From avocado toast to satellite imagery

Posted by Stephen Ward, director of strategy and external relations at Legal Futures Associate, the Council for Licensed Conveyancers

Ward: Huge opportunities to be explored

Avocado toast featured heavily at the recent Legal Geek conference as a metaphor for how established and new technology solutions are being knitted together by innovative lawyers to streamline their processes and transform client service.

If you haven’t come across it, Legal Geek is at the forefront of the lawtech start-up world, charting and encouraging its progress, bringing together like-minded people and ensuring that the UK is leading the way.

This was its second conference (with a no-tie rule) and the growth in its scale in just a year was remarkable. It was thrilling to be in a room of more than 1,000 people – lawyers, IT geeks and entrepreneurs, most of whom were some combination of all three – alongside regulators and civil servants who are all signed up to harnessing technology to change the way we do law.

This is not simply for the sake of technological progress; a consistent theme throughout the day was how new technology will free lawyers from mechanical tasks and allow them to focus on the more rewarding aspects of the job. When it comes to mechanical tasks, like bulk document review, machines are clearly going to be better at them than people.

Another theme was the importance of managing data more effectively – for conveyancers, for whom collating, reviewing and sharing data is a core part of the job, this message cannot be stressed enough.

There were a multitude of start-ups on display, whether offering new ways to support compliance, and escrow accounts to keep the money underlying legal transactions more secure than traditional client accounts, or enabling more flexible working. That includes helping legal businesses scale up or down their staffing levels as required.

Others were more eye-catching still. Orbital Witness, for example, claims to be the business where ‘spacetech meets lawtech’. Not yet launched to the market, it provides historic satellite imagery alongside property, land, and ownership data to assist property lawyers conduct due diligence.

In truth, much of this activity is at the moment driven by the needs and demands of commercial clients and their law firms; though there are efforts underway to use technology to broaden access to the law for consumers – most notably, perhaps, the government’s own plan for an online small claims court – they were not much in evidence at the conference.

But the message from the event was clear. There are huge opportunities to be explored. As a regulator, we want to help our community test and embed new ways of working that will benefit their clients and their firms.

We urge those we regulate to talk to us to discuss innovations they might be planning so that we can be sure that regulation does not get in the way of positive change.

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