Technology is as natural (some say important) in our everyday lives as the wind, rain and sunshine. It’s also bringing an acceleration of change into every sectors, revolutionising industries and restructuring the way that whole markets operate.
Until recently, law was resolutely resisting change. A conservative space with incumbents happy to retain the status quo, there was no internal drivers for change but it’s arrived now and it’s being primarily driven by external newcomers.
Two ways in which technology has had a major impact within the industry are that it’s enabling online systems to provide more efficient, cost effective and less time- consuming services. One example for consumers is DIY divorces being handled within six weeks, without the arbitration and lengthy paperwork to deal with.
Another is the online application service for immigration so that the 3.5 million people affected have more of a direct way to handle their situation. Other areas of law which have been affected includes probate law, conveyancing and debt collection.
Over the years, to deal with civil disputes the legal system has implemented alternative dispute resolutions to help cope with the demand on the court system; to deal with disputes out of courts, making the courts a last resort. The purpose of this method was to remove the strain on the courts, which essentially streamlined the process and making the courts more accessible to individuals who could not benefit from the alternative dispute resolution service. There have been introductions to online dispute resolutions system which has increased the accessibility of the system to the consumers who don’t have direct access to the services.
Another impact is the way it has changed the profession itself.
A 2016 report ‘The Impact of ODR Technology on Dispute Resolution in the UK’ describes how court services, regulators and ombudsmen, private mediators and consumer businesses, have improved access to courts and opportunities for proportionality and timeliness of resolution.
Furthermore, professionals can use more online systems to maximise the efficiencies of their practice. An example, is the legal marketplace, a service for which consumers can be provided with multiple quotes to decide which lawyer to be matched with. A rapid and highly efficient way for buyers of legal services to be matched with the right lawyer, at the best price.
However, the issue now isn’t the introduction or establishment of such services but rather their integration, improvement and maximisation. A survey found that 87% of professions, still use traditional pen and paper for their practice, meaning that law firms aren’t using methods that can improve their service. The reason for this is because of the integration of the service, 64% found it difficult to work remotely whilst 52% had issues with the speed of their systems. Law firms need more secure systems that once implemented in their services can work effectively with regular maintenance to prevent issues for law firms and thus, indirect issues affecting consumers.
Traditional law firms are companies that essentially just provide advice to clients about their rights and responsibilities and then providing a service to help deal with their legal need. An alternative business structure is a company that provides additional services such as the legal marketplace, or are a company that essentially provides legal services but are not predominantly a law firm. There has been an issue of having successfully integrated system, that lawyers can use especially those who have been using a more traditional approach to the practice, resulting in a need for legal services to be more modernised in their approach.
When comparing, the way in which alternative business structures and traditional law firms operate to provide legal service; alternative business structures use a more modernised and technology based method, that have been proven to be more effective for the everyday consumer. This has led to the concerns that the practice of alternative business structure may led to the death or decline of the high street law firm. Which essentially highlights the need for the traditional law firms, to be able to be more adaptable and able to integrate technology into their practice.
Alternative business structures have often found to be more convenient providing efficient and fast services placing what is needed by the consumer first. They essentially attempt to provide the services that consumers need and often have fixed fees services or make consumers aware of the financial costs along the way if there are changes to the circumstance, which places consumers first. Consumers value this type customer experience as they feel as though their needs are being meet and placed first.
Overall, traditional law firms have been criticised for having an approach that is more incentivised to them, by charging by the hour, they are motivated to take the time they need to produce work and over-charge the everyday consumer, essentially creating a financial barrier for the everyday to consumer to access the legal industry. Alternative business structures use of fixed fee create a more transparent approach to the service and allow consumers to find a way to access the industry.
Consumer expectations impact the way in which companies act and behaviour; and across all industries include law, there has been a demand to provide a more innovative service. Law firms have also found junior lawyers to make a push for modernised service, especially as technology has become an integrated part of the consumer’s everyday life making everything more convenient and thus, they expect the same level of convenience and direct access with their services including legal service. The question becomes that now that technology has been implemented in their industry, what is the next step?
The next step is modernising law firms perhaps through, the use of online services; possibly through using an online start-up legal advice session, so that individuals with basic legal inquirers can have automated and fast responses, without having to wait for booking.
It can be through a wide integration of having artificial intelligence to produce contracts, making them more accurate, specific and detailed through a cost-effective and speedy process. This can help companies keep track of the contracts they produce and meet demands. Most companies use a generic contract template as the basis for the contracts they produce to create a more detailed one; artificial intelligence could take such templates to create a basis for the contracts.
Furthermore, law firms should possibly be given the ability to provide more online and direct access services where possible to allow, a more efficient process for the everyday consumer.
Another form of modernising the legal service is through possibly having an online application, allowing individuals to put in all their details and what they need from a legal service, to the then having a response on which service they need, how the law firm can fulfil such a need and then provide a booking for an initial contact with the lawyer. Alternatively, have them directed to a legal marketplace service, allowing them to place the details within the system, find quotes and make a decision on the lawyer they would like to represent them.
Technology within the legal industry has been questioned as to whether they have provide actual improvements to the legal marketplace, or has it been more solely integrated in purposes of improving the profession but not the consumer experience. There are 18 start-up providers for the legal marketplace as seen on the legal geek startup map, six of which focus more on the consumer, which is roughly 33.3%, showing how the industry has used technology to place the provider first.
The other 66.6% were services designed to help the professionals find work or help recruitment, and even provide management tools to assist with their daily tasks. In other industries, technology has been used to create mutually beneficial services such as online shopping it’s cost-effective for the company and convenient for the everyday consumer. Yet, the legal industry has mainly used technology as way to help the law firms and the professionals rather than your everyday consumer.
Pascoe Pleasence (Legal Services Commission) research had found that 1 in 3 adults experience a civil law problem. Yet, 1 in 5 took no action resulting in 1 million problems not being solved due to people not having basic understanding of their rights or understanding how to seek help. Technology could potentially change this, create better access to understanding such rights and find services, and potentially the sector of legal marketplaces could be where this change could occur, yet not many companies are doing so. Instead, companies are using technology to improve the way in which they operate and increase their own efficiency. The impact then becomes the 1 million legal problems that go unresolved.
The lack of proper integration in technology and its use for consumers can be seen through Road Traffic Portal which is an automated system that deals with 70% of cases. The system has a three stage process used to deal with the matter, yet it has been found that ⅓ leave the system at stage 1 and of those who continue ½ exit the process being completing it. This clearly illustrates a difficulty in understanding and being able to operate the process and with leave of development in technology, there could be ways in which the system could be improved to become more accessible. Yet, it is more online systems like this would create an incentive for consumers to go straight to a law firms for a matter, which they could have dealt with themself.
It’s clear that the legal industry is one of the industries that was more resistant and less proactive to the change that technology was bringing, but the tipping point has been reached and the profession is in a state of perpetual change which will dramatically change the dynamics of this traditional industry.