Introduction Technology today is pervading each and every industry. From AI based HR solutions, to block chains in the banking sector, from fin-tech to underwriting in Insurance, technology has significantly changed the way we work and deliver services. The Legal sector has not remained untouched by these technological disruptions. In the past two decades, the way legal services are delivered has changed tremendously. Way back in 2000, no one could have even imagined that one day courts would be held virtually, or one would be able to create a contract using technology. But the way disruptive technologies have increasingly been adopted and used by legal professionals, one cannot deny that legal-tech is here to stay.
Legal technology first came into picture in and around 2000, with the advent of websites which offered a digital searchable library of case laws and legislations. As time progressed, legal technology evolved and forayed into more complex legal domains such as contract management and automation, document automation, e-billing software, legal analytics etc. In the recent years technology has also been used to revolutionise the way legal education is imparted to students.
In 2017, the Supreme Court digitised one crore and five lakh pages of civil appeal and the government launched an Integrated Case Management System (ICMS), aimed at the digitisation of services being provided to the Indian judiciary.
With the onset of COVID-19, we have seen how technology has come to the rescue of every sector and industry including the legal sector. E-signatures, online contracts, virtual courts, online meetings and e-billing software solutions have ensured that the legal services continue seamlessly even during the pandemic times. This article traces the evolution of technology in the legal sector beginning from the year 2000 and how it has taken the legal industry by storm.
Advent of Legal Tech- The beginning of the Millennium Over the past two decades, legal technology has transformed from providing simple solutions to complex solutions. In and around 2000, the
legal research was confined to books and other paper-based resources. The dot com boom in 2000 saw a slew of websites and portals across industries and verticals. Amidst this boom, Manupatra pioneered online legal research in India with the launch of its online database. Helping lawyers to access case laws from across the courts in India, central & state legislations, government notifications etc. unified on a single online platform, with a mere click of a mouse. Travel time to libraries, sitting late in chambers to access books, and the cumbersome efforts of sifting through thousands of pages to find that one case law or precedence was eliminated.
The dedicated legal research databases were equipped with search interfaces. This enabled ease of searching for relevant documents and information by using keywords and relevant search terms, year of judgment, and in some cases even by the name of the judge who delivered the decision. Such specificity and customisation of search was a luxury unknown to lawyers at the beginning of the millennium. Such ease in conducting legal research, for the first time, made lawyers cognizant of the power and importance of technology in their field.
The Information Technology Act, 2000 gave impetus to e-signatures, which opened up the pathway for digitisation of documents.
This initial phase when technology was just beginning to make its mark in the legal sector is important, as it opened an otherwise closed legal sector, to the potential possibility of transforming into a sector powered by technology. 2005-2010- The Internalisation of Legal Tech From 2005 to 2010, the Indian legal sector for the very first time experienced the wonders of legal tech. The success of legal-tech companies such as Manupatra and its widespread usage and acceptance of the legal research platform developed by them leveraging technology, placed the legal industry in the category of an untapped market for legal-tech products.
Within a few years, a number of other players saw the potential of providing tools for legal research along with access to books and journals thereby making legal research more nuanced. This period also saw the interest of the International legal publishing companies in India, further followed by their entry in the country.
Google Scholar was launched in 2004, but it took a few years for it to be accepted as a valid tool of legal research in India. Getting free access to limited pages of a book or articles of international journals was nothing short of boon, for those lawyers who could not afford the heavily priced law books and publications.
The years 2005-2010 led to the internalisation of legal-tech solutions. Online legal news verticals like Legally India, Bar and Bench emerged.
Lawyers of this era, in a significant departure from their seniors, began to depend upon legal tech tools for their research and new feed. A beginning had been made and lawyers had understood that technology is not here to replace them but to assist them.
2010-2015: Legal-Tech Solutions Beyond Legal Research Between 2010-2015, legal-tech started expanding in diverse areas. From online ed-tech platforms aimed at imparting practical skills to students to online platforms for connecting consumers directly with lawyers, technology was now increasingly being used to make legal services more accessible.
This marked the boom phase for legal-tech solutions in India. Technological solutions unheard of in the Indian market began emerging using the latest legal technology tools like AI, NLP, Smart Search and more.
Having technology take care of the routine rote operations, lawyers freed up their time to concentrate on other complex legal issues. Post 2010, AI/ML based features in legal research like Analytics, Visualisation, Nested Search (search within results), Backward and Forward referencing, Citing details on click and more were introduced by Manupatra.
Over time, these features now have become indispensable for fast and relevant legal research, enabling the lawyers and students to become more efficient and productive.
Legal jobs went online increasingly, with both verticals (focusing only on legal industry) and the horizontal players (Law / Legal as a segment saw growing listings and responses). Another interesting trend which was witnessed during this phase was the gradual rise of online legal recruitment firms which used the internet to advertise vacancies in the legal sector and connecting the job aspirants with potential employers in the industry.
This phase of evolution of legal-tech solutions showed that it is not just legal research, but number of legal services can be enabled or made more efficient using legal-tech.
2015-2020- Legal-Tech is here to Stay! Last five years have seen a sprint in the number of legal-tech start-ups. The importance of legal-tech solutions was further reinforced during the recent pandemic. From e-signature solutions to automation of contracts, legal technology solutions are fast changing the way legal services are conceptualised and delivered.
Novel legal-tech solutions such as Compliance management and legal practice management solutions are gradually gaining popularity. SaaS products like Case Watch- a personalized case tracker to receive alerts on all developments in your case in real-time, and myKase- Law Practice Management software designed exclusively for the legal industry have been launched by Manupatra in this domain. Lawyers can now use online solutions to track legal updates and compliance calendars. Billing software solutions, tracking payments, managing clients, maintaining attendance etc. can all now be done with a mere click.
Artificial Intelligence solutions are just surfacing and have the potential of further revolutionizing the legal industry, including AI based e-discovery solutions, document review, contract management etc. help in making the lives of lawyers easier and simpler.
The importance of legal-tech is undeniable. The way virtual functioning of courts manifested access to justice during pandemic has been recognised by the judiciary as well. The Supreme Court is mulling over creation of e- courts and has recently also issued a draft vision document relating to the same. For further ease, we might see the advent of neutral citations that would change the way law reports function in the industry.
Legal-tech incubators such as Prarambh have come up to encourage innovation in the legal field. Agami finds purpose in unleashing the potential of people from all walks of life to act as change makers and create systems of law and justice that enable all citizens to thrive. Awards for creating a disruptive technology in the legal field are also given to incentivise legal-tech entrepreneurs.
Legal-tech is the future and the way start-ups in this field have burgeoned in the past five years standstestimony to this fact. Technology is increasingly exploring new areas, where lawyers can be assisted. It stands complementary to human resources and in the future would play a nodal role in the expansion and accessibility of legal services.
With the sudden onset of the pandemic, we normalised many working arrangements which were unthinkable in a pre-COVID world. Many law firms went fully remote, hearings were conducted through Virtual Conferencing, client meetings were held on Zoom and Webex, filings went online. Many lawyers feel that the way they work has truly been transformed by technology in the past one year.
The question which emerges is that how would technology affect working in a post-COVID world? A world which has already seen the benefits of #WFA [Work from Anywhere] by adoption of technology will not shy away from it. The acceptance is hence clear, that technology is here as a complement rather than a substitute. And now with people readily accepting tech-solutions, legal-tech is on the way to become the norm rather anexception.
About the Author:
Priyanka is COO, Manupatra Information Solutions P Ltd, India. Her 26 year’s experience, spans Legal Technology, SAAS, Online Legal Publishing, E-Learning, Events, BPO spaces.