The tech and the digital boom have revolutionised our everyday. Not only has tech shaped the landscape for new and burgeoning sectors, it has transformed how some of our most traditional industries operate. Banking and financial services is a prime example. For the consumer, fintech has enabled us to live in a largely cashless society and we can now manage pretty much all of our financial affairs from the comfort of the sofa. For the sector itself, the introduction of technology has enabled greater security. Technology helps banks and regulators manage risk. It interprets consumer data and analyses customer spending habits.
Financial services are not the only legacy sector to reap the benefits that technology offers. The legal services profession has its own tech innovations.
What is legaltech?
Legal technology, or legaltech as it is known, refers to the use of technology and software that can provide legal services or that which supports the legal sector. Over the last decade it has transformed the arena. Corporate law firms as well as businesses outside the industry have been afforded the possibility to move quickly on legal processes and adapt to changes in demand.
Looking more broadly, there has been very little by way of innovation within legal services. Over the past 10 years however, there has been a significant demand for digital. The dawn of this sector has given way to change within a domain which has been forced to operate in a more traditional manner.
Due to its relatively recent boom the companies providing legaltech products and services are often start-ups. They have been founded with the intention to disrupt the traditional conventions of the legal market. These vendors supply and develop technology to help modernise and transform.
What has catalysed the growth of Legaltech?
One theory as to why legaltech has enjoyed its recent boom is its potential to positively affect the profit and loss balance sheet. A recent article published in The Financial Times suggests that many businesses which suffered amid the financial crisis of 2008 moved their legal work in-house. They were looking to save money by reducing their reliance on costly bill-by-the-hour external advice. This created a renewed focus upon how to do more for less.
Scalable legal technology solutions allowed laypeople with no formal legal qualification to perform tasks which formerly had to be billed out to legal firms at high rates.
Legal technology could be used to improve efficiency and allow these formerly outsourced processes to be conducted by internal teams.
Legaltech – the recipe for success.
In order for these solutions to be beneficial, research has shown that businesses need to address a number of issues to realise the potential that legaltech can offer.
Firms require a strong business infrastructure.
Taking legal processes in house requires a robust business infrastructure. Challenges to operating effectively with existing paper-based systems need to be addressed first. Businesses need to adapt to a more agile approach before they are able to bring in technological advancements. Primarily, businesses should focus on getting a bedrock in place. This includes mitigating any risks with existing technology and looking for solutions.
For example, a decade ago firms would have faced the problem of how to share files both internally and with external agencies. The ensuing security implications are as relevant today as they always have been. These days however, legaltech eliminates elements of risk. Using machine learning and algorithms, systems can monitor the process and maintain standards of due diligence. Additionally, ‘smart’ contractual services can be set up. By using SaaS management tools, contracts and other legal paperwork can be distributed with security and confidentiality.
Firms need a tech infrastructure.
Before introducing legaltech, firms need to move away from legacy pen and paper systems and invest in a strong tech infrastructure.
While this infrastructure is critical, its success is reliant upon the acceptance and adoption of those who work within the organisation. There needs to be an understanding that new and contemporary systems are necessary to keep a business running smoothly with little constraints. By relying on legal technology, firms can be more productive and efficient – but only if those working within them acknowledge this and are “on board”.
When considering the whole lifecycle of legal digital solutions, the vendors must also be agile. Legaltech providers themselves must continuously evaluate and adapt their solutions. They must constantly test their product to ensure their ease of use. By asking users about the strengths and weaknesses and by testing new systems to undertake tasks and automate processes, they can ensure that they are solving more problems than they have the potential to create!
Within the legal sector.
Digital solutions are also becoming more prevalent within the legal sector itself. This arena has its own set of challenges; not least the fact it is steeped in history and tradition. These firms are subject to the same set of hurdles as those outside the sector, just with the added difficulties that 900 years of legal procedure brings with it. You would have thought that in nearly a millennium the UK legal system would have seen a significant change of process. Not so.
Refuting this assertion though is Allen and Overy LLP. Despite its age and long established prestige, this magic circle law firm has departed from tradition somewhat. Instead, it has recognised and embraced the potential that technology holds for the legal sector and has set up its own tech incubator.
