Posted by Milad Shojaei, a trainee legal advisor at the Ministry of Justice, and strategy & engagement director at Legal Futures Associate Casedo
In recent years, lawyers have witnessed an upheaval in the shape and structure of the market as technology develops how it operates. This has seen the rise of lawtech start-ups, effectively exposing the sector’s inefficiencies and putting a new focus on finding better ways of working.
Casting a long shadow?
Due to more significant investment, higher demand and a maturing market, the UK has become the European hub of legal technology. Nearly half of all lawtech start-ups in the EU operate in the UK. Start-ups have seen record levels of investment in the last five years, reaching £61m in the UK in 2018; this figure was surpassed within nine months of 2019.
The Coronavirus Future Fund has also helped stabilise and support the growth of start-up companies. In May 2020, the government released its co-investment scheme between the private and public sectors with the aim of securing equity investment for start-ups – and helping them stay afloat during the pandemic.
Moreover, the global crisis has expanded the demand for technological solutions while forcing the industry to review its long-overlooked issues. There has been an evident shift in business needs, as more reliance on technology requires revised business models and capabilities.
Given the rapid growth of technology in response to the pandemic, and the government’s decision to stabilise that growth, we will undoubtedly see new investment records in lawtech start-ups this year.
Offering flexible services to attract talent
One of the critical challenges that the industry faces is the ability to retain talented professionals and drive forward employee engagement. Through changing existing work processes, lawtech start-ups have also introduced services that attract young and talented professionals. Start-ups can offer greater flexibility, which in turn enables traditional firms to attract and retain talent while establishing efficient workflows.
Allen & Overy has demonstrated the benefits of this approach in the last few years. The magic circle firm opened the Fuse Tech Innovation Centre in 2017, setting up its own tech incubator. This expertly remodelled approach to the law has enabled Allen & Overy to manage top talent by using new delivery models and technology, assisting the firm’s ability to stay ahead of the curve. The innovation space enables start-ups, lawyers and clients to explore and advance new solutions.
As international law firms move fast to embrace innovation, the wider legal industry will likely follow and turn to existing solutions. Lawyers will be eager to experiment with flexible tools within the market, and the fact that lawtech start-ups can offer tried-and-tested services will give them an edge in tapping into the market.
As Jim Leason, vice-president of customer markets at Thomson Reuters, puts it: “Legaltech is now attracting funding from a variety of sources, including law firms themselves. This interest has given start-ups the crucial leg-up they needed to take their products quickly through to the next stage of development and testing.”
An upside to a downed economy?
The economic disruptions incited by the pandemic may have benefited the growth of lawtech start-ups. Some law firms and legal consumers are now considering using less established and costly services.
Although start-ups often position themselves as market tools, as opposed to competitors, they have still previously come up against more robust legacy companies with secured grips in the industry. However, the current economic climate may compel many to pursue cheaper tech alternatives.
A downed economy can potentially bring about a spike in investment and recognition of new start-up companies. This will allow existing lawtech start-ups, like Casedo, to continue growing alongside established tech providers, adding to their ability to emerge out of the shadows and redefine the legal industry.
Further, if virtual legal practices continue to stick post-pandemic, then more law firms will be interested in leveraging technological solutions for greater cost efficiency. This strategic approach has already been demonstrated, as legal departments are considering using more legal technology alongside alternative legal services providers.
Nonetheless, such drastic changes will not resonate harmoniously throughout the industry, as many will continue to show resistance. Some firms are likely to pursue a defensive response, where they prefer to pursue their conventional operations and not change the status quo.
But for how long will this attitude persist given the overwhelming need to change and, potentially, keep up? Once rivals take the lead with greater reliance on technology, the group norm will inevitably be followed.
Spawning globalism and improved collaboration for legal consumers
Alongside resistance to technology, the legal sector has also historically failed to grasp the advantages of globalism. The territorial side of the legal profession, alongside regulation that has prevented outside competition, have played a pivotal role in the sector’s failings.
Increased innovation and technological solutions have, however, demonstrated the benefits of legal globalism to good effect. Lawtech culture does not necessarily reshape existing practices but instead drives forward collaboration in cross-border and result-oriented ways.
This helps break down the localism of the legal practice by removing geographical barriers and redefining technical solutions. As such, lawtech has inevitably assisted in reshaping the legal landscape’s territoriality.
Legal professionals are now experiencing a transformation from the traditional change-averse working culture to a new normal. Law firms that would previously retain all control of their work are now routinely collaborating with external providers. This new approach offers more choices for clients and more reliable delivery of services.
The recent surge in the popularity of lawtech has effectively reshaped the industry by transforming its culture and composition. Developments in improved collaboration, automation and new delivery models have advanced the capabilities of law firms and fundamentally enhanced their reputations.
Going forward, the legal sector will likely present a more meaningful aptitude for technology to solve its long standing issues, and in doing so, legal professionals can expect more globalism and improved collaboration.
The best is yet to come
Lawtech start-ups in the UK have undeniably made a mark. Technology has assisted in the globalisation of the legal practice and encouraged new enthusiasm in the legal sector. The lawyers of tomorrow will have the benefit of more comprehensive tools and digital solutions to deliver legal services than their predecessors did.
It is unlikely that the rapid adoption of digitalisation will be abandoned in a post-pandemic world. The current climate reinforces greater investment, both in lawtech start-ups and in maintaining the momentum behind technological advancements. This positive trajectory will reasonably continue in the years to come, as the industry gets to grips with more modern operations.
Ultimately, we can expect to see bolder solutions for legal consumers as start-up tech companies receive greater recognition for their respective visions.