The growing interplay between the legal industry and emerging technologies has pushed the once conventional and traditional sector to a tipping point. These emerging cross-connections are challenging the legal industry in novel ways, giving rise to new fields such as Legal Engineering, Legal Architecture, and Legal Entrepreneurship. The Legal business sector is more complex and competitive today than ever before and is only set to become more so with the continued evolution of business models, pricing structures and rapidly evolving client expectations.

Emerging Trends in Legal Practice: Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms are transforming the legal profession in many respects. These systems have been developed to improve what lawyers do by automating routine, mundane tasks enabling them to focus on complex higher-value duties, such as understanding client needs and negotiating deals.

Leveraging AI will enable law firms and in-house legal departments to offer better legal services and representation for their clients. Here are ways the legal profession will be shaken up by AI and analytics:

  • Contract/ Document Review: A major chunk of the work law firms do on behalf of their clients is to review contracts in order to secure their business interests and avoid the negative consequences of misleading clauses. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning can review contracts and documents to look for risks, and suggest modifications that help clients make better business decisions in a fraction of the time it would take a human to perform the same task and since these algorithms rely on machine learning frameworks, they get better, smarter and faster with continuous use.
  • Document Generation: Another task that AI can assist with is drafting the first copy of a legal brief. Lawyers put so much time into producing well-written and persuasive legal briefs, but by allowing these algorithms to compose the first drafts of these briefs, the lawyer/ legal teams will save time as all they’d have to do is revise and tweak the document to create a final copy.
  • Eradicating Research Errors: Research is an essential part of the legal process and even though over time, lawyers become seasoned researchers, they are still prone to error. Machine learning algorithms can find relevant documents, cases, and data that are relevant to a specific case, they can also highlight existing laws and how certain laws have changed over the years within various jurisdictions. This ensures that the lawyer utilizes up to date information collected containing little or no errors.

Emerging Trends in Legal Practice: Enter the Legal Entrepreneur

Technological advancement, the speed of innovation, and changing clients’ needs have created an opportunity for the emergence of legal entrepreneurs. Legal entrepreneurs are individuals or firms that are innovating the delivery of legal services. These entities have developed efficient, cost-effective, predictive, digitized, and scalable legal products and services for corporate legal buyers.

Until recently, lawyers controlled all the competitive facets of their market — education, licensure, practice and ethical standards, organizational structure, economics, and delivery but that is fast changing as legal entrepreneurs have come to tip the scale.

Increasing competition from non-traditional legal service “alternative legal service providers” is one of the biggest challenges facing law firms today. Although the Nigerian legal market has not witnessed so much of this, it is only a matter of time before the tide catches up with us.

Emerging Trends in Legal Practice — New Roles for Legal Professionals

Legal Engineering

A Legal Engineer is a person that sits at the interface of technology, law, and data, who Is trained and skilled in the construction of designed legal solutions. The idea was first raised by Richard Susskind in his book The End of Lawyers? In the book, he predicts the need for a new role in law firms, combining legal knowledge with technological expertise, which he names the legal knowledge engineer. This role is the fusion of legal expertise and technology expertise. It harmonizes both sides of the equation.

What Does the Legal Engineer Do?

The legal engineer understands the challenges the firm faces and his/her sole responsibility is to come up with creative ways to resolve them. Most times, they are business professionals or project managers who will import the principles of business and project management into the firm to improve its efficiency. Rather than building systems from scratch, legal engineers and their innovation teams leverage a Firm’s available technology toolkits to weave platforms together to do new and interesting things to address the needs of the Firm and its clients.

Legal Architecture

In a way, legal architecture has always existed. It was called taxonomy and has remained the same for centuries. It generally is an old way to categorize legal information for teaching or for research. The new wave in Legal Architecture in the on-going Industry 4.0 wave is the deployment of digital tools for simplifying the law and court rules, and making them usable, understandable, and accessible to users whenever they may need it.

In a general sense, we can say that Legal Architecture is the practice of categorizing, harmonizing, and designing relevant aspects of the law on various subject matters/ areas of interest into unified digital databases that can be accessible to individuals when the need arises. It is aimed at simplifying the usability and understanding of the law and the improvement of the user’s legal experience.

Routes to Becoming a New Breed of Legal Experts — Legal Engineer/Legal Architect/legal Entrepreneur

  • Sometimes legal engineers or architects are technology experts who have become familiar with legal processes. This could be as a result of working in technology roles in law firms over a long period of time. During this period, they gain that knowledge of legal processes and services over time and can then form a core part of legal process innovation teams, to solve legal problems with technology and process solutions.
  • Other times, legal engineers or architects are lawyers who are technologically adept and see the opportunity to improve legal processes with the intelligent use of technology, so they move from a fee earning role to an innovation role.

Ultimately it doesn’t matter how this new crop of professionals is formed, the important thing is that they have a deep understanding of both technology and legal practice and an appetite to drive innovation, efficiency, process improvement, and client engagement.

Skills Needed for a Successful Career in the Emerging Legal Business Environment

  • Project Management
  • Knowledge of Law/ Legal Processes
  • Big Data Analysis
  • Business & Strategy
  • Marketing and Consumer
  • Product Management
  • Advanced computer programming skills

The Big Questions to Ask

  • Is the role of the Legal Practitioner Changing?
  • Do I feel threatened by this change?
  • How is my organisation preparing our workforce for the future of work?
  • Am I ready for this Change?

How can Lawyers and Legal Teams prepare themselves for Law 4.0?

Lawyers, law firms, and in-house legal teams can prepare themselves for the emerging legal business landscape by doing the following:

  • Learning Relevant IT Skills — It is no longer news the future of work report places a premium on modern-day technological skills such as coding, data analytics, SEO, Design Thinking, Digital Marketing, and the likes. They go a long way to put you ahead of the pack in the industry.
  • Being open to change and embracing it: As the saying goes “change with the times or become extinct”. Wishing the change away will not make it disappear. The sooner legal practitioners embrace the changes staring the industry in the face and respond to them, the higher their chances of survival.
  • Adopting an Agile work approach across law firms: While we understand that ‘agile’ is not a word synonymous with the legal industry, however, there are elements of agility, especially within a project management context, that could benefit the legal industry, particularly in terms of adopting technology adoption to meet clients’ needs. ‘Agile’ focuses on shared ownership of projects and, by encouraging quick feedback and collaboration, team members are more likely to become responsible for the success of law firm projects and deliverables. People support what they help to create.

It is evident that the cheese is moving for law firms. While this presents a challenge, it can also be harnessed as an opportunity for forward-thinking firms (old players and new entrants) who strategically position themselves as the tides turn.

Written By: Stephanie Etiaka. — Communications/Innovation Officer, Olisa Agbakoba Legal