The North Carolina Bar Association has formed a Future of Law Committee to follow-up on the findings and recommendations of an NCBA report issued earlier this year. The report focused on how technology is impacting the legal practice in North Carolina and identified emerging technology products and trends that will be significant to the future of the legal profession.
INFORMATION AND COMPUTER TECHNOLOGY (ICT)
ICT has the potential to transform the socio-cultural foundations of the law and legal practice. The Committee took a broad look at the new technologies and concepts that ICT have created as a means for assessing the socio-cultural forces driving change in the profession. We need to understand how technology is driving cultural change and what the legal profession can do to better anticipate future developments.
Computational power has been improving steadily on an exponential pace of growth for over fifty years, and improvements have been coming at an ever-increasing rate for a long time. That means that unprecedented and remarkable developments have become routine and that trend will only accelerate. The changes are coming faster now as year-by-year becomes month-by-month, then weekly, daily and hourly.
Our report found that artificial intelligence is already having a substantial impact on the legal practice. Duke’s Jeff Ward, who chaired the subcommittee on AI and Law said, “Almost all current use cases serve to supplement and enhance the capacities of human lawyers.”
The amounts of data involved in the modern day legal practice can be overwhelming, while–at the same time– court calendars, deal closings, regulatory obligations and client demands create service expectations incongruent with these vast amounts of data.
Smart machines can assist with these data-intensive demands, helping where humans might tire, make mistakes, or even have too limited a vision. While obstacles to adoption of AI exist, and ethical concerned must be observed, there is tremendous growth potential. Five priority areas that ought to receive attention are professional responsibility, broader ethical issues, access to legal services, legal training and legal market/ employment issues.
Blockchain technology is another area where there is the potential for disruptive innovation. The report defines blockchain as, “a decentralized database with two key features. First, it is continuously updated to reflect the current status of data or assets. Second, it has no central authority such as a bank or a government. It relies instead on distributed ledgers: duplicate record sets that are regularly synchronized with each other over the Internet. Network members then validate the entire group of transactions.”
Blockchain’s potential lies in the reduction of transactional costs and its ability to provide secure transactions across the world. According to the report, “To the extent that lawyers view themselves as simply another transactional cost, this is a negative development. But if they reposition themselves, as they have before, to roles that add value in this new world, they have nothing to fear.” Many promises have been made regarding blockchain and related technologies, Now, some of the potential is being realized.
Legal operations are where many technologies are coming together and being deployed. Representative services provided by the leading legal operations firms include quantitative analysis for strategic planning, project management, compensation benchmarking, and risk management. Legal operations is a significant development that will continue to grow and develop allowing for substantial improvement by cutting costs and develop more professional approaches to the management of legal operations.
Law schools are adding classes in Computational Law, Legal Issues in various aspects of AI and Blockchain, Programming for Lawyers, Design Thinking in Law, Data Analytics for Lawyers, and Law, Ethics, and the New Technologies. Additionally, Duke Law School has added the Duke Center on Law & Tech and the Duke Law Tech Lab, which is an accelerator program that helps legal tech entrepreneurs develop their projects. Wake Forest Law School’s Professor Mark Rabil is looking at the mindfulness in law movement. Mindfulness in the profession may be a way of helping lawyers stay focused and balanced.
Many changes are coming to the profession caused directly by new technologies and in response to changes that the technologies are bringing about in society. The rate of change is manageable at the present, and there are many ways that a forward-looking law firm can benefit from them. As with any significant operational move, a wise lawyer will be discerning and selective. It is vital to know what you are getting into and why you’re doing it.