Legal technology should be embraced, not feared and artificial intelligence is unlikely to make lawyers unemployed.
Not everyone in the legal profession would agree with that statement but it makes sense for lawyers to network and talk about the advance of applications and software that can assist in legal work. In the end it is designed not to replace lawyers, but to make the work/life balance less stressful, providing you with more time to focus on your core lawyering skills.
LegalTechNZ is a non-profit organisation that formed over the last few years. It’s a forum for promoting and progressing the use of technology for the benefit of the New Zealand legal community.
The organisation is made up of a balance of lawyers, others working in supporting roles within the profession, and companies building and developing technology for the legal market.
Ben Winslade, the LegalTechNZ chair, is an experienced commercial and technology lawyer. He was Senior Counsel for Spark for five years.
“LegalTechNZ is about bringing together all the people involved or interested in legal technology. We have law firms, both small and large, along with in-house legal teams, as well as a range of legal technology vendors and practice managers. This enables us to encourage thorough conversations about what’s available, what’s best practice and what are the opportunities regarding legal technology,” he says.
LegalTechNZ runs free information events and has one coming up on 25 July in Auckland focused on document automation technology.
“We’ll present practical case studies about how document automation is already being used successfully in the context of law. So there’ll be representatives of both a large and a small law firm to talk about their experience, along with an in-house team. The panel will canvas a range of different technology types and they’ll touch on what went well and what benefits they are seeing. Perhaps also what didn’t and how they might do things differently going forward,” Mr Winslade says.
Nothing to fear about AI
The fear of artificial intelligence taking over the role of lawyers is an argument that draws a variety of opinions.
Mr Winslade says they’ve had law students inquire as to whether they’ll have jobs in the future, and generally question what impact disruptive technology will have on the future job market.
“We’ve certainly had these sorts of questions and concerns raised at our events. The way we work as lawyers and the types of tools we use will definitely change – lawyers didn’t always draft documents in Microsoft Word for example. There are definitely two schools of thought when it comes to artificial intelligence. Personally, I think it will be useful, but lawyers aren’t going anywhere fast. Technology will continue to change but the job will still be there,” he says.
When practising law, a lot of time can be swallowed up reviewing and preparing documents which Mr Winslade says legal technology can assist with to speed up the process.
“With commercial lawyers, for example, there are artificial intelligence tools that can be used to automate reviewing large numbers of low value, low risk contracts that can take a long time for a person to review. Equally, with the preparation of documents – lawyers can spend a lot of time doing this and technology can help either lawyers prepare these more efficiently or enable clients to prepare initial versions themselves.”
Technology provides more time to be a lawyer
He says people will still need a professional to take them through the tricky and high risk parts of a transaction.
“Technology provides a lawyer with more time to do that. My hope would be that you can do this work more efficiently and provide a better service to your client if you’re not taking up a lot of time doing menial tasks such as preparing and reviewing the parts of documents that don’t really matter,” he says.
Negotiations are also time consuming and technology can help assist there too. He says there are many new tools that can assist in the negotiation process, collaborating on document versions and exchanging comments in new ways.
But as Mr Winslade explains, existing technology can also be used in different ways.
“So with document automation for example. It’s normally done by one party automating its own bespoke documents which means that when it goes to a second party you’re back in the original position of having to review and argue over a lot of fine print. But if you can provide a document automation service between the two parties, that negotiation process can move along more quickly,” he says.
Mr Winslade says it’s natural that some lawyers will have fears about legal technology, particularly the speed it is advancing at.
“The only way to get over it is to start engaging with the technology and networking with people who can help you learn more. The longer you leave it, the more catching up you’ll have to do. That’s something we can help people with – staying up to date with the latest innovations and talking about whether you need them or not,” he says.