Legal Tech isn’t legal tech

If you Google ‘What is Legal Tech’ you’re met with the definition from Wikipedia, which states that Legal Tech apparently is “the use of technology and software to provide legal services and support the legal industry,” but that’s not really the case – or at least not the full story. 

Where We Were

It’s hard to pinpoint precisely where modern technology started being applied to legal use cases, whether that be with the introduction of dictation machines to law firms in 1950 or the first usage of fax machines in firms in the 1980s.

The introduction of the buzzword of Legal Tech mainly came from the marketing of the same technology tools that other businesses were using specifically to legal services providers. The technology industry began targeting law firms and in-house teams rather than waiting for legal practitioners to come to them.

More recently, however, we’ve gone from seeing mainstream technology tools used by all kinds of businesses to a flurry of new tools developed specifically for legal applications. What does this look like? Well, this includes contract negotiation platforms that are designed to reduce the inefficiencies found in the way that lawyers currently negotiate contracts (sending emails sent back and forth). These forms of Legal Tech are just as useful to procurement and sales professionals, who hammer out contracts daily, as it is to legal services providers. Should these technologies even be known as Legal Tech anymore, when jumping through legal hoops is a core part of the routine commercial operations of business people within every single industry? Who gets to decide?

Where We Are

The current Legal Tech market has massively expanded in recent years. In particular, areas such as document automation, automated drafting support and contract life cycle management have continued to evolve with many new companies and startups trying their hand at the Legal Tech field. Tools that perform due diligence checks using Artificial Intelligence have also come on leaps and bounds in recent years and have relieved the workload of lawyers by reviewing documents for red flags that lawyers might need to review further.

Why has the Legal Tech world seen more startups targeting legal pain points in particular? The pressure to evolve and innovate has come from the law firm’s clients, interested in getting more value for less expenditure. The tools available in the Legal Tech market cover the aspects of legal services businesses that are least efficient and where they might stand to save the most money.

Another significant development in recent years has been the increasing focus on using technology to improve access to justice. Tools such as DoNotPay, AsylumConnect, and Legal Defence are brilliant examples of how tech is being applied for good causes. The barrier to legal advice has often been set too high, and the legal market will likely resolve this by leveraging automation and ML to bring legal advice to more people.

Where We’re Going

What’s the exciting trend we’ve noticed? Well, while we explained that the recent boom in Legal Tech has come from the software that is explicitly targeted at legal pain points, a lot of these platforms are now shifting away from focusing specifically on legal markets but also a wide variety of commercial businesses.

We’ve seen Legal Tech deployed across industries such as media and entertainment, pharmaceutical industries, and real estate – most of these industries are also looking to automate non-legal documents. 

Budgets and the overwhelming breadth of Legal Tech tools have likely shifted in focus in marketing from some companies as they look to expand their client-base. Others will realise that the true value of their product comes from outside of the legal world. 

For document automation, this could mean we’re automating the invoice or purchase order, or for the human resources department we’re automating their new joiners forms and speeding up the employee onboarding process. Particularly at Avvoka, this has allowed us to expand our reach and develop our tool to cater to all industries.

What does this mean for the future of Legal Tech? We’re likely going to see many Legal Tech vendors moving away from targeting just legal services providers and possibly even ceasing to market themselves as LegalTech companies. For many on the outside of the legal world, seeing the term Legal Tech probably means the minute the company description lands on their desk, they will forward it onto the legal department. 

This doesn’t mean that all areas of Legal Tech will see this shift, there are specific tools such as litigation analytics and dispute resolution that will stay firmly in the legal market, however, we won’t be surprised if in the next few years you see that many Legal Tech companies start marketing to the more general public. 

These trends will provide an exciting opportunity for the Legal Tech market, however, as rather than being limited and stalled by the state of the legal world – companies can develop and evolve their product outside of the more narrow market. Tools focused on things such as document automation, business development, and collaboration, for example, have space and a market outside of the legal world to grow into. 

The future of Legal Tech is bright, but not necessarily all that legal. Regular people that use legal processes, not the lawyers, will ultimately be the ones who decide what it will look like…

By: Amy Conroy