Research to probe ethical issues raised by legal technology

Technology: Innovations “have the potential to transform how legal services are provided”

A project to look at the ethical and others issues issues that technology raises for legal services and their regulation has been launched by the Legal Services Board.

The oversight regulator is aiming to create a “resource of information and advice” that the frontline regulators can use to develop their own approaches to technology regulation.

Introducing the project, it said: “New technological innovations, including artificial intelligence applications like algorithmic decision-making, automated document assembly, chatbots as well as other developments like blockchain, have the potential to transform how legal services are provided, including making them more accessible and cheaper for consumers, but they also create risks for consumers and providers.”

However, in November it published research on technology and innovation in legal services which found that, while legal services providers wanted to make use of technological innovations, many did not because of real, or perceived, regulatory, ethical and practical risks.

Though it will be up to the individual regulators, the LSB’s project aims to provide the research to back up their decisions.

It will consider what lessons can be learned from how new technologies have been regulated in a variety of sectors, as well as how other jurisdictions are currently approaching legal services technology regulation.

The LSB said: “We will examine the ethical issues that technology raises for legal services, its potential impact on the regulatory framework created by the Legal Services Act 2007, and how it will affect legal education.

“We will also look at the impact of particular technologies, including artificial intelligence applications and blockchain, from the perspectives of consumers, providers, developers and regulators, among others.”

The LSB said it would commission a series of papers from academics, legal professionals, technology experts and others examining a range of topics, supported by a series of recorded interviews and discussion events where the authors comment further on the issues raised.

Following these activities, the LSB said it would prepare a report summarising the issues and the approaches legal services regulators may wish to use in addressing them.

An initial set of papers should be published soon, with the LSB intending to complete the project in early 2020.

The LSB research from November showed that more than half of providers were storing data in the Cloud, but there were limited examples of widespread use of more advanced technologies, the most popular being automated document assembly (used by 20%).

Fewer than one in seven providers offered online services, although this was much more common among newer providers.

“Plans to use technology in the next three years do not suggest that there will be widespread take up of technology by the turn of the decade,” the report said.

It said firms generally adopted technology to improve the quality of services, rather than reducing their cost.

“While the majority of providers agree that clients expect them to use technology, just under half feel that the benefits of technology in legal services are overstated.

“In terms of factors preventing the take up of technology, providers’ main concerns are about the risks involved in using unproven technology, the potential for greater ethical problems for lawyers and a lack of IT expertise.”

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