Callum Sinclair & Sam Moore: '˜Legal tech' will become more than the sum of its parts in 2018

2017 was a breakthrough year for legal technology in terms of broad acceptance and adoption of particular applications. Propositions such as automated document review packages, enhanced 'know your client''offerings, and data analysis/visualisation tools are now commonplace. Software has made a big impact on the delivery of legal services, and will continue to do so but we believe 2018 will be a year of 'multipliers'.

During 2018, roles with one foot in IT and the other in legal practice will become more common, even in modestly-sized law firms and in-house teams
During 2018, roles with one foot in IT and the other in legal practice will become more common, even in modestly-sized law firms and in-house teams

The new challenge will be how those discrete legal tech products can interface with one another, and how to leverage them to become greater than the sum of their parts. This will necessitate a deeper understanding of package Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and degrees of data interoperability, concepts that have received relatively little attention from the profession. We have seen early attempts at chaining legal tech products together, but by and large they sit in isolation. We are excited by the potential for collaboration between product developers and end users to build information ecosystems, within which lawyers can achieve their full potential with regard to efficiency and quality of service.

Communication is ever more vital

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Good communication has always been crucial to good client service, and we believe 2018 will bring specific innovations in how lawyers communicate with clients in an increasingly data-centric world. We expect new tools coming to market to streamline how we share key information at each step, and to give clients better visibility of their data.

If clients can access real-time data via new project collaboration or reporting tools, lawyers can get even closer to the commercial drivers behind their instructions. Understanding client business has always been key, so it seems natural that a client understanding what their lawyer is doing (and why) will strengthen that relationship.

Old contracts will be re-visited

Ask any contract drafter what they are changing in everyday agreements and they will likely talk about Brexit or GDPR. However, there are many smaller, significant changes coming because of technology drivers. Blockchain is one example. We expect 2018 will see the development of some “market standard” drafting around how to accommodate blockchain in commercial agreements.

Other developments will come to the fore because of new legislation. For example, a draft Bill due to be introduced to Parliament includes mandatory registration for all drone pilots, and will give police greater powers to deal with “rogue” operators. New drafting will be needed anywhere drones are in commercial use, to allocate responsibility for compliance with the resulting new regulations, and to dictate the consequences of non-compliance. This might seem niche, but there are 500-plus registered UK drone operators, when registration is voluntary!

Alternative ‘legal tech’ roles will become mainstream

We talk about the “implementation gap” in legal technology, the space between the technology provider and the lawyer. This implementation gap is where a new process or product will stand or fall. Encouraging user adoption and kicking off the cycle of continuous improvement is vital to longer-term success and during 2017, we’ve seen the emergence of new roles in forward-thinking legal teams – legal technologists, legal process engineers or legal solutions analysts. The trend is clear: innovation requires a dedicated resource to bridge the implementation gap.

During 2018, roles with one foot in IT and the other in legal practice will become more common, even in modestly-sized law firms and in-house teams. We are seeing a new generation of professionals either retraining to address this need, or coming out of higher education already with their sights on a legal technology career.

In summary, 2017 was a “proof of concept” year for legal technology, as conversations changed from “why might we want this?” to “how can we make the most out of this?” Going into 2018 we expect the market for legal technology will mature (and perhaps consolidate in some areas) as will law firms’ collective view of it. We will begin to see legal technology less as a collection of individual software products, and more as a tapestry of connected data processors. We will start to “bake in” technology concepts to familiar legal documents through gradually developing standard drafting and commercially driven risk positions and we will gain new colleagues in legal technology roles, and create exciting new opportunities to attract fresh talent to our profession.

Callum Sinclair is Head of Technology and Sam Moore is Legal Technologist, Burness Paull.