Can you imagine a world where AI can predict court decisions and there is no need to actually go through court processes? Experts such as Richard Susskind can. And the COVID-19 scenario has proven that the future is closer than we imagined. Explore with us the trends in legal tech that can create a fairer access to justice and ultimately reinvent the role of lawyers.
Online Courts and the Future of Justice
Online courts are the future, just as email communication was considered a bizarre imagination of a future 20 years ago. Richard Susskind was the person to predict the use of email in legal proceedings back in the 90’s, and he has now written a full book about the benefits of online courts. He is the “world’s most cited author on the future of legal services,” as claimed on his own website.Many in the legal tech industry look to him for an understanding of what the future holds.
In his most recent book, he describes a conceivable future where judging is done online, not in a physical courtroom. In his envisioned future, case determinations are either: a) made by human judges after receiving the evidence an information (also via online means); or b) predicted by AI, based on precedent and using predictive analytics. The fantastic part about the latter option is that AI predictions are not only considered binding decisions, but they also save hours of court litigation and months or even years of court date waits.
But perhaps the most interesting prediction in Susskind’s book is the effect that technology can have on justice as a whole. The great news is that, through something as simple as an app or online platform that is oriented towards customer access to case resolution, justice would become much more accessible to individuals worldwide. This effectively means that access to justice would be more democratic, solving a lifelong issue in the legal industry. Because the truth of the matter is that litigating a case — no matter how important — is prohibitively expensive for most and access to a just determination is therefore a privilege of few.
Why hasn’t legal tech been developing as fast as other types of technology?
The challenges faced in updating the conservative legal system into the technologies of the 21st century have much to do with the issue of access to justice. Author and Forbes contributor Bernard Marr estimates that only about 46% of people have access to the legal system. The backlogs in some court systems around the world are incredible. And up until COVID-19 hit, there simply wasn’t enough political will to change this.
Funding and the decisions involved in such a dramatic transformation of the legal system are not minor factors in this delay, of course. However, as Mark Cohen clearly explained at a 2020 Legal Geek online event, the pandemic crisis surprisingly showed that it was possible to conduct legal work remotely. It also enabled ‘latent technologies’ to surface, forcing the entire legal world to consider different ways of doing things. Cohen is the CEO of Legal Mosaic, and he has strong words about the unequal access to justice is the responsibility of judges, law firms and law schools alike.
With the contributions of forward-thinking legal minds such as Cohen and Susskind, the future of legal tech appears to be very auspicious. But it is not because they are pushing it to be so. The changes are partly a consequence of the global pandemic scenario, but it is mainly the clients who are pushing for a faster, more efficient and less bureaucratic delivery of the legal services they need access to.
What are the trends in legal tech?
Key legal industry players foresee 4 main trends in how technology will affect the legal world after the coronavirus crisis. They are:
- The integration of law and business, also known as “enterprise legal services delivery”
- An increased focus on client satisfaction, with less interest in lawyer prestige and pedigree
- The incorporation of other professions into the legal industry, especially from the field of technology, marketing and translation
- A transformation of law education, by providing multidisciplinary training to law students
These changes can ultimately bring about fairer access to justice as a whole. Susskind foresees this transition as a staged process. In the first stage, or “generation,” technology will allow individuals to learn how to gather evidence and submit it to judges directly, through some form of electronic communication. Basically, courts will go online and individuals will receive legal and court decisions electronically.
In the second stage, Susskind believes technology will be used to resolve disputes without the need for lawyers or a traditional legal system at all. If we think of the large number of documents involved in a normal litigation, along with the countless hours that lawyers need to spend reviewing them, it is quite easy to conceive a machine that could efficiently replace them. This is, for Susskind, the future of legal tech.
Is technology the end of lawyers?
As experts see it, the role of lawyers will be transformed entirely, but it is far from being extinct. Susskind believes that in the next decade, the legal work will be done by lawyers and machines, side-by-side. AI needs to be properly built and algorithms need expert, human design in order to be effective. Thus, while the entire legal system is being transformed, Susskind advises lawyers to start developing the technological skills and insight required to reinvent their role. This means the academy also needs to shift its curriculum towards educating the lawyer of the future.
In the words of Marr, technology has been a key driver of a legal ‘paradigm shift,’ accelerating cultural changes and exposing “the absurdity of the profession’s ‘lawyer and non-lawyer’ classification. Law is no longer solely about lawyers. Tech is not solely about techies. The digital age is one of cross-disciplinary collaboration.”
And collaboration is about empathy. The future lawyers, experts agree, will be all about truly listening to their clients and assisting them empathically, in obtaining the solutions they need. For that, they will team up with colleagues in the fields of finance, project management, marketing, design, customer service, translation and more.