Law firms are expensive, vague and elitist, can legal tech offer a solution?
A recent study showed that customers see lawyers and law firms as expensive, vague and elitist with a lack of empathy. In the article below we will see if legal tech could mean the solution for these perceptions and look what’s ahead for legal tech firms in Belgium.
What is the goal of legal tech?
Just like all other tech companies, legal tech organizations have the purpose to simplify the lives of consumers (B2C) or businesses (B2B). Whether they all achieve that goal, is a whole other discussion. For legal tech in particular, it should be a matter to lower the threshold for consumers to consult legal advice. Mobile applications, software packages, chatbots can offer primary legal aid while human expertise from a lawyer would still be needed for complex issues. Next to that, legal tech can help law firms making them more efficient by offering solutions for better legal research, information management and sharing, faster communication, document automation, etc.
Tech savvy people might be wondering what the difference is between legal tech and regtech. Legal tech and regtech are related just as legal practice is related to regulatory compliance. While legal tech is focussed on finding solutions for lawyers and legal firms, regtech has the goal to support the compliance practice. For example, legal tech will automate contract creation and offer primary legal help while regtech software streamlines KYC and AML processes.
Why can it be successful?
It’s no secret that lawyers like having their own jargon and their procedures are difficult to understand for outsiders. If all of this wouldn’t be made so incomprehensible, lawyers would simply be unnecessary, after all nemo censetur ignorare legem, right? Who’s familiar with legal issues, texts and procedures is aware that indeed there is room to make all of these more comprehensible and accessible for people who have not had a legal education. This should also make the day-to-day processes of law firms more efficient. Next to that, most legal procedures are (very) expensive. Legal tech can provide accessible and affordable solutions for problems that are easy to fix.
We can identify three big fields of opportunity for legal tech to be an added value. Firstly, there are a lot of legal documents (legislation, jurisprudence and doctrine) and they’re published on a plethora of platforms, most of them even still only on paper, such as court decisions. Almost 90% of the lawyers think that all jurisprudence should be published online. This is where legal research solutions can clearly offer help. Secondly, a lot of people have simple questions that are easy to answer for lawyers, this is where legal tech initiatives such as chat bots or document generators can be a solution. If they’re equipped with artificial intelligence, they’re able to lower the workload of lawyers and give the customer an accessible, quick and cheap solution. Thirdly, being a lawyer means there’s a lot of administrative workload. Lawyers have a rather specific client book. Even though you would not be in contact with them for a long time or only once in your life time, they need to have a lot of information about you and have a lot of procedures to go through. Practice management software helps organizing a lawyers client base (CRM), client files, agenda, etc.
With the legal practice being a rather old-fashioned, stationary industry, we could say that it’s perhaps an easier field of practice to disrupt. 20% of the lawyers don’t even have a website yet, let alone being on a social network (50%). Innovation is rarely one of the core values of a law firm. Initiatives that aren’t even highly innovative from an outsider’s point of view, could mean a highly meaningful solution for lawyers and/or citizens looking for legal help. Plus, because legal practice is not transparent nor very accessible, offering solutions that are, should increase the people accessing legal services.
The Belgian legal tech landscape
Legal tech is not just some new fancy tech industry that began developing a few years ago. Well-established initiatives regarding legal research such as Jura, StradaLex and Jurisquare have been around for more than 20 years. Their purpose is to combine regulation, jurisprudence and doctrine of all branches of law on one site. Simply put, they are digital legal libraries. Of course, it’s clear that these are early steps into the automation of the legal practice. More recent legal tech initiatives have a more disruptive nature with integrated machine learning and artificial intelligence characteristics. Knowliah offers intelligent information management, Lawbox lets you create viable legal documents and contracts with their software, LeBonBail offers free templates for all legal documents regarding rent, etc. Below, we’ll study a very recent project called Lee & Ally.
Case study: Lee and Ally
An excellent recent example of a disruptive legal tech initiative in Belgium is the chatbot Lee & Ally (read as “legally”, further referred to as “L&A”), made by TheJurists. It’s Europe’s first virtual legal assistant. It’s built so clients can easily ask questions and get a clear answer swiftly and cheaply. The goal of L&A is to offer high-quality and affordable primary legal aid and simultaneously lower the workload of the lawyers working at TheJurists while expanding their client base. As the founder of TheJurists says, 99% of the law can be automated, and virtual assistants can interpret the legal texts and transform them in easy-to-access answers presented in simple language.
L&A was made with three fundamental values in mind: 1) always and everywhere accessible, 2) clear language and 3) affordable. These values can be found in the transversal goals of legal tech initiatives. As TheJurists their main target customer group are SME’s and start-ups, the chatbot mainly has the same B2B focus.
The business model of Lee & Ally is pretty straightforward, offering a cheap solution for an expensive matter can grow them a vast client base with a ease to scale product. The chatbot can also refer more complex dossiers to lawyers in the flesh, who would manage these files at a higher cost. With scalability not being an issue, TheJurists is also planning to take L&A internationally.
What about legal tech in the finance sector?
If you’re reading this and think legal tech is far away from the banking and insurance sector, you might be wrong. In 2017, JPMorgan eliminated 360,000 hours of (expensive) legal work by using a machine learning program called COIN (Contract Intelligence). The software automates the interpretation of commercial loan contracts and is less error-prone than a real lawyer. Following the coming into force of EMIR in 2016, Allen&Overy and Deloitte created MarginMatrix, a compliance program for derivates that does an automatic legal analysis and creates legally viable documentation that’s required following the new European OTC derivate regulation.
So it’s clear that banks and insurances can also benefit from software that e.g. automates law analysis, contract interpretation and document creation. This saves time, effort and eventually a lot of money. Consequently, it can improve efficiency and ultimately the customer experience.
The future of legal tech in Belgium
Legal tech in Belgium is still in its infancy. There are still a lot of opportunities for start-ups to disrupt the legal practice and offer solutions to both people looking for legal advice and lawyers themselves. In any case, it’s clear that legal tech applications can help companies answer regulatory requirements efficiently and can support legal departments in their day-to-day processes.
The main obstacle in my opinion is not convincing the people in the street of the benefits of legal tech, it’s to convince the lawyers to invest in innovation. By nature, they will be hesitant and assume they would lose significant income when there are bots taking over their jobs, but as all machines, they’re made to work next to the experts of today. Despite this, it’s clear that legal tech has a big future ahead. Because in its core, it does what all sustainable companies do: offer a solution to a common problem.
At Initio, we can help your organization in tackling legal issues and improve efficiency of the legal department by offering the expertise of our consultants that are part of the business line Legal & Regulatory. Implicating legal tech solutions can be part of our support when they’re able to streamline and automate certain processes and therefore improve adeptness.
About the Author
Thomas Devreese, joined Initio in 2017 after having worked at the legal department of a Belgian bank for two years. As a consultant, he's developing expertise in business and data analytics while working at a cross-border IT integration project for a major European financial institution.
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 Picture: https://legaltech.be/the-rise-of-legaltech-the-belgian-market-overview-map/, consulted on 3/12/2018
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 “JPMorgan Software Does in Seconds What Took Lawyers 360,000 Hours”, Hugh Son, 28/02/2017, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-02-28/jpmorgan-marshals-an-army-of-developers-to-automate-high-finance
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 “Legal Technology in the Banking Sector”, Pinsent Masons, http://alerts.pinsentmasons.com/rs/emsimages/pdf/Legal-technology-in-the-banking-sector.pdf