The future of legal technology for private clients

02 July 2021

The Law Society held their annual Private Client Section conference on 1 and 2 July, which rounded off with a talk on the future of legal technology in a private client context. I was delighted to join the panel for this session, particularly as private client is one of the key practice areas that the Macfarlanes lawtech team collaborates with to develop solutions such as our family office portal, Bastion.

Below are some of the key takeaways from the discussion and some further thoughts on how technology will continue to affect legal services.

1.    Which technologies have gained wider adoption as a result of the pandemic?

E-signing has gained significant traction during the pandemic, allowing signings and completions to proceed without significant disruption. Whilst there remain certain legal and practical limitations around the use of e-signing, these are reducing. Having proved its value, it’s likely that e-signing will continue to be relied upon significantly post-lockdown. Zoom and Microsoft Teams have established themselves as a mainstay.

Private clients have also become increasingly interested in collaborative technologies, particularly as repeated lockdowns have dispersed teams and made accessing the organisation’s “institutional memory” more challenging. Solutions which offer on-line document storage, exchange and access, which support workflows, task allocation and management have really come to the fore. 

2.    What can hold back technology adoption?

Lack of understanding is one of the biggest inhibitors. Hype can create a misleading impression of what technologies actually offer and it can be difficult to understand exactly how technologies can be applied in a practical sense to the services lawyers provide to clients. Technology is a terrific enabler, but isn’t a replacement for a lawyer’s expertise, experience and judgement.

Lack of time holds things back too. Lawyers are time-poor, they’re busy and often work under significant time pressure. Whilst technology can often help in these situations, it’s the worst possible time to be trying something out for the first time. Firms need to invest in continuous education and more widespread adoption. 

3.    What questions should we ask tech providers?

Information security is a paramount concern in a private client context and so ensuring that technologies have robust information security protections, and best-in-class industry certifications, is a top priority. Given that the technologies being used are increasingly cloud-based, ensuring a clear understanding of where the data is held – where the tech provider’s servers are located – is important.

Connectivity and interoperability are increasingly important too. Ensuring that the technologies being used can connect with each other well and exchange data seamlessly is critical, so we should be asking questions around current and planned integrations. That goes for client systems as well as firms’ own internal systems.

4.    What impact does technology have on the lawyer’s skillset?

Whilst lawyers certainly don’t need to learn how to “code”, tech skills and general digital literacy will become more and more important to lawyers. This will need to be factored into legal education at the outset, as well as continuous professional development. 

Hybrid roles, which combine legal and technological expertise, will become much more commonplace within the profession, allowing firms to drive forward tech-enablement and offer clients a range of services which go beyond traditional legal practice. 

5.    Where will we be in five years?

Automation of drafting and processes will become commonplace, guiding lawyers through workflows and improving visibility. Online delivery of advice and documents, online document collaboration and negotiation will also become more firmly embedded, giving clients greater flexibility and more transparency. Technology will put knowledge and information at lawyers’ and clients’ fingertips.

AI will be used much more frequently, likely becoming the default starting point for tasks like document review. More sophisticated uses of those technologies, for example to gain better insight into what’s been agreed previously, to detect anomalies and outliers, will become more commonplace.

Overarching this, technologies will connect better. This will allow technologies to be used in combination more seamlessly, increasing their power and the benefits they can offer. Allowing information to pass between systems more easily, and having that information accessible in a more consistent and structured format, will allow lawyers to tap that data in increasingly sophisticated ways.

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