The legal industry has been impacted and slowly transformed over the past decade with the rise of digitalization, particularly in areas such as M&A. In 2023, the digital revolution of law professions will reach new heights. We had the opportunity to exchange with Benoit Van Asbroeck, Partner in Brussels in IP/IT, and Karen Jacks, CTO from Bird & Bird.
The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of digitalization across various industries, as companies were forced to adapt to remote work and online services. This shift has not only improved efficiency, but it has also provided new opportunities for businesses to reach customers and expand their operations. As Benoît explained, the use of new digital tools and automation has made tasks easier and more streamlined, making it an essential part of modern law firms.
A digital revolution for the legal industry
First things first, how should we define digitalization? “It is mainly moving from paper to paperless activities as we are working with new tools. It is facilitating several parts of the job by automatization”, explains Benoît. Indeed, the use of advanced technology and artificial intelligence tools allows lawyers to work faster and more accurately when it comes to commodity work. It facilitates the complete access to digits, simplifies the decision process and meeting with clients.
Benoit goes further: “For some files, I’m working with associates in Poland, Germany and England at the same time. Thanks to digitalization, sharing documents has become much easier, which significantly improves the quality of our work. We can now deliver better advice to the client more quickly. Enlarging our team with IT tools makes us more competitive.” In addition, digitalization has enabled lawyers to manage complex cases with ease, resulting in better outcomes for the clients. The primary goal of this digital revolution is to increase efficiency, allowing lawyers to focus on more sophisticated work while supervising the more routine tasks done by automation.
We can think of lawyers 2.0 as being enhanced by technology rather than replaced by it. With new tools and attitudes, legal professionals can become:
- Facilitators who help resolve conflicts in an amicable way;
- Innovators who encourage clients to view their problems from a fresh perspective;
- Advocates for ethical rights who remind people of the fundamental meaning and importance of basic needs;
- Architects of solutions who bring together experts from diverse backgrounds to tackle complex challenges;
- Legal teachers who translate complex legal concepts into clear and personalized solutions.
Education & split between law firms
Digitalization is not easily taught in Universities, as it requires expensive technologies and specialized knowledges. Therefore, much of the knowledge of IT tools is learned once you join a law firm. At this level, we recommend that firms invest in their digital development to remain competitive and avoid losing market share. “Until recently, there were two categories: large law firms and traditional law firms. However, in the future, I think we will have digitalized firms and non-digitalized firms. The non-digitalized firms will remain in areas that involve human and proximity law, such as criminal law. This sector is all about social contact, so technology is less needed, although artificial intelligence could work well”, highlights Benoit.
Furthermore, digitalization in the legal industry opens up new possibilities and creates job opportunities. As Karen mentions, “the legal tech engineer or legal technologist is a professional who combines legal expertise with technical skills to drive digital change. This hybrid role benefits from the knowledge of both worlds, as the lawyer understands what needs to be done and how to work, while the technical expert possesses the capability and knowledge to integrate technology into the legal field. In short, the legal tech engineer is a key figure in advancing the digital transformation of the legal profession”.
Concerns about the legal digital revolution have emerged. One such concern relates to storage and energy consumption, as law firms increasingly rely on data centers to store and manage their data. Bird & Bird, for example, is addressing this issue by engaging with their data center providers to ensure they are energy-efficient and are offsetting their carbon footprint. As responsible companies, law firms must be aware of their environmental impact and take steps to mitigate it.
Another consequence of digitalization is the rise of alternative legal services providers, which can be seen as new competitors to traditional law firms. This trend is expected to impact law firms’ market share. As Benoit noted, law firms must position themselves strategically by combining artificial intelligence with human expertise. AI can facilitate work within law firms, allowing for online portals and chatbots that provide legal advice and consultations. This makes legal services more accessible to people worldwide.
However, there will come a point where lawyers must position themselves as legal teachers and architects of solutions, rather than mere providers of legal advice. As AI takes over routine tasks, lawyers must focus on adding value through strategic insights, creative problem-solving, and ethical guidance. In this way, digitalization can be seen as an opportunity for them to enhance their roles and make a greater impact on society.
In conclusion, the digitalization of law professions is bringing about significant benefits for the industry, making legal services more efficient. And we are only at the beginning of it! Lawyers need not fear new technological tools. Instead, they should embrace them as enhancers of skills and efficiency. These new technologies are designed to optimize the performance of legal professionals, not to replace them. Lawyers will continue to play a crucial role, but will also have more time for certain tasks thanks to automation of tedious and time-consuming work. In addition, online organizational and communication tools facilitate collaboration among colleagues, internationally, and even between law firms. Digital technology is unparalleled in its ability to manage agendas, assist with writing, and aid research.
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