This year is set to be the year of lawtech.
If you are a regular reader of the legal press, you will find it difficult to go a week or even a day without seeing some reference to how the world of law is set to be turned on its head by technology.
But, so far, the actual impact of new technologies on the way we work has not been overly dramatic. While there is much talk, many of the examples of new technologies in action are confined to the upper echelons of City law firms or the few practices that can invest the requisite time, money and expertise.
Over the next year, however, that should start to change. As true breakthrough ideas become more apparent and the costs associated with implementing them drop, we should start to see their application become more prevalent, with a widening pool of firms beginning to adopt and engage.
As a junior lawyer, now is a great time to get a grip on what is going on to stay ahead of the changes and to give yourself that extra edge when it comes to progressing in your career. The question is: where do you start?
Lawtech or legal tech?
As with all areas of tech, there are many buzzwords. Whether it is lawtech or legal tech, blockchain or artificial intelligence, try not to get too caught up with the language and instead focus on the substance behind it. At the end of the day, what you are trying to find out is how technology is currently impacting, and might in the future impact, on the way in which you do your job.
Instead of worrying about understanding how and when to use the right terminology, start by thinking about what interests you. That could be technology relating to your particular area of law, or the broader area of technology relating to the way in which all lawyers do their job. Think of it as the difference between your use of the Land Registry (if you are a property lawyer) and your use of a firm’s case management system (something we all use); or your use of a dataroom (if you are a corporate lawyer) and how you record time at work. Both are important, and both are seeing development and change. Even if you think that your area is too niche or even too mainstream, you will find that technology is being developed that could impact on the way you work.
Alternatively, if you are more philosophical in nature, there are plenty of debates going on about the extent to which technology should be incorporated into law. Consider, for example, the question of whether AI should replace human courts. While this may seem like something more suited to outside interest than your career, if your practice area is contentious in nature then the debates around these topics are important, as they could have a major impact on how you deal with courts.
Where do I start looking?
Google is your best friend. If you want to dive straight in, just type in lawtech and legal tech and see if anything that comes up catches your eye. The News tab of Google is especially helpful, as it can give you the most recent articles on whatever topic you are searching for, and can help focus your search if you do not want to trawl through websites. Likewise, take advantage of Google Alerts – a tool that allows you to get daily/weekly updates on news stories linked to terms of your choice. Even if you do not want to use it for tech, this is a great tool for keeping up to date with personal interests.
As well as the Gazette’s regular coverage, check out the Law Society’s training portal too. You will find webinars on all sorts of topics, including blockchain and bitcoin, and they can be a great way of learning the basics. They are not always free but they may be something your firm is willing to pay for as part of your professional development.
Opening up avenues
Do not be afraid to attend events even when your knowledge is still at the most basic level. Events like Legal Geek are great for gaining an understanding of just how broad lawtech is. They can also be a good jumping-off point for helping direct your interest and opening up avenues that you may not have known about.
And of course, do not forget to check out the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD), at a national and local level. We recognise that lawtech is an important topic. You can find plenty of free events on the basics, as well as more specific talks on topics such as algorithms in the justice system. You can find out about the JLD’s upcoming events here.
Lawtech is just another way of saying ‘the future of law’. Those of us who are just starting out have much ahead of us and so it is important to keep track of what is going on. That way, we can be part of change rather than apart from it.
James Kitching is a corporate solicitor at Coffin Mew and sits on its tech sector committee