What does legal innovation look like?
This question may have been unnecessarily complicated by the hype around legal technology, legal operations, legal design and legal procurement.
Yes, these may result in tremendous legal advancements, and are innovative, but all of it taken together can overwhelm. This makes any decision-making process a whirlwind of variables and uncertainties. An overview of the history of legal innovation could be useful.
Law, until the internet, was practised much as it was in Roman times. It took a lawyer, a client (internal or external), a problem and a manual, paper-driven environment to manage it. Institutional memory was encapsulated in the individual lawyer, as their experience.
But, just as the domestication of the horse provided greater geographical reach for humans, so improved electronic communications and data capabilities enabled by the internet, increased the reach of the lawyer. This resulted in what can be regarded as the first major innovation in the legal industry, Legal Process Outsourcing or LPO.
With email, virtual data rooms and Voice Over IP changing the game, clever people in the US and UK figured, why not get lawyers from India, Philippines and later South Africa, to do the factory work? They were thinking of the low complexity requirement that takes up so much of lawyers’ time. Instead of paying $200 an hour, they could now get the work done for $20 an hour. With that the billion dollar industry of legal process outsourcing was born. Pioneers such as Pangea3, Axiom, UnitedLex and Integreon showed that, with effective processes and systems, high quality legal work could be delivered at improved costs and efficiencies. We will delve further into Legal Process Outsourcing with Mark Ross, a global LPO doyen, later in the series.
In the 2000s came the globalisation of law firms with legal services and firms practising on a cross-jurisdictional basis. This led to the development of big global names like Clifford Chance, Baker McKenzie, Norton Rose and Hogan Lovells. Once again, innovation is linked to an increase in reach.
At the same time the first blooms in the legal technology ecosystem, outside of email and LexisNexis, appeared. Electronic Discovery or E-Discovery was one of the first areas affected by technology. Now, you could use software to do a first run review of data to determine relevance. This saved hours and reduced turnaround times. E-Discovery is still being adopted globally to make litigation and dispute resolution, in cases with huge data volumes, more manageable and cost-effective.
Legal Ops shows how the delivery of legal services can be improved through effective people, process and technology enablement. No legal environment should be immune to driving value through effective and efficient systems and capabilities. The question is how can it support a human lawyer, an expensive resource, to deliver the best value possible?
Legal Innovation cannot be pinned down to one thing. What has happened over the last twenty years reflects how we are all working out better ways to deliver value by doing something different. And, ultimately, new ways of delivering a legal service will springboard access to justice in Africa.
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