Towards the end of every calendar year, the American Bar Association publishes the results of its annual legal technology survey. Several legal service providers, experts, and reporters, too, analyse existing trends and subsequently make their own legal technology predictions for 2023. Some items stand out that most pay attention to. In this article, we will look at automation, artificial intelligence, cloud-native solutions, virtual legal assistants, data privacy and cybersecurity, crypto technologies, blockchain, and smart contracts. We will briefly pay attention to some other trends, as well.
Automation keeps being a major driver of change in many industries. The legal sector is no exception, even though it lags compared to many other sectors. Lawyers seem to take longer to catch up that automation is beneficial. It is making many processes in the legal industry faster, more efficient, and less expensive. Automation has proven to be successful in fields like legal research, e-discovery and document review and management. In 2023, we can expect to see this trend continue, with a renewed focus on automating the law firm administration and on the creation and review of legal documents. Automated workflows can be used to streamline legal processes, such as litigation support, e-discovery, and case management. Automation can also assist in organizing and tracking progress and regulatory changes, data collection, reporting, and communication. An increase in automation will help to improve the accuracy of legal processes, reducing the risk of errors, and increasing efficiency.
Artificial Intelligence is becoming ubiquitous. In many aspects of our lives, there now are AI solutions available that make life easier. In the legal sector, too, AI is starting to make waves. In all the above-mentioned examples of automation, AI is playing a crucial role. As mentioned above, AI has already been successfully assisting lawyers with legal research, with process and workflow automation, with the generation of legal documents, as well as with e-discovery. But those are still fairly simple applications of AI. It can do far more. These days, AI is also being used to digest vast volumes of text and voice conversations, identify patterns, or carry out impressive feats of predictive modelling. The virtual legal assistants that we’ll discuss below, too, are all AI applications. If properly used, AI can save law firms much time and money. In 2023, we can expect to see a more widespread adoption of AI in the legal sector. (More on Artificial Intelligence and the Law).
Cloud computing has been a game-changer for many industries. Previous reports had already revealed that lawyers, too, are more and more relying on cloud solutions. This should not come as a surprise, as Cloud-based solutions provide many benefits, including reduced costs, increased scalability, and improved data security. They help lawyers and clients share files and data across disparate platforms rather than relying solely on emails. Additionally, cloud-based solutions are more accessible, allowing legal firms to work from anywhere and collaborate more effectively with clients and other stakeholders. In 2023, we can expect this trend to continue. (In the past, we have published articles on cloud solutions for lawyers, on managing your law firm in the cloud, an on lawyers in the cloud).
Virtual Legal Assistants (VLAs)
In the past, we have talked on several occasions about legal chatbots. Chatbots have sufficiently matured to now start playing the role of virtual legal assistants. VLAs are AI-powered chatbots that build on basic neural network computing models to harness the power of deep learning. They use artificial intelligence algorithms to assist law firms with various tasks. Gartner predicts VLAs can answer one-quarter of internal requests made to legal departments. They extend the operational capacity of law firms as well as of in-house corporate legal teams. As a result, they assist in reducing lawyers’ average response time and producing distinct service delivery efficiencies. Furthermore, as VLAs are a form of automation, all the benefits of automation apply here too: virtual legal assistants can help to improve the accuracy of legal work, reduce the risk of errors and increase efficiency. At present, virtual legal assistants are still primarily being used in uncomplicated and repetitive operations. Recent breakthroughs, however, indicate that they are already able to take on more complex tasks and will continue to do so.
Data Privacy and Cybersecurity
Ever since the GDPR, data privacy and cybersecurity have become increasingly important. In 2023, we can expect to see an ongoing emphasis on data privacy and as well as an increase in attention to cybersecurity in the legal sector. (The examples of high-profile Big Tech corporations receiving massive fines seem to be a good incentive). Law firms have understood that they too need to make sure that they have robust data privacy and cybersecurity measures in place to protect their clients’ confidential information. Several law firms also provide their clients assistance with the legal aspects of data protection.
Crypto technologies, Blockchain, and smart contracts
The market of cryptocurrencies was volatile in 2022. That did not stop an increase in interest in the underlying crypto technologies. Experts predict rises in a) regulation of cryptocurrencies and crypto technologies, in b) the adoption of cryptocurrency, c) a growing interest in decentralized finance (DeFi), and d) an increase in attempts at cryptocurrency taxation. We are already witnessing an intensification in litigation with regard to cryptocurrency and crypto technologies. This trend is expected to continue. Litigation about NFTs, e.g., is one of the areas where litigation is expected to rapidly increase.
Experts also expect an ongoing interest in and an increased adoption of Blockchain technology. Blockchain can be used to securely store and manage legal data, reducing the risk of data breaches and ensuring the integrity of legal records. Additionally, blockchain can be used to automate many legal processes, such as contract management and dispute resolution, by enabling the creation of smart contracts. As we mentioned in previous articles, smart contracts can streamline many legal processes, reducing the time and cost associated with contract management and dispute resolution. They can also help to increase the transparency and accountability of legal transactions, reducing the risk of fraud and improving the overall efficiency of legal processes.
The ABA survey report noticed that law firms are spending more money on legal technology than ever before. In many cases, this involved investing more in tightening cybersecurity.
The trend to work remotely and to use video conferencing for virtual meetings that started during the pandemic is ongoing.
More than ever before lawyers pay attention to their own work experience, as well as to the user experience for their clients by making their law firms more client centred. There is an ongoing focus on work-life balance, not only for the lawyers but also for the employees of law firms. Law firms are finally starting to consider things like employee satisfaction.
While billable hours remain the most used fee model, there has been a noticeable increase in lawyers using a subscription fee model.
Finally, the trend that law firms are increasingly hiring people with hybrid profiles is continuing. By increasing cognitive diversity, law firms want to close the gap between professionals with knowledge of legal matters and those with enough legal tech expertise to manage the digitization and automation of workflows. Gartner predicts that by the end of 2023, one third of corporate legal departments will have a legal tech expert in charge of managing the digital transformation and automation of internal processes. Large law firms are also increasingly hiring lawyers that are familiar with business administration.