Indeed, a recent whitepaper from Pi Labs states that the ongoing disruption has provided a sharper focus on how technology has the potential to increase the value of their business. It is reported that;
“The opportunity cost of investing in new technologies reduces as the returns from funding regular operations declines. The clearest parallel is the 2008 downturn, which led to a boost in technology to find competitive advantage and maximise savings.”
Legal firms need investment and talent.
Another key aspect in adopting an agile business model is investment and talent. One of the most significant challenges for the legal industry itself is to retain talent and invest in employee engagement. If done well, the result is a motivated workforce.
Unsurprisingly, this is more of a problem for large prestigious firms. Start-ups are able to attract the top talent because they can offer the flexibility and employee investment that many of the larger firms cannot.
It could be argued that this will become less of an issue over the next decade. On the way into the sector are a host of legal and tech professionals for whom digital solutions are the default setting. These grads will expect the latest tech to be available to streamline workflow, to communicate and to complete day to day tasks. To them, technological solutions be intuitive, and any future advancements will be expected, accepted and welcomed. In fact, chatting to our candidates it is clear that the opportunity to work with the latest tech is at the top of their desires when considering a new role.
Legal firms are investing in world class business support and IT teams to ensure the tech is seamlessly integrated and kept healthy. Cyber security, cloud engineers and infrastructure professionals are as crucial to operations as the legal teams themselves.
Legaltech. The disruptors.
So, who are the entrepreneurs blazing this legaltech trail?
Rradar are a commercial law firm that combine legal expertise with technology and digital tools. Gary Gallen is their CEO. He believes that traditional law firms are still rooted in rigid and antiquated systems. He has stated that within the sector there is more talk of change than decisive action. Many firms are reluctant to change their structure. Rradar addresses this by approaching the change from within. By creating different financial models such as subscriptions with clients rather than hourly rates, Rradar has attracted a wave of SMEs who wish to partner with more tech savvy law firms. The word is spreading; he also reports that there are many established companies who are looking for more forward thinking legal partners.
Rradar aims to highlight the way in which tech can change law firms. It has its own bank of coders, data scientists and education specialists within the firm. Of this, Gallen confirms that as recently as a few years ago, lawyers were not allowed to recruit a multi-disciplinary team. He goes on to comment that technology is changing legal organisations through due diligence and the organisational support these firms require to function. Documentation is a great example. Using technology, contracts and terms of service for example can be sent digitally and returned within minutes rather than days. Rradar has built the technology and combined this with legal knowledge, securing greater time efficiency and cost management for their clients.
Rradar are based in Bruntwood SciTech’s technology hub in Leeds, which has seen continued growth in the legaltech sector. Indeed, legaltech is now one of the region’s specialist strengths; over £74m has been invested in this emerging tech over the last few years.
This UK based legaltech start up works to modernise and accelerate the legal due diligence process. They work for the real estate sector and use tech to organise property information from HM Land Registry and local authorities. It delivers a range of services including document review. It also automatically indicates risks to underwriters and legal teams. The processes of recording and transacting property have remained in place for over a century, and the due diligence process is a significant hassle. Indeed, 40% of buyers and sellers experience delays and high costs thanks to the hurdles encountered along the way. In the UK due diligence for property transactions costs £4bn a year.
Sparqa is another start up providing legal help and guidance to businesses. It aims to cut costs by reducing a reliance on traditional methods of obtaining legal services. Sparqa is suited to the needs of small businesses and other start-ups who must deal with high levels of legal compliance on moderate budgets. It provides a range of services; employment contracts, commercial agreements and trademark applications are just three examples.
Legaltech; the future.
Going from strength to strength, the future of legaltech is certainly an area of prosperity and growth. These recent advances and ongoing disruption have – and will continue to – bring a sharper focus on how tech can increase the value of the business, both within the legal sector and beyond.
Outside law firms, businesses of all sizes can reap the benefits that legaltech offers. Cost effective, time efficient and accessible to those of us without a legal qualification, legaltech allows business owners and entrepreneurs to bring legal services in house.