Technological advancements have always helped simplify our lives. It has affected every vocation, even if only minimally, and has not spared the legal profession either. The marriage of law and technology has been a game-changer for the profession. For the longest time, the legal profession had been averse to change—perhaps it still is. Yet, slowly and gradually there has been a shift in focus.
The future of law in India is certainly digital. The digitization of various aspects of the legal process has unearthed newer avenues for automation. There is a tremendous amount of potential lying dormant, and automation is allowing one to harness it to the fullest. Consequently, the advent of legal technology has, and will continue to reduce several functions performed by lawyers and advocates.
A recent study has revealed what some of the legal professionals in India anticipate about the profession in 10 years. This study was a result of a collaboration between an Indian University, and a change consulting and legal search enterprise. Incidentally, 208 legal professionals, across cities, genders, and type of employment, contributed their opinion, towards the report which highlights that:
- 91% of the candidates anticipated an increase in digitization and technology integration in the legal sector, over the upcoming decade.
- Over 50% of the participants opined that technological disruption has either already occurred and is currently underway, or will eventually occur.
- 42% of the candidates felt that technology such as AI could subsume at least 20% of their daily legal work.
- Furthermore, over 90% of the participants said that research and analytical skills and meticulousness are the most important qualities for young professionals.
All these findings point towards the importance of legal tech in regulating the future of law in India. However, the most critical question is, are we ready?
Integrating Law and Technology
“We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.”
‘Work-from-home’ has become a buzzword due to the coronavirus pandemic, as people continue to maintain minimal physical contact. Consequently, technology has once again come to the rescue, with the Judiciary adopting virtual hearings. Enterprises and organizations are also meeting over team management software such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom, or Slack.
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Thus, this is an excellent opportunity, for one to begin integrating technology into the legal profession. Besides, one must always be prepared for every eventuality, and the future of law in India is inching towards digitization.
A 2017 survey had unearthed that the participating attorneys only spent about 60% of their daily workday on practising law. It further found that every attorney at ‘less successful firms’ spent an immense amount of time completing administrative tasks. Furthermore, it revealed that attorneys at “unsuccessful firms” spent 200 hours more, to match the billable hours of “successful” attorneys.
Applications of Legal Tech
Law and technology have so far formed a happy union, but there is still a long way to go. The Indian legal sector has mainly seen the following applications of technology:
- Case research,
- Time tracking,
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM),
- Human Resource Management (HRM), and
- Document management including contract management.
In India, legal software is yet to make more than just a mark. Perhaps this is because its legal industry is more closely knit than in many other legislations.
Moreover, technology in the Indian legal sector is beset with its own set of problems. The principal of them are:
- Investment cost,
- Pricing, and
Let us look at what they mean.
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Innovation necessitates investment! There cannot be any change unless one is willing to invest the appropriate resources for bringing about such a change. Often these technologies are being developed by start-ups who are perhaps short of money. Of course, the monetary aspect is important to attract the necessary manpower as well.
A second problem is regarding the pricing of the technology. The Indian legal sector has its fair share of older people who are “technologically challenged”. They may find it ridiculous to invest in legal technology which they might hardly be using. Thus, there is an additional stigma regarding paying for technology.
Yet another problem afflicting the legal tech market is about the efficiency of the software. A common allegation has been that the product designers and developers fail to understand the requirements of the client.
Thus, legal professionals wind up purchasing products from vendors having a client-centric approach. This is unfortunate since Indian legal management software would be more economical, purely from a monetary point of view.
Embracing Technology Integration: Are We Ready?
The recent survey of 2020 comprised members from law firms, in-house legal teams, independent practitioners, and others. Of these, law firm participants were the majority, followed by the members from in-house legal teams.
Both these respondents agreed that the future of law in India will see increased use and integration of legal tech. Furthermore, they also felt that the practice would transcend national boundaries, which would augment demand for international qualifications. Additionally, the respondents rather commonly felt that technology could take over about 20% of their day-to-day work.
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A Moral Dilemma
The most basic implications of technology within the legal sector is for case research and document assessment and management. Incidentally, these are synonymous to the work of a junior legal professional.
Before being assigned to lead matters, junior advocates are often tasked with performing due diligence, document review and legal research. Thus, we have a moral dilemma. One may feel that the advent of technology will devour the jobs of junior advocates, but one could be wrong.
Legal tech will rather help improve work efficiency and kill idle time and non-billable hours. One should remember that legal tech would still require somebody to operate them, and that is where young lawyers arrive. So, if you have the requisite skills, you can operate the technology and improve your output.
What Skills and Qualities Are Necessary?
The survey reported that the 5 most important qualities for a legal professional are:
- Legal acumen,
- Communication skills—written and oral,
- Attention to detail, and
- Research and analytical skills.
However, these qualities will not be attained in a day. To attain the abovementioned qualities, the professionals must imbibe the following 5 skills:
- Technology proficiency,
- Commercial awareness,
- Teamwork and Collaboration,
- Time management,
- Understanding and anticipating client needs.
Both in-house and law firm respondent stressed on the importance of technology proficiency. If you look closely, the 5 skills can help attain the 5 integral qualities.
Making Indian Law Students Legal Tech Ready
To be fair, the current form of legal education in India is insufficient to groom legal tech proficient professionals. While earlier traditional skills such as knowledge of the law, drafting skills and legal research would be sufficient; whereas today, the demands of the profession are more.
Law schools must focus on honing the non-traditional skills of their students as well. Some of the crucial non-traditional skills are regarding:
- Time Management,
- Legal Technology,
- Teamwork, and
- Risk Management.
Today, the competition is so huge, that a professional must be versatile for being more relevant. Educational institutions must sit up and take notice of this growing divide between demand and supply.
Attention Law Students and Young Professionals
As a young professional or a student of law, there are a few things that you can do too.
- Know what legal technology is available and be aware of what legal tech you require.
- Merge your technology knowledge with your technology requirements.
- Undertake courses, if necessary, to fully understand common technology like Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Outlook, or Slack.
- Learn how to use research tools like SCCOnline, HeinOnline, JSTOR, and Manupatra, and learn the extent of those research tools.
- Understand how to perform advanced searches such as Boolean searches.
- Familiarise yourself with legal management software such as Legodesk.
- Above all be adaptable.
Legal technology is not a substitute for legal professionals, and it can never be so. It is rather a facilitator for consistency and efficiency. The future of law in India will undoubtedly be rosy, with a merger of law and technology.