As technology continues to play a larger role in our everyday lives, lawyers should be attuned to issues borne from new advancements, and the legal implications that may arise. However, for many lawyers who do not come from a tech background, simply knowing which of countless technology issues they should familiarize themselves with can seem daunting. To assist you in better knowing where to start, here are the five technology issues all lawyer should be mindful of in 2017 and beyond:
1. Legal Automation
Up until now, law firms had not appeared to seriously take steps to automate legal processes and tasks, but there is lots of evidence this has changed. We can see lots of evidence of law firms automating legal processes and developing workflow management and document assembly in order to streamline legal processes and more efficiently deliver services to clients. In a February 2016 report entitled “Developing legal talent: Stepping into the future law firm”, Deloitte predicts automation will contribute to the need for far fewer traditional lawyers and legal sector jobs, and an increase in law firms demands for those with an alternative blend of skills. According to the report, legal secretaries have faced the brunt of automation-related redundancies, with approximately 30,000 jobs reduced from 2001-2015. However, the report is quick to note that, as technology advances, automation will displace associate-level positions and other high-skilled jobs and require the redeployment and/or retraining of others.
The threat and significance of cybersecurity has been recently brought into focus by the release of the Presidential Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity’s 100-page report, which included sixteen recommendations to improve U.S cybersecurity. The report was released following what has been described as “the worst hacking of U.S. government systems in history” and accusations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Despite the increased digitization of today’s world, many law firms have not shielded themselves fully against security breaches. Compounding these dangers, many young lawyers are not trained in the practical aspects of cybersecurity. Thus, ironically, they often become the weakest link in an ever increasingly complex digital web. As the Ontario Bar Association has noted, “[l]osing control of confidential information can quickly undermine a firm’s reputation, destroying clients’ and public trust.” As digital technology platforms and application architectures evolve, the world of cybersecurity becomes increasingly complex, exposing new vulnerabilities for lawyers and firms that fail to invest, adapt, and keep pace with new technologies and threats.
3. Artificial Intelligence
What seemed like fruit of the imagination of Hollywood screenwriters just a decade ago now seems more like an inevitability as Predictive Analytics and Machine Learning technologies improve. From self-driving vehicles to robot chefs, we continue to hear that robots will replace the human labour force in a growing number of professions. Much like with legal automation, as AI’s level of sophistication increases, it has the potential to displace high-skilled jobs and further contract the legal employment market. Those most affected will likely be hopeful new entrants, who will face even greater competition for scarce legal jobs that develop practical skills.
Blockchain technology has the potential to revolutionize legal work. Thomson Reuters article explained blockchains as “Blockchain is a public ledger. It can be applied to almost anything that you would normally save to a database or spreadsheet.” Another explanation of what it is, as explained by Gartner Inc., “[b]lockchain is a type of distributed ledger in which value exchange transactions (in bitcoin or other tokens) are sequentially grouped sequentially into blocks. Each block is chained to the previous block and recorded across a peer-to-peer network, using cryptographic trust and assurance mechanisms.” Blockchain has largely been overlooked by lawyers, not surprising as it is difficult to understand what it is, and we also seem to be inundated by articles that tell us we will be replaced by a robot computer. However, this technology has the potential to significantly disrupt transactional legal work. Blockchain and distributed-ledger concepts are gaining attention due to their potential to transform industry operating models. While the currently much -hyped application concerns the financial services industry, there are many possible applications. In fact, some Latin countries are using the technology to keep track of who owns a piece of land. Other applications include identity verification, music distribution, title registry, and supply chain monitoring. However, as David Cearley, Gartner Research Vice- President and Gartner Fellow notes, “[d]istributed ledgers are potentially transformative but most initiatives are still in the early alpha or beta testing stage.”
5. Self-Driving Cars
Autonomous cars, such as those being developed by Tesla and Google, are vehicles designed to travel between destinations by sensing and assessing the environment and navigating without human input or operation. Over the past three years, the question surrounding the mainstreaming of autonomous vehicles has shifted from if to when. In fact, this past September Uber rolled out their own self-driving service into the Pittsburg market. It is possible and some would say it has become inevitable that the future of motor vehicle transportation will be driverless. As automotive and technology companies attempt to eliminate driver error, lawyers should be prepared for fundamental changes to personal injury, healthcare, and insurance markets. While lawyers in Ontario have been fixated on rules surrounding personal injury referrals and advertising, much of the financial incentive for pursuing such aggressive strategies may dissipate as the number of motor vehicle related personal injury claims declines.