What parts of a legal practice can be automated?

by Katie Cook 5 min read

Fully realize the benefits of technology in your legal practice


I remember my law school days in the early 2000s.  It’s hard to believe but back then the internet speed was so slow and search engines so primitive that I couldn’t simply download every case I needed for my lectures each week simply by typing their names into Google or Yahoo.  Instead I spent what seems like tens of thousands of hours trawling through hard copy case books on the fourth floor of the freezing Walter Harrison Law Library to find the cases I needed.  Then I would have to take the stairs to the ground floor lugging a mountain of heavy case books on my forearms and spend copious amounts of change on the photocopier so I could take them home for proper digestion.  

What’s more, after I had read all these cases and then at some later stage had to find a specific passage I had to do so manually.  I may have highlighted it or put a tab on it but I didn’t have the luxury of saving time to find a certain term or word by clicking on “find”.  I remember these processes well because it caused me so much pain and frustration!  It would have saved me so much time if I had the IT infrastructure of today at my disposal!

This memory got me thinking about the IT infrastructure available today in law - what’s in use as the industry standard and what is up and coming? I decided to make a list of the tasks in my legal career that I have spent the most time on and which have caused me the most pain and see if LegalTech currently provides a solution or at least a solution in development.  

  1. Legal research - finding cases relevant to a particular legal problem (especially for those which are esoteric);
  2. Document review and evidence compilation;
  3. Synthesizing research and developing a case;
  4. Writing legal advice;
  5. Drafting documents off templates - using cut and paste - tedious + a lot of room for error;
  6. Drafting documents with multiple parties i.e. trying to all collaborate on a single document;
  7. Getting sign-offs and approvals from multiple parties;
  8. Staying on top of contractual requirements;
  9. Collating evidence requested in litigation including determining which documents are privileged and masking parts of documents that should not be seen by counterparties due to privilege; and
  10. Staying informed on updates to the law and industry news.

I’ve done a bit of research and found that for most of these there are advanced legal technology options to assist, and I will now consider some of them.  This is by no means an exhaustive list, and I warmly invite you into a conversation to suggest alternative solutions to legal pain points that I have not mentioned here.  Let’s now consider some of them (fyi, this is not an endorsement or the only alternatives by any means - so, feel free to recommend others):

For legal research and research synthesis there are options such as ROSS.  This is a platform that its makers describe as an “artificially intelligent attorney”.  You can ask ROSS legal questions, and it will return case citations for relevant precedents as well as other articles that it believes are highly relevant to the issue. ROSS also boasts an ability to monitor the law for changes that can positively affect your case and thereby cuts back on time spent staying on top of updates to relevant laws and industry trends.  Ravel Law is an alternative legal advanced legal research too. It also boasts the ability to analyse precedent cases and even the language a particular judge favors to inform your case preparation.  It also provides diagrams to help you visualize your search. The proper use of such legal research tools should dramatically reduce the time spent researching and analysing legal issues so you have more time developing legal arguments and writing legal opinions. However, so far as I can tell, there is not yet an automation tool to complete this work.

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For document review and analysis products such as Nuix and kCura. They work well to identify data relevant to a case lying within terabytes of provided evidence, while companies such as NexLP are working towards developing a product that automatically reviews documents, identifies patterns and tells the story of the data i.e. automating the synthesis and storytelling component of discovery.  There are also providers, such as Lighthouse eDiscovery, that provide discovery production solutions and also claim they can automate the privilege review so lawyers do not have to spend hours manually reviewing documents and masking various parts of text for privilege.

Tools for speeding up the process of drafting off templates, cut and paste, redlining, collaborative drafting, obtaining sign-offs and approvals include ContractRoom, www.contractroom.com (full disclosure, this is the company for whom I work). ContractRoom also has a data analysis capability which in the future will predict the outcomes of contracts for Predictive AgreementTM (via Machine Learning techniques). This should lead to less time spent in negotiations and more agreement in the future between/among multiple parties - for business buying, selling, hiring and recording activities. It also provides automated reminders so you can stay on top of all your contractual requirements so nothing falls through the cracks.

There’s even more that LegalTech can do to address problems that I have not even listed above.  For example there are several products for streamlining matter management, tracking, billing such as LegalTrek, as well as platforms for identifying risks in large merger and acquisition deals such as the Global Merger Analysis Platform (GMAP), a product produced by Baker McKenzie.  A company called Cerico also seeks to assist international organizations complying with their compliance obligations by providing eLearning tools and template policies.

Professor Richard Susskind, who has been described by the Financial Times as a “Legal Futurist”, is quoted by them as predicting that the legal profession, due to the advancements being made in legal technology, will change so that the titles held by those in the legal profession in the future will have titles more befitting a tech start-up than a law firm. He predicts titles such as Legal Knowledge Engineer, Legal Technologist, Project Manager, Risk Manager or Process Analyst will be commonplace. According to the Financial Times he believes “tomorrow’s barrister or solicitor is likely to be part software engineer, part lawyer”.*  It will be interesting to see if Professor Susskind’s prediction comes true!

There is so much happening in the world of LegalTech and it is hard to stay on top of it all as it unfolds. Luckily there is an organization that can assist with this. Evolve Law is an organization which seeks to connect all LegalTech developers and providers. You can find many offerings that seek to cure the biggest pain points in law here: http://evolvelawnow.com/legal-tech-toolkit/ .

What are your thoughts?  Where else is LegalTech curing the pain points of your legal profession?

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*Financial Times article by Murad Ahmed dated October 2, 2015, http://ow.ly/10xdDn

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