According to Catherine Baksi, reporter at the Law Society Gazette, in the courtroom of tomorrow judges could be replaced by computers.
Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary Liz Truss unveiled the Prisons and Courts Bill. Aside from wide-ranging plans to reform prisons, the Bill contained proposals to enable people and businesses with claims worth up to £25,000 to use an online digital process instead of going to court.
And, as the cost of lawyers is increasingly out of reach for many ordinary people, it seems like a win-win situation that will provide swifter, simpler, cheaper access to justice for more people.
The moves build on automation that already exists for the initial stages of some court processes, including bulk automated claims, and the money and possession claims online.
The proposals follow a report from the Civil Justice Council, led by Professor Richard Susskind, and backed and built on by senior judges to deal with cases in three stages – starting with a largely automated, interactive online process to identify the issues and lodge documentary evidence, followed by conciliation and case management by case offices, before resolution by a judge if required.
England and Wales have so far lagged behind other jurisdictions when it comes to making use of online dispute resolution
In England and Wales, the Bar Council and the Law Society, the groups that represent barristers and solicitors respectively, support reforms to increase efficiency and make better use of resources, but they are circumspect about the manner and speed of change, which appears to be driven by the Justice Ministry’s court closure programme.
The Law Society, agrees that a modernised court service and efficient use of technology would benefit all court users, and accepts that digitisation has a central place in the modern courts and tribunals service.
Professor Roger Smith, former director of Justice and consultant to the Legal Education Foundation, supports the notion of online courts, providing they are done properly. But he warns the change must not be done too quickly or without proper piloting and evaluation.
To ensure those potential litigants who are not online are not denied access to justice, he proposes running a parallel online and physical court system.
Predicting the Future
of Legal Innovation
Driven by shifting client demands for better value for money and greater price certainty, and significant changes in the legal landscape bringing competition from new players moving into the market, has forced law firms investing in AI systems to carry out contract and document review, e-discovery and due diligence in a fraction of the time it takes junior lawyers or paralegals, and the smart machines do not get tired, require lunch breaks or take time off.
Jason Marty, Baker McKenzie global operations director, explains that as part of its innovation framework, the firm is employing “design thinking” to “reimage the existing service we provide and break it down to look at it from the perspective of the client’s needs, with technology as a key component”.
Some firms are starting to use innovation as a key performance indicator (KPI) to help them target resources on initiatives that make a strategic difference. The challenge in doing so, says TLT’s Mr Wright, is to “come up with a KPI that is relevant and measurable”. TLT decided not to proceed.
Adapting to change
All of this change, says a report from Deloitte, means the legal profession will look radically different in the future.
Technology has already contributed to a reduction of around 31,000 jobs and predicts automation will cut legal sector jobs by 39 per cent (around 114,000) over the next two decades.
The same report suggests the legal sector is growing and, while there may be fewer traditional lawyers, it predicts a bright future for elite lawyers who will possess a new mix of skills.
In recognition of the crucial and ever-expanding role of technology in law, Ulster University launched the UK’s first Legal Innovation Centre, designed to operate at the intersection between legal process innovation, technology, education and access to justice.
Centre director Catrina Denvir says it aims to teach students and professionals about the technological transformation of legal practice, including AI applications, natural language processing and blockchain, and to equip them with the skills to be employable in the tech-driven legal market.
It will collaborate with the industry to bring new applications to fruition and carry out research to understand the implications and benefits that arise from innovation, to facilitate legal process improvement and promote greater economic efficiency.
Dr Denvir says the centre’s focus is not only on technology but also the pursuit of improvement. She adds: “We apply a design-thinking approach which recognises that technology is only one potential solution to problems. There are other solutions that may not require technology at all or for which technology may be ill-suited.”