of artificial intelligence, chatbots, the growing threat of cyber security and blockchain are transforming the operational approach taken by the legal sector – but experts warn that resistance is futile.

According to Thomson Reuters, artificial intelligence is starting to have a big impact on the legal fraternity, and within the next few years, Australia and the world will find ourselves on the cusp of a “revolution” in the practice of law led by the adoption of artificial intelligence, in particular, by in-house lawyers.

Ahead of the Lawtech Summit and Awards at Noosa in Queensland on 13 and 14 September, 2018, Associate Professor of Law at Illinois Tech – Chicago Kent College, Daniel Martin Katz, who is also the director of The Law Lab at Illinois Tech, said major technology changes in the legal profession are not all doom and gloom.

“There’s an increasing number of people working around the world to advance the legal innovation agenda. There’s no doubt there’s a real appetite for change to ensure that technology will #makelawbetter,” said Katz, who will be speaking at the summit.

“I’m bullish about the future, not because I’m an optimist, but rather because of trends that are in play and the opportunities that lie ahead.”

Technology is also claimed to be levelling the playing field for legal firms by enabling smaller operations to participate in areas of law that were previously the domain of large firms, according to another keynote speaker at the Lawtech summit, Canadian legal innovation expert Mitchell Kowalski.

Kowalski is a Professor in Legal Innovation at the University of Calgary Law School, where he researches and teaches innovation in the global legal services market, and he is also a strategic adviser to in-house legal departments and law firms on the redesign of legal service delivery.

He predicts that the legal industry will transform from a lawyer-dominated industry into a service that is merely augmented by lawyers over the next decade, saying that he level of disruption is unprecedented and law firms who don’t adapt to this change are “making the riskiest move of all”.

According to Kowalski, legal service providers will seek to hire smart, engaged employees having less intensive legal training but fully supported by workflow and technology, augmented by a small number of lawyers who will be an important piece of the puzzle, but not the entire puzzle.

He also says the role of IT personnel in law firms will evolve to become important creators of unique client experiences.

“If the work of a traditional big law firm can be done just as well, and perhaps even better, by a legal business with fewer lawyers, then it’s not hard to see a host of new entrants undercut the traditional advantages that large law firms had simply from their size.”

Australia’s legal fraternity must fully embrace these opportunities, Kowalski says.

“Just as when you’re caught in a rip, the key to survival is not to fight the current. Instead, survival hinges on your ability to go with the current and continually reassess the best path to shore.

“Legal professionals should harness technology in ways that allow them to provide better, more accessible and more cost-effective legal services to their clients and just as importantly, allow them to provide a better work environment for themselves and their teams.

“It is not inconceivable that job creation in the legal services sector will start to favour those who did not invest in a law school education but bring other valuable skills to the table. It will also favour those who can skill-up through workflow and technology to provide a certain layer of legal service.

“As a result, eventually, many legal service providers will begin to trim their high-priced legal talent and replace it, wherever possible, with smart, engaged employees having less intensive legal training but fully supported by workflow and technology."

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham is a co-founder of iTWire and a 35-year veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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