What impact has the rapid growth of technological involvement in the legal sector had – and what problems does this pose?

Technological advancement continues to extend into many sectors and poses a shift in focus in job performance. There are several systems which aid in everyday legal work such as case management systems. These systems have helped legal firms stay ahead of the curve when it comes to tech integration including highly sensitive client and firm information. The Law Society has provided a helpful article: How to keep your business ahead of the curve in 2023. The key takeaways from this article are single solutions, improved client communication, making use of cloud databases, better billing and recording systems and the benefits of document production systems. To assess the growing challenges, we will explore the application of legal tech and the potential risks posed by A.I. robotic involvement with legal cases.

Legal tech can have a paramount benefit to those who use it in practice. A key example is the ability of document production systems to help cut down on the time required to draft documents from scratch. This allows more focus to be given to the detail of a legal professional’s argument of a client’s given case, as opposed to the general document they place it into. Though legal drafting is equally important it is time consuming. This type of system removes the need for manual amendments and given these systems keep up to date with all new relevant law, it is typically relied on as more accurate.

However, the strong trust and reliance being placed on technology, does in fact have an adverse effect in some cases. Sometimes, firms find it hard to follow basic IT practice. An example this can be seen by the SRA fine decision against Achom & Partners for failure to outline costs for motoring offences and displaying the SRA digital badge in a prominent place leading to a fine of £3,500 plus an additional £600 to rectify the issues. This emphasises that even something as simple as website integration can lead to problems. There are still plenty of lessons to learn before effectively implementing both legal practice and tech hand in hand. 

In the USA, there is a real focus on legal technology. For example, Joshua Browder, the CEO of New York startup DoNotPay, recently announced that his company’s robot will represent a defendant fighting a traffic ticket alongside a qualified solicitor in order to provide detailed support in the court room. Despite this, legal action has been threatened by the American Bar Association should an attempt to use this robot be actioned, which has ultimately led to its postponement for now.

Nevertheless, this poses a very interesting question as to just how far technological involvement may advance into the legal sector across the globe. The Evening Standard article ‘The robot lawyer that speaks up on your behalf’ intriguingly poses both ethical and moral questions for the legal sector. Claims made by DoNotPay A.I. state it has “settled more than one million cases, including previously overturning 160,000 parking tickets in London and New York.” The key question that is prominent here is: how can a robot lawyer be legally accepted to represent clients? Given both in the USA and UK, the SRA and ABA require all those who practice in law to pass relevant exams and be registered under their boards of authority, in the eyes of both, an A.I. lawyer would currently not be seen as something that is legally qualified to represent anyone at court.

As far as legal drafting goes, there appears to be minimal problems in using automated systems, because any error can be amended by reviewing the documents before they are finalised which any legal professional would be expected to do. However, when it comes to the real challenges of A.I. robots there is more of a moral and ethical dilemma as there is no ability for this type of tech to feel emotions or detect if an individual is lying. It is for these reasons that it is apparent that legal robots should not be placed in a position of authority at this stage to take up rights of audience in the court room.

Technological involvement will inevitably grow over time within the legal sector, but this will not be without its problems. The new emergence of such complex tech such as an A.I. lawyer provides an exciting and scary future for legal practice as we know it and one that should be monitored closely in the coming years.

This blog post was written by Taylor Drummond-Edwards. I am a third year MLaw student at Northumbria University. I am currently working in a Business firm within the Student Law Office. After completion of my degree, I am looking to obtain a training contract in a reputable Commercial Firm. I would like to learn from those who have vast knowledge of the field and can help me take the crucial next steps in my career. In my spare time I enjoy watching basketball. I also take a keen interest in small businesses who with the right guidance have the potential to become a household name themselves one day.