LegalTech is one of the buzzwords currently doing the rounds, especially since the Covid-19 pandemic, when renewed focus was placed on remote working. This focus begs the question, what is LegalTech, and is it important?
It is of course no surprise that we live in a world that is being dominated by technology, and the use thereof, on an increased basis. The question is whether this increased use of technology has any impact on the way in which law is practiced in South Africa? The answer must be an unequivocal yes. Not only has remote working become more and more important since the Covid-19 pandemic, but online meetings, and even virtual court hearings have become more common place. Added to that is the drive by the Gauteng High Courts to move onto the electronic platform known as CaseLines.
Legal futurist Richard Susskind as far back as 2013, in his book “Tomorrow’s Lawyers” formed the view that the challenge to the legal profession with regard to the use of technology, is not to use technology merely to automate current inefficient practices, but to rather use technology in order to practice law in ways that could not have been done in the past.
Over the past decade, we have seen exactly how these views have been applied in practice. Examples of how technology has been used to improve the efficiencies of legal practice, and practice law in new ways, include the following:
- Many legal resources are now available online, and the need for big bulky physical libraries has lessened drastically.
- Online consultation between lawyer and client has, in some instances, become the norm.
- Many law firms are now making use of cloud computing, which not only lessened the need for physical servers hosted in offices, but also assisted with enabling remote work.
- The increased availability of big data, and the use of AI and Blockchain, has led to various innovations with regard to contract automation, e-discovery and the like.
Law firms that do not stay up to date with these trends and technologies will soon find themselves being left behind. This is not only due to the demands by clients, but also due to the fact that the traditional ways of performing legal work cannot compete with the efficiencies of a modern practice that is making full use of LegalTech. As an example, there is no reason why a law firm is limited to servicing clients in its immediate vicinity. By using cloud computing, online collaboration tools such as Lexa, and video conferencing facilities, an attorney can service a client situated anywhere in the world. Coupled with this is the fact that email service of pleadings and notices in court proceedings have become the norm, and that certain of our South African courts are moving to online systems, it means that even court documents can be delivered whilst the attorney is on holiday in the Kruger National Park, as long as he has an internet connection. If a law firm is not making use of these more efficient means of rendering its service, it will be unable to compete on price with its more efficient competitors.
Using LegalTech is therefore no longer an optional expense for law firms, but is fast becoming a core expense of the costs of running a successful law firm. In future posts we intend to discuss more themes relating to LegalTech, and how it impacts the South African law firm.