Change is a knocking and the legal industry is ready to answer its call. The possibilities and opportunities presented by legal tech and AI and how it will impact and change legal practice, is no longer discussed in whispers and hushed tones. No, in fact it is discussed openly and loudly, sending a clear message that the legal industry is ready to disrupt, rather than be disrupted. This was clearly evident from the second annual Legal Innovation and Tech Fest, held 10 – 11 June 2019 at the prestigious Maslow Hotel in Sandton, Johannesburg, which can only be described as stumbling through a tech labyrinth of wonder and amazement.
With over 35 different organisations, 40 local and international speakers and 200 delegates, it is clear that legal professionals are living through a digital tech renaissance, so aptly christened by Chrissie Lightfoot, legal futurists and owner / CEO of Robot Lawyer Lisa, referring to today’s rapid, exponential change, development and advancement of AI and technology. This fact was well illustrated by the evolution, growth and increasing tech utilisation by Juta, as discussed by company CEO, Kamal Patel,illustrating how Juta has grown and innovated, using tech and AI software to provide new legal services and possibilities with Juta’s newest product offering – Juta Evolve, which is set to significantly impact how legal professionals conduct legal research and prepare for trial and/or argument.
It is accepted that majority of the work that legal professionals perform, whether in practice or as in house counsel, can be streamlined with legal tech and software , with pioneering technology and digital developments coming from new, alternative law service providers and Fintech industries, bringing competition from outside the legal fraternity, from an industry that has an upper hand in making the law and its procedures faster and more efficient, due to their own layman frustrations and misunderstanding of the law. A fact perfectly personified by Guy Stern,the founder, developer and CEO of Baobab Law, despite having no legal background, having studied computer science, but who having gone through a legal matter himself and experiencing first-hand the frustration and uncertainty experienced by a layperson in regard to a legal matter, created Baobab Law, a decentralised case management application for lawyers, paralegals and clients to record all communications and interactions relevant to a legal case to ensure all are up to date as to the progress of the legal matter at hand.
The golden thread throughout the conference, as summarised by Knowledge Partner at Bowman’s– Cathy Truter, expressly acknowledged and noted in every keynote, workshop and panel discussion: “Legal professionals must disrupt or be disrupted”.
Warren Hero, (Chief Technology and Information Officer at Webber Wentzel), emphasised that lawyers need to “see now, see more, see new” in the tomorrow of today and the future of the legal industry and the way we understand, interpret and practice the law.
We as legal professionals need to ensure that we stay abreast of legal tech changes and innovation to ensure that we “Reskill; Upskill and Newskill”, as put by Tammy Beira(Talent Partner at Bowman’s) to ultimately allow for the coming into being of the Fourth Industrial lawyer, the so called Augmented lawyer. The Augmented Lawyer, as baptized by Kevin Oliver (Head of Advance Delivery (Tech) at Allen & Overy), will continue to practice law and provide legal services and advice to clients, however will change the means and manner of doing same, by utilising technology, AI and available Legal tech software and tools to increase the efficiency of legal service delivery. Legal Innovation and Technology is, as summed up by Rico Burnett(Director of Client Innovation at Exigent)about Technological enablement and not deployment.
The question however remains how legal tech and innovative AI tools will be utilised by the legal industry? Will it be used to drive more efficiency, to provide for more billable hours and so increase legal fees , costs and profits? Or will it be used to improve access to justice in light of the reality that due to the high costs of legal matters, the national wage, the minimum wage, increasing income disparity and inequality, economically speaking, only the wealthier 10% of the South African population can afford access to justice and related legal services.
Want to know more about legal tech and AI and the future of law tomorrow – see www.futureslawfaculty.co.za
Head of Futures Law Faculty