Over the last two decades technology has rapidly transformed several industries. Torrents and video sharing sites have destroyed the stranglehold of the studios and music labels. eBooks are rapidly replacing old hardcopies and cab aggregators have changed the business model in the passenger transportation industry. Amidst all this, one industry has carried on virtually unaffected by the ravages of technology: the legal profession, which, according to some experts, has not changed much since the time of Charles Dickens.
However, that last bastion too is finally crumbling. According to the 2015 report to the UK parliament of Lord Thomas, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, most citizens can no longer afford legal services. Smaller companies and individuals are increasingly turning to Google, and this is just the beginning.
Artificial intelligence is expected to bring about a dramatic transformation in the manner in which legal work is done. For instance, something as simple as drafting a legal contract can now be carried out through an online legal services platform without any intervention by a lawyer. Remarkably, even something as complex as reviewing agreements, long considered to be beyond the capabilities of technologies can now be done with a high degree of accuracy using artificial intelligence.
Experts are of the view that another big disruption affecting the legal profession will be the arrival of blockchain technology. A blockchain is a comprehensive and universal ledger accessible to all users, which can be updated on a real-time basis. All users can see updates as they happen, allowing for complete transparency (imagine an excel document that multiple users can modify concurrently, even as other users can see the changes real-time).
The implications of blockchain could be humongous for the legal profession. For instance, a blockchain record can constitute indisputable evidence of filing for an intellectual property right, which can be accessed anywhere in the world. Since records are irreversible, secured and time stamped, they can be used as evidence in a court of law. Blockchain can also be auto programmed to carry out activities like generating contracts when certain conditions are satisfied without requiring human intervention.
Technological disruptions can offer a win-win situation for practitioners as well as users. For the former, they can cut out the routine and repetitive tasks by automating them. For users, evolving technologies can offer the option of carrying out legal work without having to incur legal fees.
Recent evidence suggests that the legal profession has begun to embrace the opportunities offered by evolving technology. Top law firms are increasingly leveraging on technology to optimise operational speed of service delivery and accuracy without having to invest in big teams of lawyers.
To be sure, technology is bound to create redundancies in the legal profession. According to a recent study, it is estimated that it will displace over 100,000 jobs in the sector over the next two decades. It is also likely that changing business models will create new jobs within the profession. The challenge for professionals is to adapt to the realities of a changing world.