Tech Or Die: Lawyers Need To Embrace Digital Transformation To Avoid Extinction

Olga Beck-Friis, Co-founder and COO of PocketLaw, explains why digital transformation is essential for lawyers.

Despite mounting pressure to change, the legal world remains one of the last bastions of anti-innovation. Hooked on tradition and familiarity, lawyers have long held the sacred keys to legal information, but technology is changing this. 

It gives me a huge sense of pride to say that I work in one of the oldest and most revered industries. But it also gives me a feeling of despondency, because so many aspects of law are still trapped in the past. No doctors reach for jars of leeches while in surgery, and no engineers install water wheels to run machines, yet barristers still wear 17th-century wigs and bow to the crown when entering the court. It turns out that old habits die hardest in the legal profession.

Embracing Digital Efficiency

From agriculture to retail, education to healthcare, the 21st Century has prompted a digital overhaul of almost every sector. Yet, despite The Thomson Reuters’ State of the UK Legal Market 2021 report finding that 74 per cent of senior UK partners believe there should be more investment in legal tech, the sector is still digging in its heels.

Digital transformation can be a daunting prospect and does take time to implement, but it’s time well spent. As with banks using mobile apps and doctor’s surgeries encouraging patients to be diagnosed online during the pandemic, lawyers need to adapt quickly and explore tech to help improve efficiency and user experience. 

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Since the start of the pandemic, companies and corporations worldwide have been working hard to adapt to a new way of working. According to a global survey of executives from management consultancy firm McKinsey & Company, many companies have accelerated the digitisation of their customer and supply-chain interactions and internal operations by three to four years. In April 2020, Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s Chief Executive, echoed this, stating that the world went through “two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months”. 

What This Means For Law

The adoption of digital innovation will understandably lead to lawyers having to learn new skills and develop appropriate delivery models. There are tech systems that can help draft documents, undertake legal research, disclose documents in litigation, provide legal guidance, and resolve disputes online. Technology can enable lawyers to spend more time practising law, rather than engaging in more routine or less efficient tasks. 

It’s not just the lawyers that need to be considered when looking at how best to improve the efficiency of the sector. We also need to consider making it more user-friendly for customers and those seeking legal advice but who don’t know how to get it. According to the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), small businesses in the UK lose up to £13.6 billion every year due to their failure to take care of legal matters. The inaccessible and inefficient nature of legal access is costing British businesses exorbitant amounts of money. 

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There is also concern from digital transformation naysayers who have identified barriers that could put themselves, and their customers in jeopardy, such as cyber security breaches, gaining support from stakeholders, the time-consuming task of logging historical data, and managing billable hours. All of these issues are valid, but they can be easily managed and shouldn’t deter people from opting for a digital upgrade.

Innovations, such as legal tech platforms, can provide the solution to a lot of problems. At PocketLaw, for example, we act as a digital in-house lawyer for businesses of any size, solving their legal challenges by automating tasks and negating the need for expensive external counsel. Our mission is fueled by the belief that every company deserves access to affordable legal services, and to feel safe and equipped in handling their legal needs themselves. 

Empowering, Not Replacing, Lawyers

Digital tools will never replace the human ability to work out complicated aspects of legal practice and lateral thinking. Instead, lawyers should look at digitisation as adding newly improved tools to their skill set, allowing them to do their job even better, rather than be a threat to their existence. 

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Legal tech exists to empower lawyers to do their job to the best of their ability. Not only will the digitisation of the legal sector vastly benefit entrepreneurs and business leaders, but it will also help lawyers themselves. By automating time-consuming, repetitive tasks, lawyers can reattribute their time and attention into completing jobs that inspired them to train in the first place, practising the challenging and intriguingly complex side of the law. 

As the ambitious barrister, Sir Robert Morton, states in Terrance Rattigan’s play, ‘The Winslow Boy’ – “To fight a case on emotional grounds is the surest way of losing it. Emotions muddy the issue. Cold, clear logic – and buckets of it – should be the lawyer’s only equipment.”