Is legal tech killing the legal profession or is it an underutilized competitive advantage?

On 19th of September European Legal Tech Association’s (ELTA) event, Nordic Legal Tech Day takes place in Stockholm, Sweden. Several European legal offices and legal tech companies, including HUGO.legal are also members of the association. So what does legal tech even mean, what services does this sector mainly provide and does it really have a practical use in smaller legal markets? 

Legal tech is a rapidly growing business sector – in 2018, investments in legal tech companies grew by a whopping 713%! The first global legal hackathon also took place in the same year and produced solutions from legal chatbots to plugins that help mere mortals read and understand complicated legal jargon.

Can you really automate the law?

The rapid rise in legal technology can greatly be attributed to the fact that law has lagged in digital transformation. Technological development is often described with intimidating terms such as “upheaval” or “disruption”. In reality, it’s more of a shift in ancient practices of conducting and delivering legal services.

Traditional legal structures and services have a long history and their business model hasn’t changed remarkably over hundreds of years. Often, lawyers themselves think that law and regulations are so tightly tied to the specific regional or national regulations that developing universal tools in that segment isn’t really possible. Driving a taxi is quite similar all over the world but contract law or employment law is different in every country. One could also ask this about the Estonian legal market – is it even big enough for developing digital legal solutions? 

At the same time, the regulations and legal practices are also globalizing and becoming more and more integrated – at least in Western culture. Legal tech mainly deals with the administrative and supportive tasks in legal services and these are relatively universal regardless of the specific country or legal system.

The second biggest misconception about legal tech is that technology is coming after the lawyer’s work as a whole. In reality, it’s automating these parts of the job that any lawyer would probably gladly hand over to a robot. By some estimates, 114 000 legal jobs are likely to be automated in the next 20 years. These are mainly positions that deal with mindless busywork or supportive tasks that don’t require or harness an actual legal skillset. Legal tech will also revolutionize the way legal services are delivered to the clients.

Even though the specific legal norms are different across countries and legal systems, the problems that lawyers face are surprisingly similar across the world. For example, legal technology already offers the following (mostly administrative) tools and solutions in Europe:

  • Avokaado for drafting and managing corporate contracts;
  • HUGO.legal is a legal aid platform that matches you up with a lawyer based on your price range, location and the field of counseling;
  • xLaw is a knowledge management system for Lawyers.
  • DPOrganizer for managing and protecting personal data;
  • InsiderLog ensures compliance with the EU Market Abuse Regulation (MAR);
  • Avtal24 for drafting common legal agreements;
  • Precisely for cloud-based contract creation process, including e-signing, automated approval processes and reminders for any event in the contract lifecycle.

Legal technology as a gateway to the world

Estonians have a reason to be proud of their advanced legal education and digital society. We’ve probably become too accustomed to our efficient, secure and transparent e-services that save time and money. In other parts of the world legal tech often deals with offsetting clunky public systems in the fields that are already common for us – e.g. (digitally) signing, transferring and verifying the documents.

Lawyers’ capability to use technological solutions is becoming more and more relevant. Already in 2012, the American Bar Association formally approved a change to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct to make clear that lawyers have a duty to be competent not only in the law and its practice but also in technology. The ability to develop digital legal solutions will probably become increasingly valuable in the legal (job) market.

Co-founder & COO of HUGO.legal, Erki Pisuke says the following about legal tech: “Today we can say that digital progress is inevitable in legal services and it will start to transform the legal market. Many legal tech solutions have a narrow field of application but the reach and perspective of legal platforms are globally limitless. HUGO.legal believes that in the near future, most of the legal services for private clients and small-medium enterprises are delivered through sharing economy platforms. This benefits the clients and the lawyers – both through better accessibility of the services and effectiveness of the work process.”

All in all, legal tech might automate part of today’s legal positions but it also creates a lot of new jobs ranging from data science to legal design. The traditional lawyer is not going anywhere any time soon. Rather the rise of legal tech allows them to concentrate on the most complicated, creative and interesting parts of their jobs.

The following legal tech events where HUGO.legal is also represented take place in Europe this autumn: