Six things we learnt from ‘FinTech, AI and online justice: what technology means for the next generation of lawyers’

And the video in full

A host of top lawyers joined online courts review chief Lord Justice Briggs last week to talk all things lawtech at LexisNexis’ Law Campus in central London.

The Question Time-style discussion saw an audience of over 100 law students ask the panel — which included experts from Pinsent Masons, City University and LexisNexis — any questions they liked. The session was livestreamed to Legal Cheek’s 42,000 Facebook followers (video above).

Here are the six standout things that we learned…

1. Tech may mean more work for lawyers, not less

Lord Justice Briggs highlighted the fact that so many people are currently priced out of legal services, and expressed his belief that online courts could change this, telling the audience:

I recognise that [online courts] may produce less profit per case for the legal profession, but it should open up civil justice to a whole community out there, many of whom are perfectly computer literate yet currently view the current system as completely inaccessible.

He added:

Even if lawyers get less profit per case, there’ll be so many cases in there that the lawyers have nothing to fear.

2. Already there are new types of lawyers emerging

Among the panellists was Paven Sharma, a Senior Legal Knowledge Engineer at Pinsent Masons’ Birmingham office. Sharma told the audience how he studied law at Keele while pursuing in his free time a passion for computing. He now fuses the two in a role that Briggs LJ predicted would be high in demand in the coming years. Sharma described the core element of what he does like this:

The majority of my work involves taking tasks that lawyers would do in the old way and using technology to automate them, and giving the lawyers the information they need to do their tasks as efficiently as possible.

3. Bringing about change in the legal profession is hard because lawyers are so busy

The business of lawyers was one of the key reasons highlighted by Nigel Rea, LexisNexis director of precedents, drafting and forms, to explain the relative lack of tech-driven innovation that has occurred in the law to date. Noting a recent collaboration between Lexis and Judge Business School at Cambridge University that explored why change is hard in the legal profession, Rea explained:

The concept of slack is interesting. You are asking very busy people to change and work using different processes when they have a 1,500 annual hours target. So, actually, there is no space or time within that law firm to change. That makes it quite hard.

4. Lawyers who understand tech have an advantage

Pinsent Masons Head of Fintech Propositions Luke Scanlon, who is at the forefront of the tech revolution taking place in financial services, emphasised the importance of lawyers having a solid understanding of their clients’ industries. He explained:

If you are talking about being a practising lawyer and selling legal services to a client, and you are trying to sell innovation, then it really helps to have some understanding of web languages.

Scanlon also reflected on the opportunities being created by Fintech for law firms to change the way they serve clients as technology “completely transforms financial services”. He added that “law firms need to think about the future of the market for legal services and how that’s going to change”, in particular “we need to think about what services we can provide to lean organisations like emerging Fintech businesses.”

5. But the virtues of a traditional legal education remain

Although he has a strong interest in the London tech scene, and co-founded Start-Ed, a project that matches law students with tech start-ups in need of legal advice, Professor David Collins of City, University of London remains a strong believer in the value of more traditional legal skills.

Don’t waste your time learning coding if you are not interested in it,” he said. “Read your law books and learn the cases and get high marks like everyone has done for 50 years. If you know coding that’s amazing, but I wouldn’t spend time learning it. I’d learn Mandarin instead probably. That being said, one of our start-up clients when they were looking for a law student to do an internship did ask for someone who could code.

6. Politics may influence how far the legal profession adopts technology

A factor that is often overlooked in the debate about technology is politics — and what the electorate decides in a democracy. This could prove to be more significant than many currently recognise, suggested Briggs LJ:

We do also have a right as a society to have human beings doing certain things even if we are getting to a stage where a computer algorithm can do it. That’s a very important democratic right. Do you really want your decisions decided by a judge, who can exercise humanity and mercy, or by an algorithm? Do you really want your advice to be given by a lawyer who can understand the whole of your problem, or by a computer that merely responds to the inputs you make. These are choices, and we don’t have to be driven by where technology says we could go.

For photos of the event, check out Legal Cheek’s Twitter and Instagram.

Further reading

Why open-minded law students will re-shape the legal profession [Legal Cheek Careers]

Inside the legal advice clinic helping London’s start-ups [Legal Cheek Careers]

Why it’s a great time to be a junior lawyer who understands tech [Legal Cheek Careers]