Legal Tech

The breakneck pace at which technology evolves is marvelling. Its ubiquity creates an omnipresent influence on even the most intransigent of luddites.

The legal profession, which is famed for its recalcitrance to innovation, has reached a tipping point. The legal, regulatory and business demands that lawyers must help their clients navigate ever more quickly by the day has pushed many practitioners, who want to remain relevant, to look towards technological solutions for assistance.

However, embracing technology to drive efficiencies and value on micro and macro levels comes with challenges – how can lawyers embrace innovative practices without compromising professional ethical standards?

The tech world has identified a number of major trends in 2017. Among them are automation and machine learning.

The legal profession has traditionally been considered a human-exclusive practice where machine automation had no meaningful role. However, the development of new technological tools has increasingly demonstrated technology’s relevance and usefulness to legal service providers.

These innovative tools range from the automation of mundane time-keeping tasks to sophisticated legal research work. For instance, timekeeping solutions can now streamline and simplify the process of tracking billable hours by capturing relevant time, through the application of artificial intelligence (AI) analysis, across all devices, including desktops, laptops, and mobile, and producing a daily summary to the user.

Much attention has also been drawn to the development of the ROSS platform which is built on IBM’s Watson computer. It is supported with cognitive computing and natural language processing capabilities. Users may ask ROSS research questions in natural language as if they were speaking to a colleague. The AI then “reads” through the law, gathers evidence, draws inferences and returns with a “highly relevant”, evidence-based answer.

Further, the adoption of AI assisted predictive coding to expedite document review in the maze of millions of electronic documents in litigation was recently considered and approved by the English High Court in the landmark case of Pyrrho Investments Ltd v MWB Property Ltd [2016] EWHC 256 (Ch) (“Pyrrho”).

Technological advancements keep pushing new limits in storage capacity, microchip density, download speed and energy efficiency. As a result of the ease and convenience in generating and communicating digital information, large volumes of electronically stored information are being created, duplicated and stored in different formats, locations and jurisdictions every second, every day. The Pyrrho case is illustrative of the cautious readiness of the judicial system to accept the use of technology to solve issues caused by technology itself, after having considered relevant factors like time, cost and party agreement.

AI’s impact on the routine tasks of our day-to-day practice like timekeeping, legal research, contract review or due diligence analysis will only intensify in the years ahead. Understanding and using technology intelligently to support the operation of our legal practices should be a priority in these changing times.

Non-law firms are aggressively leveraging on their technological skills to erode the scope of work from law firms. Some law firms may not wish to engage in the tedious and mechanical tasks in any event and may gladly unbundle the services they provide to the non-law firms that rely on machines to do them. However, this outcome must still be reached through a conscious choice made by the law firms after evaluating the pros and cons of engaging technologically enhanced work processes in their legal practices, and not through erosion of their market share by non-law firms due to their resistance to innovation and loss of competitiveness.

Our goal is to help members navigate this new world ethically and successfully. One of the ways is to provide more practical skills training on how to use technology effectively. Suggestions on any other ways to assist are always welcome.

Upcoming Deadlines

  • Those who have successfully applied to sit the 2017 Overseas Lawyers Qualification Examination are reminded that the closing date for registration to sit the Examination falls on Friday, 11 August 2017.
  • The professional indemnity cover for law firms for the 2016/2017 indemnity year will expire on Saturday, 30 September 2017. To renew indemnity, principals of law firms should file an Application for Indemnity and a Gross Fee Income Report with the Scheme Manager, ESSAR Insurance Services Ltd (“ESSAR”) on or before 15 August 2017.

Secretary-General, Law Society of Hong Kong