There is something radically shifting within the legal industry world over. Powerful innovations are shifting the way we perceive the practice of law. With the help of artificial intelligence and machine learning technology, legal research and a range of other legal services are fast being automated. Smart Contracts on the blockchain technology are geared to automatically execute the terms of the contract. ‘Service of law’ is being replaced by ‘business of law’ as design thinking is changing the way legal service-delivery is managed. The question, no longer, is ‘when’ these changes will occur. The question is ‘how fast.’
This new kind of revolution, has made it difficult to envisage the future of legal profession without considering the role that technology will play into it. Professor Susskind, a prominent legal academic, in his book ‘The End of Lawyers’ argues that the future of legal profession will be slowly eroded, unless the lawyers identify their distinct skills that cannot be replaced by technology, smart systems and processes.
However, while talking of legal innovations in a country such as India, one has to be mindful of the fact that it is not only the extent of use of technology that determines what constitutes as a ‘legal innovation’. Being a country full of diversities at almost every level of imagination, there is a need to understand ‘legal innovations’ in a more holistic way. In order to reach out to people at the last mile with information about law and to solve their legal problems, we need solutions that meets the justice needs of the people on-the-grounds – the solutions that are not only driven by technology but also focuses on human touch, the solutions which may not necessarily always scale fast and wide but change one life at a time. And thus, while the apparent revolution in the field of law may be riding on the shoulders of the technologists and lawyers that quickly adapt to interdisciplinary work, one cannot ignore the role of civil society organisations and governments in this context.
While startups that bring technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning in managing legal data or predicting legal needs of people are crucial in disrupting the practice of law, one cannot undercut the work of organizations that go door to door in mitigating justice needs of the downtrodden at the grassroots or of institutions that work towards reforming the governance systems.
The important thing is to understand that a non-profit working to create innovative tools to spread legal awareness is as much a legal innovation as the next-big legal startup riding on block-chain technology. Not only in India but world over, if our legal systems and mechanisms of justice delivery are to reinvent themselves to be in tune with the rapidly changing times, it will need both top-down and bottom-up approaches. The exciting wave of technology impacting the law leaves spaces that can be filled only with those who work in the field or those in the government offices, whose role one cannot undermine while looking at legal innovations as a whole.
Often times, it is the painstakingly long and hard roads that bring us to real change. In some cases, even the most revolutionary and radical ideas have to take this journey. The case of our legal systems is one such example. The systems of justice delivery are far too deeply entrenched in our social and political systems to make the process of change easy or fast. The solutions that wish to transform them ought to take immersive journeys coupled with empathy for those who are in dire need of justice.
But as they say, it takes a village to raise a child! In the case of legal innovations, it will take harmony between different stakeholders that will complement each other to create a lasting impact. A fundamental shift in the space of justice innovations emerges when innovations that focus on mind-boggling technology become harmonious with the real issues on the ground; when technology not only hears the cries for justice of those at the last mile, but also develops empowering solutions for those justice needs. And harmony, as the great Roman historian Sallust said, makes small things grow, lack of it makes great things decay!
About the Author:
Kanan Dhru is the founder of Lawtoons, LawForMe and Research Foundation for Governance in India. She has over 10 years of experience in the areas of law, policy-making and justice innovations and has won numerous national and international awards for her work.
With a law degree from the London School of Economics and a Master’s degree in Public Administration, Kanan consults governments at the state and central level in India, advises non-profit organisations, mentors startups and manages several international communities apart from teaching and writing for prominent newspapers and magazines.use if you cannot use it to evaluate whether your vendors are providing that value.