Why it’s a great time to be a junior lawyer who understands tech

Legal Cheek Careers meets two solicitors leading the way in lawtech and fintech

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Ahead of ‘FinTech, AI and online justice: what technology means for the next generation of lawyers’, Legal Cheek Careers caught up with Pinsent Masons’ director of knowledge and innovation delivery, David Halliwell, and the head of the firm’s fintech propositions, Luke Scanlon.

The pair shared their views about artificial intelligence (AI), the fintech revolution and the coming together of data science and legal services — and considered what opportunities these trends will create for lawyers-to-be.

Legal Cheek Careers: What will AI mean for junior lawyers?

David Halliwell (DH): Artificial intelligence is an enabling tool, which will in the medium term stretch lawyers and require them to master new skills and techniques. It will open up new opportunities to provide value to our clients.

Luke Scanlon (LS): I subscribe to the idea put forward by Professor Richard Susskind (one of the UK’s leading voices on legal technology and a consultant to Pinsent Masons) that AI will mean more of a focus on interesting work for lawyers and less time spent on mundane tasks.

Will this change the typical profile of a lawyer?

LS: To a certain extent it could. Students with coding or data analysis skills are going to be in high demand, because these are areas where the legal profession has an opportunity to build on what it currently offers.

DH: I couldn’t agree more. Think about when a large corporate is buying another organisation. Today every organisation generates a huge amount of data — and the company looking to buy a new asset is increasingly seeking to look at that data to get a better idea of what they are purchasing. Ultimately, it boils down to assessing risk, which is lawyers’ specialty. So I think we’ll see a lot more coming together of the provision of legal advice and data analysis.

So should law students be learning data science and coding?

DH: Certainly I’d snap up the coders — partly because it’s a signal that they are technically savvy. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw more courses like the combined law and computer science degree that the University of Strathclyde used to run.

LS: It’s also a mindset thing. When I talk to junior lawyers about tech they tend to be excited about it and get it. They want to be involved. Quite understandably, some older lawyers who have spent many years working a certain way, and may have to start fundamentally changing the way they think about delivering legal services, sometimes feel rather differently. But this in itself gives those at the start of their careers an advantage.

How big a game-changer is fintech?

LS: There’s no question that it’s transforming financial services. Fundamental changes like blockchain — a digital ledger that removes the need for a trusted third party, like a bank, which underpins traditional finance — are creating a lot of regulatory questions and to a large extent have outpaced the law. Lawyers’ role in this is now in one sense to help the law catch up and fill in those gaps. So this is a very legally interesting area, which involves tech start-ups, the large banks and also governments and regulators.

Broadly speaking, how do you get into this area as someone at the start of their career?

LS: There’s a fintech community in London, with regular meet-ups with lawyers, venture capitalists and technology people. Going along to one of these events is a good way to gain an insight into it. At the same time there is so much hype around fintech now with many people just jumping on the bandwagon. To get an idea about which law firms really have expertise in this area, I’d start by looking at the strength of their technology practices.

DH: You need to look at the awards firms have won, and the job titles. Pinsents is one of the few to have a director of innovation and a head of research & development, and we are the only firm to have built our own AI tool.

What does the future hold for technology and law?

DH: At the moment law lags behind banking in the experience it gives its customers. With online banking, for example, if you go onto your portal everything is in front of you as a customer. With legal services we are still not there yet. But soon corporate clients will expect similar user interfaces. At the same time, there is a generation of young people coming into the legal profession who have grown up understanding technology – and they will be driving the change.

LS: In five years time, or sooner, fintech and financial services will probably be seen as one and the same thing.

Luke Scanlon will be speaking at ‘FinTech, AI and online justice: what technology means for the next generation of lawyers’ on the evening of Thursday 27 October. Apply to attend here.