Modern time legal practice: technological advancement
We live in the world of technology, the digital world. Out of all distinctive features of human civilization, one is inevitable and merciless — the progress itself. Human civilization is by its nature something that is constantly being developed and upgraded. In my opinion, technological innovations in any given structure whatsoever, headed by the Internet as the global „mother“ of all networks and achievements — if properly used, can only bring benefits to people. As in all other spheres of life, technology certainly contributed to legal science, in one hand to become more diversify and on other to make improvement in terms of serving people and being there for them in any given time. Encouraged by the power of globalization processes and the ever-increasing technology, people tend to have a „right here, right now“ attitude. Preferably, things/services should be given or provided to user instantly/on the spot and at a good price, as well.
Access to Justice and Technology
The narrowest conception of “access to justice” has its origins in liberal 18th and 19th century states, and refers to an individual’s formal right to litigate or defend. It encompasses the right to “hav[e] your day in court”. Starting in the 1960s, definitions of access to justice focused on “practicing law for poor people”. The goal was to provide legal representation to impoverished individuals who could not otherwise afford legal advice. It aimed to counteract the cost, delay and complexity of the legal system. This concept of access to justice forms the foundation for today’s legal aid and poverty law clinics (Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre, s.d.). I am set out to explore the correlation of technology with this latter conception.
By reading materials and researching for this topic, I came across the abundance of articles and texts on the Internet, but they are all underlying the same thing, they all have a same point. Like any other industry providing certain services to people, legal science and its disciplines have also given much of the cake (so to speak) to new types of services based on new technologies. Old traditional ways of dealing with law in general are being slowly left behind and stored to the papers-pushing/non-internet era.
When communication technologies resolve around the home environment, one promising application — telecommuting — reflects another emerging social change phenomenon. (Kraut, Scherlis, Mukhopadhyah, Manning & Kiesler, 1996; Stanek & Mokhtarian, 1998. This “virtual workforce” is growing as corporations trim operating costs and accommodate the lifestyle choices of valued employees. (U.S. Department of Commerce, 1998)”. (William H Dutton, Brian Kahin, Ramon O’Callaghan, Andrew W. Wyckoff, 2004)
Somewhat that is also a well-known fact: economic inequality is increasing day by day as the poor are getting poorer and the richer are getting richer. Uneven distribution of the wealth in the world is mostly the main reason why most of us (and by that I mean 99.99% of all human inhabitants on Earth) do not have legal advice givers/attorneys on retainer. For example, we shall take the findings researchers made in UK. „The government’s own statistics show spending on legal aid has fallen sharply from £2.6bn in 2005–06 to £1.5bn last year. The steepest decline came after 2013 when Laspo (Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act) came into effect“(Bowcott, 2017).
In human rights terms, the cuts to legal aid constitute a retrogressive measure. They were primarily motivated by a desire to reduce spending on the justice system at a time of increased fiscal pressure, but were made with insufficient regard for the potential negative and profound impacts on the protection of human rights in the UK. There is no dispute that fewer people can now access free legal help and representation in a wide range of cases; the government’s own statistics bear this out (Amnesty International UK, 2016: 3)
Development of new type legal services
For this and similar reasons, it is not a surprise that new online platforms that provide various types of legal services — spring up like mushrooms. And everywhere, too. They provide a service that can be obtained at any given time, anywhere (provided you have access to the Internet and most of the developed world today has it, and at every turn). No need to schedule an appointment, wait for days, miss work, delay your daily responsibilities, travel to a law office, or wait to meet with an attorney. Just few clicks on a keyboard is all it takes. The major players in the online legal services field are LegalZoom, Rocket Lawyer, LegalShield, LawDepot and a few others.
Most online legal services currently operate on either a subscription basis, where the client pays a certain amount per month in exchange for an outlined list of services, or a pay-per service basis, where the client purchases one-time legal services. Online legal services are inexpensive relative to what typical brick-and-mortar law firms charge, which makes most small business owners immediately wonder why and how these sites can charge so much less than other attorneys. The answer is simple: They aren’t law firms (Bushnell, 2017). And with that, they cannot be working in full capacity as such. But in most cases of smaller legal technicalities, they should serve well enough. In support of that, thousands of customers are also talking about their positive experiences that have been in touch with such services.
