If you are a sole practitioner or a partner in a small law firm, you may get the feeling that technology is getting away from you. With the increasing pace of technological development and the decreasing costs of technology, there has never been a better time to take advantage of technology. Unfortunately, if ignoring the current and emerging technology, as it relates to legal practice, is more your speed, then there is a big risk you will fall victim to technological disruption.
Emerging legal technology
In a recent report, the World Economic Forum noted a study that challenged a group of 20 experienced lawyers to test their skills and knowledge against an Artificial Intelligence powered algorithm developed by LawGeex, a legal technology startup. While the AI matched the top-performing lawyer for accuracy, the AI did in 26 seconds what the fastest lawyer achieved in 51 minutes. The slowest lawyer took 156 minutes to review all documents.
Document automation is another legal technology that has emerged in a big way fairly recently. Document automation is being used by lawyers to automate the generation of documents for their clients in a manner that is more advanced and efficient than the old way of using and amending precedents from a precedent library. Document automation systems are also being used to productise legal services thus allowing law firms to produce “self-service” documents for their clients. It has also allowed firms to apply the intellectual property they have gathered in the form of precedents in other ways to create additional revenue streams.
Blockchain and “smart contracts” are other terms that you may have heard being bandied about recently. Without going into too many technical details, the combination of blockchain and smart contracts offers the possibility of embodying agreements between parties in a smart contract which once deployed becomes self-executing. The rights and obligations of the parties to an agreement can be set out in the smart contract to trigger actions on the happening of certain events. The benefit that comes from the use of blockchain in the process is that the state of the contract is independent of the parties, unable to be modified by the parties (except in certain and specific ways), and encrypted for security.
As an example, suppose a restaurant operator contracts with a seafood supplier to supply seafood to the restaurant. It is a term of the contract that the fish must be kept below a certain temperature to ensure that it won’t spoil. A smart contract embodying the terms of the contract can be deployed to a blockchain network. Sensors along the supply chain can monitor the temperature of the containers in which the fish is kept. If the temperature falls outside the range prescribed in the contract then the restauranter can be notified and the shipment rejected. Payment would then not be made. On the other hand, if all goes well and the fish is kept within the prescribed temperature range the delivery will be made and the smart contract will make payment to the supplier in accordance with the terms of the contract.
The application of blockchain and smart contracts in this way provides accuracy and transparency of the contract terms to all parties. Because the smart contract is executing in a known way on a dedicated computer platform it brings speed and efficiency. The use of strong encryption as part of the process ensures the security of the system. The most recent blockchain systems (such as Hyperledger) can even provide the privacy and confidentiality required in some business transactions that earlier implementation of blockchain (such as Ethereum) cannot. Hyperledger is a blockchain platform being specifically developed for business use and can even be configured to provide GDPR compliance.
So, what does this mean to you and your practice? Put simply, many items of work that were the exclusive domain of well educated and experienced lawyers, can and will be done by artificial intelligence in a fraction of the time. However, there is an opportunity here to provide greater value to your clients.
Take advantage of legal technology in your practice
Technology can create efficiencies and free you of time-consuming or routine tasks leaving you free to pursue the most important areas of practice, creating and maintaining relationships with your clients. As a simple example, some time ago we decided to implement an SMS reminder for client appointments. With currently available tools, we were able to set up the system in a single morning. It now runs without any intervention and all our clients receive a reminder on the day before their appointment. The cost to us of that service is less than $20 a month. As a result, we have fewer cancellations or no-shows and our clients have expressed how helpful the simple reminder has been. We have saved time and money and served our clients better.
If you are lost or confused as to how to take advantage of even simple technology in your practice, we can help you. We have introduced a consultancy service designed exclusively for small to medium legal practices. We do not consult to business generally. It is our aim to help Australian law practices through the coming technological changes and to see Australia legal practice at the forefront of legal technology adoption.
While many law firms engage outside IT support, generally this is not aimed at taking advantage of legal technology, or anything beyond normal IT support services. Our Principal, David Killen, before embarking on a career in law, had a 15-year career as a software engineer and IT manager in small, medium and large corporations. Combined with his knowledge and experience in legal practice as an employed lawyer and principal, David is ideally placed to help you get your head around technology to improve your practice.
If you have any mind to explore how technology can improve your practice, we invite you to take advantage of our free no obligation consultation. You will have a 30-minute phone conference with David to discuss the current state of your practice, and consider ways in which you may be able to take advantage of technology to create a more efficient and cost-effective practice. We do urge you to act now, David has only a limited number of free consultations every month and we would hate for you to miss this opportunity.
Call us now on 02 6332 6655 to arrange your free no obligation consultation.