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Pandemic forces legal industry’s move to the cloud

Pandemic forces legal industry’s move to the cloud

By Karin Derkley

Technology 

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The COVID-19 pandemic and consequent lockdown helped open the minds of the legal industry to the benefits of legal tech, panellists at an online discussion held by the Australian Legal Technology Association (ALTA) said last week.

“I don't think it's any secret that the legal industry has been one of the slowest adopters around new ways of working,” ALTA president and Xakia Technologies CEO Jodie Baker (pictured above) said at the Legal Tech Trends in the Asia-Pacific Region webinar.

"Structurally the pandemic accelerated the change management component in that people realised that there is a need to move into the next era,” she said. “(The legal industry) is now at least open to the idea in a way that they weren’t before, which has to some extent squashed that big hurdle that a lot of legal tech innovators and entrepreneurs have struggled with in the past."

Speaking from New Zealand, LegalTech NZ chair Ben Winslade said it became apparent at the beginning of the lockdown that many law firms were still running manual processes. "Firms were running either paper-based systems or running their own servers," he said.

The lockdown forced a move for most of them onto the cloud and into adopting modern IT practices, a structural change he said was likely to stay. "I don't think we're going to see them going back."

Ms Baker said there have been two stages in the impact of the pandemic on legal tech. “The first was an acceleration towards remote or virtual working, such as any of the tools that will facilitate the ability to work as a remote team." Also given a boost in this first stage of the pandemic were digital signature tools, legal operations and cloud-based document management systems, she said.

The second stage has now kicked in, she said, and it is one characterised by tools that aim to alleviate economic pressures on practices by helping them be more efficient, more productive, cut costs or even cut head count, she said. "If you look at things, like document assembly, that allow you to work faster or in a high-volume environment in the most effective way – that's where the next flush of opportunity will be for the industry and also the next flush of pressure."

The Global Legal Tech Report presented at the webinar found that in Australia the most popular legal tech categories were document automation, legal operations and legal analytics. In New Zealand compliance tools, knowledge management document automation and legal analytics were the most popular categories.

Tools which used artificial intelligence as the underlying technology were still a relatively small part of the Australian market at 22 per cent. Overall the markets were dominated by database programs, the survey found.

Cloud technologies were still the most important trend in legal tech as practices catch up with basic digitisation of their content and processes, Ms Baker said.

"There are people who still have to do the basic steps – and I think that's where the biggest benefit will be to legal tech. It doesn't have to be fancy, it doesn't have to be AI. It can be some very simple, easy steps to make a huge difference."

Asked if lawyers should learn how to code, Mr Winslade said the value is less in “being able to build your own thing from scratch, but that you have a better understanding of how the technology works . . . (so) it's not just this black box that you hand over to developers to do. Having some understanding of that helps you work better with others, even if you continue to work in your legal capacity".

Ms Baker said of perhaps greater importance was that legal tech developers need to understand how lawyers and end users are going to use the software. "Which doesn't mean they need to understand the law. But they do need to understand legal practice and what lawyers do."


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