We are aware that such services are still not in a position to be a worthy substitute for the established pattern of relations between legal institutes and humans. But things are constantly evolving, day after day.
In a recent study, LawGeex, a legal tech startup, challenged a group of 20 experienced lawyers to test their skills and knowledge against its AI-powered algorithm. The group included associates and in-house lawyers from global firms such as Goldman Sachs, Cisco and Alston & Bird, as well as general counsel and sole practitioners. „The task was to review risks contained in five non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). The AI matched the top-performing lawyer for accuracy — both achieved 94%. Collectively, the lawyers managed an average of 85%, with the worst performer recording 67%. When it came to speed, the AI far surpassed the legal minds, taking just 26 seconds to review all five documents compared to the lawyers’ average speed of 92 minutes. The speediest lawyer completed the review in 51 minutes — over 100 times slower than the AI — while the slowest took 156 minutes“(Wood, 2018).
Technology shapes community
All of that in the combination with the uncertain times we do live in, creates a predictable vision of what lies in the inherent capability of technology to shape our community. Take, for example, 2020, the year in which we were hit by the largest pandemic in a hundred years. Large scale disasters have ways to sneak up and create chaos when no one expects it and there is no adequate infrastructure to prevent it. Increasing divisions on all grounds, marginalization, suffocation of human rights, impossibility of achieving timely health care, increase in criminal activities in certain parts, dismissals and much more. The Social Distancing Protocol has created new modus operandi in the business world. In every sphere things have changed drastically or are about to suffer a paradigm shift.
While the traditional law and economics approach (Becker 1968) emphasizes the effects of incentives in the form of sanctions, a recent literature in behavioral science and legal studies reminds us that non-material factors and social norms play a central role in explaining individual compliance with laws (Zamir and Teichman 2018).
The workplace has changed and so employment law will grow to include more cases such as workplace disputes over working from home capabilities, safe working environments back in the office and employer’s duty of care when it comes to potential second waves and future pandemics. There will also be new definitions on flexible working and how employers judge acceptable practice. Other areas of law that may see growth are legal tech with a new need to have digital solutions, litigation, with plenty of companies in disputes with customers over cancellations and delays, insolvency with the inevitable economic drop, mental health law and family law. (The University of Law, 2020).
In a post-pandemic world, we will rely more heavily on technology, which is where the next generation of legal professionals will excel. Future lawyers will therefore need to demonstrate they can work with a multiple of software and hardware with flexibility and show their digital expertise from the application process onward in order to contribute to a wider use of existing technology. They will also need to overcome potential challenges for firms in particular areas such as maintaining their brand profile and finding new ways to attract clients and build fruitful relationships without using traditional networking events/sponsorship/hospitality, as social distancing becomes more conventional. This will present early opportunities for junior lawyers to distinguish themselves in technological and entrepreneurial manner, through finding creative (and effective) solutions to this. (Ibid)
Outlines for the future
By the likes of what we vividly witness every day, it is not difficult to spot out that we live in a time of perpetual change. These changes have enormous social implications for all of us. Technology has already greatly advanced the classic established patterns of all industries, and when we add to that the events that plagued us through 2020, the analysis has no end. We can only wonder, what’s next. Perhaps as in many other industries, given the announced changes in the workforce caused by automation and the power of the technology launched by AI, legal services too would be largely transposed into the online world. Or even, completely. Maybe at first glance, this looks far-fetched and futuristic. But also, everything that has been achieved today on a technological scale, a few decades ago — was unimaginable and unexpected. Based on the current modus operandi, we can only assume the multiplications of vast areal of opportunities for growth and development. But if there is one thing we can say with security, is that a symbiotic relation between legal practice and technology, embodied in various online legal services and existence of many data-bases of legal rules and regulations - really have increased the overall access to the legal system, and it will only continue to do so in the coming times.