Legal technology continues its rapid advancement, but what is likely to emerge in the coming year?
From a change in the relentless push for efficiency to the complexity of data security, and from the effects of hybrid working to the supposed advantages held by the Big Four, Law.com International spoke to eight experts from across the U.K. legal sector to hear what they saw on the horizon for technology in 2022.
What are the most innovative examples of legal tech you have seen and what changes are you hoping for in the coming year?
Emily Foges, global legal managed services leader at Deloitte Legal: “Until recently, legal technology has been developed largely in isolation from the enterprise-wide solutions that our clients rely on for finance, IT and HR. Enterprise software providers are just beginning to see the benefits of embedding legal processes into the wider business operation more effectively, and it’s potential to accelerate business activity. One example is in contracting. This doesn’t just happen in legal, but is the responsibility of the whole business so it’s important to join the dots! Enterprise resource planning software providers need to be consolidating, and bringing legal properly into the fold.”
Data privacy continues to represent a significant challenge for law firms. Is this threat likely to grow in 2022? If so, in what ways?
Karen Jacks, chief technology officer at Bird & Bird: “This pandemic has been horrible and very grim, but if there’s a positive, it’s that it has allowed us to embrace change a little faster. We’ve had to be agile, and there’s a momentum to that which will continue to build. On data privacy, there is a definite movement towards Cloud technology, which in theory means that data security should get better. A lot of the bigger providers get the underlying issues at play, whereas some of the smaller providers are a bit less mature, and want to have everything a bit more open.
“I’m optimistic that things will get better once the more mature players start to take a lead in this area, but of course the downside of this is that we’ll start to lose some of the choice. And we’ll literally be putting all our eggs in the same basket.”
Will in-house legal teams be asking for different things in 2022 compared with 2021? How are their needs changing?
Billie Moore and Jezah Khamisa, knowledge & innovation managers at Slaughter and May: “We continue to see that our clients’ in-house legal teams are under increasing pressure to deliver more for less. Embracing legal tech tools is an important part of the ‘deliver more’ piece, however, clients do not always have the time and resources to explore their options. We have seen clients seek advice and expertise from us in this regard, and have worked with them through our legal tech programme, Collaborate, to bridge that gap and provide value.
“Another trend that we have seen is a growth in in-house Legal Operations teams and functions, and this will undoubtedly continue into 2022, as clients continue to prioritise technology and innovation. Again, we have explored this with numerous clients, as well as other law firms’ as part of a new Legal Operations Consortium, and have seconded one of our new Legal Operations Executives to a client organisation.”
Christopher Tart-Roberts, head of lawtech and chief knowledge & innovation officer at Macfarlanes: “We’ll continue to see a shift towards in-house legal teams as value generators rather than cost centres within their organisations. This has been a significant trend over recent years and will continue to gather momentum. This will impact on what in-house teams need from their external advisers. Efficiency will remain important, but there will be a laser sharp focus on new ways to deliver value to the business, and in-house teams will look to their external advisers to help them achieve this.”
How might the continuing demand for hybrid working influence the development of legal tech?
Nigel Tranter, chief technology officer at Pinsent Masons: “Nearly two years into the pandemic, one of the main challenges facing the legal industry is the difficulty of maintaining traditional osmosis learning – i.e. learning through observation and absorption, something which is particularly important for junior associates. How can hybrid learning accommodate this?
“There are the avatar-based environments of Microsoft Loop, as well as the Metaverse. The question is whether these platforms will be able to provide a more immersive learning experience than simply using Teams. If they are able to create a similar feeling to being in an office, that will be a world that will definitely get explored over the next few years, and represents a massive opportunity for tech providers.
“Of course, these platforms can imitate it to a degree, but never supersede it, as there’s always a degree of social cohesion that we need in our lives, but the right construct could help us find a way beyond where we are right now. There’s also obviously the environmental aspect too: why could you not create a safe augmented space where you can have people from all over the world, removing the need to travel?”
Many technological advancements seem to be motivated by a desire for maximum efficiency. Is efficiency likely to be a number one priority this year? Or are other considerations more important?
Christopher Tart-Roberts, Macfarlanes: “We’ve already seen a shift away from maximum efficiency being the primary motivator for technological advancement. Reducing time spent and increasing value for money are still very important drivers, and rightly so. However, tech advancement can also deliver value in a much wider sense. The opportunity for law firms to offer a range of complimentary products and services which bring together law + tech, and that satisfy the expectations of increasingly tech-savvy clients, is particularly exciting.”
Jan Thornbury, head of legal transformation at EY: “The pursuit of efficiency remains a key driver, but it is not the only one. As legal functions embrace ever more strategic and business critical roles, they will need to use tech and outsourcing solutions to shift the routine work out and free up their lawyers to focus on the higher complexity work that adds most value. Tech solutions are also being sought to enable better management of data and information. Finally, tech solutions can help legal functions provide a better user experience for their internal clients – a factor which is increasingly important.”
Which parts of the legal industry have the advantage when it comes to legal tech? How do the Big Four compare with the large international firms, and what about boutiques versus Swiss vereins, etc?
Karen Jacks, Bird & Bird: “Some professional services firms do have advantages, as they have put a lot of work and investment into technology. They’ve also hired a lot of people into technology roles, and have plenty of lawyers with dual roles, which I think is a very good strategy. However, I also think that law firms understand that this could be seen as a threat, and I doubt there will be any firms looking around thinking they can carry on as they are. Certainly, law firms are becoming more agile and looking at how we can create more services.”
Rachel Teisch, senior director of product marketing at OpenText Discovery: “Technology complexity is driving up eDiscovery costs for legal departments since more complex solutions are needed to cope with the sheer density of information. As a result, more legal practices are turning to alternative legal service providers (ALSPs) to control spiralling expenses and simplify workflow. ALSPs can handle eDiscovery and investigations start-to-finish, taking care of all data-related and technology tasks from collection to production.”