Talking about trends in the legal market and mentioning technology only in the fifth of a series of blogs is, of course, a sacrilege – at least in the view of the many technology enthusiasts who are dealing with the developments in our market at the moment. In my defence I can argue, however, that my first blog already focused on digitalisation.
But seriously: technology is indeed an important driver of current change! The disaggregation of the legal service provision process has resulted in numerous part services which are characterised by a high degree of standardisation. Standardisation is a prerequisite for automation, and automation is achieved by the use of technology. The enormous increase in computing power in the last few decades has produced systems which are capable of searching, categorising and making available huge amounts of data according to specified criteria in next to no time. This serves to explain all the systems used to conduct document research, as well as the powerful search engines with which we now conduct our legal researches. But document assembly and document management, too, are already terms which have managed to sneak from the future into the present, thanks to the necessary hardware. A nice overview of what is currently feasible can be found in a book by my old friend Markus Hartung from the Bucerius Law School in Hamburg (Legal Tech, die Digitalisierung des Rechtsmarktes, 2018).
What, though, should we think about technologies which bear names such as blockchain, smart contracts, machine learning, deep learning or artificial intelligence? Are these technologies about to be launched on the market? Where can we buy the necessary tools? How are they used? What benefits do they have?
But let’s slow down! It may be fascinating to think about whether technology is able to help us arrive at intelligent legal solutions which are superior to human legal work in terms of process efficiency and perhaps also in terms of quality. And – I’d like to be perfectly frank about this – I do credit these technologies with the potential for revolutionising our work. However, we won’t be there for quite a while yet. Actually, intelligent systems such as IBM’s Watson have a few disadvantages: they are expensive and are therefore beyond the range of “normal” law firms and legal departments. They are not ready to use but often generically designed, which means that they first have to be extensively configured for use in a legal environment. In addition, if these systems are indeed intended to learn, they must first be fed with vast amounts of data, which will then enable the desired intelligent interlinkages, which in turn means that their use in small, proprietary legal markets will become difficult in the first place. And this does not complete the enumeration of the current problem situation by any manner of means.
But then, those who are laughing now are laughing prematurely! It is only a question of time until these high-end technologies are available in a user- and application-friendly form. We are probably talking about three to five years in this case. Also, there are specific solutions on the market today, which make use of advanced technologies but only claim to be able to substitute very specific, individual partial processes of our work. And last but not least: the prices for these technologies will begin to tumble as soon as providers arrive on the market who no longer want to sell legal tech as overall solutions but as customised legal-tech-as-a-service.
To cut a long story short: technology is one of the major drivers of transformation in the market for legal services, but its great hour is yet to come.
This blog was originally published on 8 May 2018 in Vista, the online magazine of the Executive School, University of St.Gallen, Switzerland.
About the Author Prof. Dr. Leo Staub is a Titular Professor of Business Law and Legal Management at the University of St. Gallen. He also is one of the Directors of the Executive School of Management, Technology and Law of St. Gallen University where he chairs the division “Law & Management”. Leo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org