7 November 2016 | By David Hailliwell Community

Innovation in law

UK law is under constant scrutiny and reform, and legal practice is no different, with the digital revolution inspiring new and more efficient ways of doing business

Innovation has never been more important for the legal profession.

For centuries, law has been a personal profession. An individual, either on his or her own behalf or on behalf of an organisation, engages with a lawyer to help address a question that touches on his or her rights.

This model has survived the first IT revolution and well into the most recent. 

But advances in technology mean that law firms are having to find new ways to respond to legal questions, as their clients' expectations are for ever-faster and cheaper answers to their needs.

A greater focus on technology requires a more process-driven approach to solving legal problems. There will always be some novel challenges for lawyers, but the vast majority of legal issues follow well established processes, whether they are questions of contract, property, regulation or litigation.

Forward-thinking law firms have responded to this by focussing on three areas:

1. Process

What are the core processes that underlie each piece of work? By mapping these out, lawyers can identify what is repeat business, what can be automated and what demands sophisticated and bespoke legal solutions. Not only does this drive efficiencies in the process; it also means that lawyers can keep their clients up to date with where their matter is in that process.

2. People

Delivering legal services is no longer the preserve of qualified lawyers. Firms that take a process-driven approach can be more flexible about which skills they need in order to carry out each task, using junior or administrative support for phases which previously demanded a lawyer. This allows firms to be more competitive on price and to give clients greater certainty as to how much their work will cost.

3. Technology

Process and workflow tools allow firms to track what is being done and to automate documents and processes. Clients are expecting online reporting and real-time access to documents, issues and costs information.

Advances in artificial intelligence are already being used in law firms, allowing lawyers to rely on technology to carry out large-scale document review exercises and to analyse legal issues and risk in terms of data rather than just words. This is not yet a case of technology replacing lawyers, but rather of lawyers being able to solve clients' problems in new ways, and in some cases taking on tough questions where the scale of the task would previously have been too daunting.

Future developments will include the ability to ask computers to answer basic legal questions, opening up the possibility of widening access to justice by providing affordable legal support.

This all means that law firms are having to invest in new technologies, while embracing new ways of working. The change in what lawyers do and what clients can expect over the next ten years will far outstrip all that has gone before in the previous 200 – it is an exciting and stimulating environment, where innovative lawyers and like-minded clients are working in partnership together to deliver truly transformational change.

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