The role of technology in the future of legal professions
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The relationship between law and technology forms two distinct areas for discussion and debate, but both are intertwined and no discussion is complete without acknowledging the other. In any conversation on the future of the legal profession, there must be real consideration of the role that technology takes to shape and enhance that future. Similarly, any discussion on technology must involve proper acknowledgement and consideration of the legal framework in which it operates.
The use of new technologies in law firms echoes what is happening in the wider business economy where the emergence of new technologies, processes and automation has brought exciting change and vast consumer and business benefit but also a new modern work structure. Colloquially referred to as the gig economy, it encompasses a way of working where temporary positions are prevalent, freelance work is the norm and organisations contract with individuals on a short term basis.
Advocates argue that the gig economy offers boundless innovation and empowers both workers and entrepreneurs, while critics suggest that it disenfranchises the workforce and undermines workers’ rights. New technologies present exciting opportunities but they also present uncertainty. Companies can efficiently automate processes, connect needs with solutions more quickly and allow companies to have a wider pool of ‘workers’ on standby, and we are on the verge of potentially immense upheaval. Without careful consideration, there could be a considerable loss of individual rights.
As the recent cases relating to the gig economy such as Uber, Dewhurst v City Sprint and now Pimlico Plumbers are illustrating, the courts are alive to the inequality of bargaining power faced by individuals in these circumstances. The Law Society has suggested this is an area ripe for reform and has proposed that the government conduct a wide-ranging review and re-appraisal to assess whether the current legal definitions of employment status are fit for purpose.
Professor Jeremias Prassl of Oxford University in his article examining how technology, existing law and practical measures could be used to solve a number of the social and legal problems created by new platforms warns that 'we have to be careful that "disruptive innovation" is not in danger of becoming a code word for breaking the law, with exploitation masked by technology'. This article forms part of a report by LexisNexis considering the gig economy and the implications for lawyers and their clients, highlighting that the employment status of those working in the gig economy is a complex issue for those advising not only affected individuals but also employers seeking to implement new working practices.
This position is echoed by Nigel Rea, Director of Drafting, Forms and Precedents, LexisNexis: 'New technology is exciting, but we shouldn’t let that cloud the fact that we work in an industry built on people - we believe this position underpins the successful deployment of any new technology' he writes in the forward to the LexisNexis report ‘Lawyers and Robots?’ which considers questions facing the legal industry regarding the adoption of new technology.
Lawyers and others in the legal industry need to engage with these issues or they face becoming irrelevant to their clients. Clients (and lawyers) have a high expectation of what technology can deliver and this expectation is judged against their experience delivered by large technology firms such as Google and Apple. Lawyers themselves might well find that they are doing a very different job from their predecessors.
Rachel Buchanan is a Solicitor and Senior Content Marketing Executive at LexisNexis. She worked on the recent guide from LexisNexis on the emerging gig economy.