From online applications and video interviews, to research tasks and online filing, technology in law is on the rise. Last year, we considered the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) in the retail sector in our article – but how are AI and other technologies changing the life of a trainee solicitor?
It came as a surprise as a paralegal, how technology dominated my work. Traditionally time-consuming, paper-heavy tasks are now done in seconds. Software renames thousands of files instantly, in a process that previously would have taken days to complete. Bundles are organised and numbered, and indexes created using excel formulae, in a fraction of the time. As a trainee, IT remains invaluable in increasing my efficiency.
Technology in law firms is on a steady upward trajectory, fuelled by customer demand. Clients value immediacy and real-time updates, and are often very familiar with technology themselves, compelling law firms to adapt.
Many aspects of our work are now electronic; London courts no longer accept paper filing and Land Registry applications are almost always done online. Our offices are becoming ‘paperless’, with everything saved in our e-filing system. This is not only of benefit to the environment (for obvious reasons) but also provides continuity; allowing anyone to pick up where another lawyer has left off wherever they are located.
This technology surge does not have to make the junior lawyer’s job redundant, but can enable you to work faster and have more time to engage in a wider range of more complex and challenging work. Ultimately, the firm can service new and existing clients in more efficient and cost effective ways. The fact that technology has eliminated some historic, junior responsibilities means more time is free to learn in a practical way and less time is spent on administration and file organisation. The trainee role can now be more comparable to that of a more experienced lawyer, albeit with heightened supervision and guidance.
A technology often in the spotlight, and frequently tested in training contract applications and interviews, is AI. While still in its infancy, it has already had an impact on the way we work. For example, in document review, AI can save hundreds of hours of manual work by predicting whether a particular document is relevant or not, or removing ‘near’ duplicates, using algorithms.
In the future, AI is not only likely to influence the nature of the roles undertaken within our industry, but also the subject matter of the work we undertake. The legal issues which AI will present, offers considerable opportunities for law firms to embrace.
Controversially, the EU is considering granting robots their own legal status as “electronic persons”. This idea stems from the potential challenge of attributing liability for acts or omissions, to a computer system which can make independent decisions. This area will be difficult to legislate; how do you determine who is responsible for the actions of a computer which has been created by several different parties and is no longer controlled by any one of them? This may seem far-fetched, but we are not talking about a robot invasion; if a robot employed on a warehouse floor incorrectly formulates a path to take, resulting in injuries to an employee, where does the liability lie? This is likely to have a particularly big impact on lawyers working on disputes.
Another practice area poised for an increase in work is intellectual property. If an artificially intelligent being creates work output or data, there is a question over who owns the rights to that property. This point will need to be dealt with thoroughly in commercial agreements until legislation catches up to clarify this position.
Ultimately, technology will have its part to play in the profession going forward, and so will trainees. To get a head start, it is a good idea to get to grips with it, sooner rather than later.