By now, it’s a foregone conclusion: The world is going to look different after the COVID-19 pandemic. But how will this change impact the legal sector. More so than ever before, we argue that the post-COVID legal sector will be increasingly dominated by technology. The pandemic created new needs and challenges — how are legal professionals meant to work together when they can’t work in the same physical space? How are law firms and legal departments meant to suddenly address the influx of work sparked by broken supply chains, frustrated contracts and a wave of resulting litigation? At the same time, legal technology has become advanced enough to address these needs and challenges, pushing legal organizations to explore options they might not otherwise have considered. It doesn’t take a fortune teller to see that this transition will have long-term consequences. Let’s walk through 5 of the emerging legal technology trends to watch in the post-COVID world.
1. Technology adoption will become the norm
As the pandemic unfolds, adopting these legal technology trends will be the factor that determines whether a legal organization thrives, survives, or dies. As time goes on, organizations keeping their finger on the pulse of the legal industry will take notice of how their peers have fared and how technology adoption has improved their outcomes.
As a result, we can expect to see organizations adopt technologies that reduce costs and drive efficiency. AI, for example, is likely to be deployed in intelligent search through document sets to prepare for litigation, identify contracts that have become riskier due to current events (e.g., the LIBOR transition) or otherwise surface relevant data to legal professionals for closer review.
Beyond the strictly legal domain, law firms and legal departments are more likely to begin using technology in the same way the wider business world does — as a means of streamlining processes, increasing organization and differentiating themselves from the competition.
2. Successful organizations will be more targeted in the technology they use
Today, the legal organizations that stand out from the crowd are those that have already committed to adopting technology into their workflow. But as more organizations see how technology adoption becomes the norm, the conversation will shift from focusing on how technology can support the legal industry to what technology does so in the best way. Rather than take a shotgun approach to legal tech, law firms and legal departments will need to focus on the precise, cost-effective solutions that provide the greatest impact.
3. Technology use will be geared toward what drives value for the client or internal stakeholders
Out of legal tech’s many potential applications, one of the most impactful will be those that increase value and reduce costs for the client (for law firms) or internal stakeholders (for legal departments). The legal space is already highly competitive — it’s unlikely to get any less so.
Legal organizations that deploy technology with an eye towards their customer experience are going to stand out more. Gartner research, for example, predicts that a quarter of legal departments will employ virtual legal assistants (VLAs) by 2023, AI-powered chatbots that can answer common questions posed to legal departments. Not only does this technology provide answers faster to internal stakeholders, it also frees up in-house counsel’s time and helps direct their attention to legal concerns that only they can address.
For law firms, this focus on the client could look like employing the services of an alternative legal service provider, or ALSP, for litigation support. These outsourcers specialize in the use of technology to speed tedious litigation support tasks, such as AI-powered document review. This is a more attractive option for the client, as their lawyer’s billable time is spent on legal strategy rather than the foundational, but fundamentally transactional tasks involved in litigation support.
4. AI will begin to be used for case prediction
Currently, the legal space employs AI in a somewhat limited capacity. Many of the AI use cases mentioned in this article — as a method for smart search in document sets or for contract management — are valuable, but they don’t represent its full potential.
As AI technology matures and legal organizations warm to its use, the use of predictive analytics will become more commonplace. By ingesting relevant case law, AI can predict the likely outcome of a novel legal matter, helping to inform law firms’ and legal departments’ strategy. This isn’t pure speculation, either; studies have already demonstrated the ability of AI to successfully predict case outcomes:
- Washington University researchers successfully predicted the outcome of 75 percent of the Supreme Court’s decisions during the 2002 term. This was in comparison with an expert panel reviewing the same material that predicted only 59.1 percent of case outcomes.
- Michigan State University researchers successfully predicted the outcomes of all Supreme Court cases ranging from 1816 to 2015 with 70 percent accuracy.
- University College London researchers predicted 79 percent of the outcomes of cases tried by the European Court of Human Rights.
5. Technology will enable rapid scaling
Cumulatively, these advances mean that law firms and legal departments will be able to take on more work and deliver results faster.
For law firms, this implies that the future will be even more competitive unless the demand for legal services increases commensurately. That’s why it’s crucial that law firms begin adopting technology and refining its use in their practice today — if they succeed, they’ll be better positioned to take on a greater caseload than ever before. Firms that don’t get ahead of the curve will be left with the cases those better-positioned firms choose to let go.
For legal departments, this sudden increase in capacity could prove to be revolutionary. In-house counsels that once were forced to reactively support their organizations as legal issues appeared may find they have the time and resources to become more strategic. This extra time could enable, for example, more thorough contract management practices that can help plug revenue leakage.
Keep an eye on the horizon
It’s not possible to predict the future with 100 percent accuracy, but we can be confident that these legal technology trends will play a transformative role in the legal industry over the years to come. Watching these trends, observing them as they evolve and measuring their impacts over time will be key for both law firms and legal departments alike. Keep these legal technology trends in mind, because the legal industry is going to be a very different space in the post-COVID world.
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