Legal technology is just tech which lawyers can use to be better lawyers and create better law firms, writes Scott Cowan, Africa Legal CEO, explaining why it’s important we make friends with legal tech.
Lawyers who approach legal technology with a highly specific or narrow definition, for example, “It’s how law firms use CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems” or “It’s something to do with AI and comes with an eye-watering price tag – something for the BIG firms” are doomed to never fully realise the power and value which legal technology could unlock for them and their firm.
Legal tech is potentially transformative for each and every law firm, but it’s also accessible, scalable and nowhere near as scary or expensive as people may believe.
We need to remove the single biggest perceived barrier to African law firms embracing “legal tech”, this being the belief that it comes with a big price tag. It is imperative that law firms understand that a US$15 per month user licence for a decent cloud CRM and a free version such as Hubspot both represent an opportunity to develop and streamline your legal services via legal technology.
The benefits of the use and encouragement of “base level” technology such as cloud storage, email infrastructure, remote working, video conferencing and basic analytics services are just as obvious as “next level” utilisation of e-discovery and forensic investigation tech solutions.
Developed legal markets have shown interesting data about the growth of both law firm revenue and profitability as the market as a whole started to better engage with technology. Covid-19 also provided evidence for technology’s ability to offset market turbulence and sluggish growth.
The 2021 Thomson Reuters Pandemic Performers report showed that the top quartile of performing firms across the pandemic were those which least reduced their investment in technology.
The key point to understand is that benefiting from legal technology is not an “all or nothing” scenario – there are benefits to be found at all levels of engagement and expense. Indeed, there is a case to be made that over-investment in solutions way beyond your firm’s current requirements could do more harm than good.
Africa Legal Learn’s course on leveraging legal tech to grow your firm gives some good insight into how law firms can get the most out of the technology at their fingertips.
Of course some lawyers and law firms are very comfortable with technology and have even specialised in the practice area of technology, media, and telecommunications (TMT).
Many people believe this is an emerging arena, but I believe it’s already very firmly established, and the areas I consider truly emergent include those which focus on cryptographic currencies, blockchain and space law. Each of these practice areas is intrinsically linked to technology, both in subject matter and the skill sets which legal experts will require.
It’s a false trope that “all lawyers will need to code”, but a basic understanding of coding as a concept/tool is imperative for any lawyer looking to advise software companies – both developed and start-up. Think of any issues from IP to company valuation and sale, and the ability of legal counsel to truly grasp the creative value of underlying code and its unique financial value should be obvious.
Blockchain is another development with pan-sector potential. Again, a truly deep understanding of the functionality of a specific blockchain isn’t necessary, but a grasp of the basic concept is essential if you aim to work in this arena.
Let’s envisage a true African lawyer of the future advising on a mineral processing technology which utilises powerful code and blockchain processing in order to build a value profile of far-off but mineral-rich asteroids currently unclaimed by a specific nation or corporation…
From issues of IP to sovereign jurisdiction, fair value and mineral extraction licensing, many traditional legal skills and services will be required, but it is the lawyers and law firms who have the technological nuances of these solutions truly embedded into their advice and wider delivery who will win and retain such clients.
The future is exciting and technology will be embedded in nearly every aspect of it in one way or another, so it’s best to make friends with tech now!
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