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Law tech top five: the UK technologies set to transform the legal sector

  • 7 min read

The legal industry is going through a digital revolution, with new tech rapidly changing the face of the profession. Here are five transformative technologies developed by UK firms that every legal IT professional should be aware of.

The legal sector still has a very traditional public image. It is commonly associated with archaic language and long-established ways of working. But, in fact, the industry – as is the case with most other areas of the economy – is undergoing a seismic shift as a result of the disruptive effect of digital technology.

Tasks that once took back-office staff many hours of hard graft – handling the paperwork for high volumes of lease agreements, for example, or trawling hundreds of volumes of case law for relevant precedents – are increasingly being automated by advanced legal solutions that use machine-learning and artificial intelligence.

For law firms, there are significant competitive advantages at stake. The cost-cutting potential of automation means firms can deliver work at ever lower prices, placing those with the best developed technology at the forefront of the market. At the same time, documentation and enterprise platforms are taking the leg-work out of regulatory compliance and security.

These developments are precipitating fundamental changes in business practices, are set to play a big role in the future of law firms, and familiarity with tech is becoming a prerequisite for every member of the profession – not just firms’ IT departments. 

The UK is leading the world in this burgeoning field of law tech, and the technologies being developed by UK firms are having a dramatic impact across the legal sector, not only in this country but globally.

Here is a rundown of five leading UK-based legal technology innovators that are disrupting the legal sector in different ways, and which IT professionals working with law firms need to be aware of.

1. slicedbread's Sharedo - smarter practice management

The complexity of legal businesses, and the vital importance of minimising the likelihood of clerical errors means that the sector has long been a user of practice management tools when it comes to staying organised.

However, Manchester-based start-up slicedbread has taken the application of technology a stage further with its adaptive Sharedo platform.

What sets the solution apart is that it begins by modelling all aspects of a firm’s workflow in order to create a customised, built-for-purpose case-management system that delivers complete visibility of performance against contractual obligations to clients.

The platform applies intelligent analytics so that it can evolve in step with a firm’s working practices, delivering continuous improvement in a way that most practice management solutions are unable to deliver without ongoing investment.

It promises to help firms achieve better cycle times, visibility, compliance and accuracy by intelligently assigning workload to staff based on capabilities and live capacity and providing a bespoke collaboration platform to optimise complex processes.

First established in 2011, today Sharedo is used by more than 100,000 professionals across a growing client base of law firms.

2. FlexeBoss - there’s an app for that

A big way in which tech is having a disruptive effect on the legal sector is by changing how clients and legal services providers interact.

Fifteen years ago, if you wanted to draw up a document such as a will, a divorce settlement or a property purchase or sale contract, there was little choice other than to instruct a local solicitor and pay their hourly rate. Today, there are many more options on the market.

For example, UK-based startup FlexeBoss is an eBay-like app for legal services, giving customers access to a vetted list of solicitors across the UK on a fixed-price basis.

Those using the service can simply place the required service in their shopping basket and a lawyer will be in touch to request documents, which can be uploaded via the app. The completed work is then shared with the customer according to an agreed timeframe.

While this represents the ultimate commoditisation of legal work, it is also an opportunity for those firms who are able to reach a larger pool of potential clients. An Uber-like rating system ensures that those solicitors receiving positive feedback are rewarded with a greater share of the work.

3. Darktrace - a new approach to security

As more and more sensitive information is digitised, data security has become a top priority for law firms. And, as criminals become more organised and targeted in their attacks, an arms race is taking place between developers of security systems and those looking to bypass them.

One cybersecurity company that has taken this standoff to the next level is Darktrace, a startup founded in 2013 by a group of mathematicians from Cambridge University.

Where virtually every existing security system looked to prevent hackers gaining access to a company’s data, Darktrace takes the radical approach of looking for unusual activity within a system and acting automatically to contain any breach. It claims to act like an immune system rather than a protective wall, which it claims determined attackers will always find a way to get past.

Darktrace works with several leading law firms, helping to safeguard client data and confidentiality.

4. Blue Prism - Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

In simple terms, RPA is software which mimics and replaces computer-facing work which is, or can be, done by humans. Think of it as a ‘digital workforce’.

An exciting example of this tech has been developed by Warrington-based Blue Prism. Now a multinational software company, the start-up pioneered and makes enterprise RPA software to eliminate the need for humans to carry out low-return, high-risk, manual data entry and processing work.

In 2017, the business was named by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as one of the world’s 50 smartest companies.

The significance of Blue Prism’s technology – and similar competitor offerings – for law firms is difficult to overstate. In many parts of the market where the work is highly commoditised, and price is the dominant factor in choosing a representative, it has become virtually impossible for firms that don’t employ this kind of automation to compete.

5. Weightmans’ Liverpool University and Kira Systems partnership - fully-fledged Artificial Intelligence?

In complex legal cases, such as negotiations over an insurance claim following a serious personal injury for example, there are hundreds of different factors that determine the outcome. Many of these still require the judgement of an expert and so can’t currently be modelled accurately by computer. Such cases are also frequently sensitive and concern life-changing issues, requiring careful human judgement, so it’s unlikely they’ll be handled entirely by automated systems anytime soon.

However, that doesn’t mean that some elements can’t be driven by AI. For example, forecasting the cost of care in catastrophic injury cases could potentially be determined by a well-designed algorithm.

This is what UK law firm Weightmans is currently working on, alongside senior academics from Liverpool University and software company Kira Systems. The firm is modelling different claims processes, identifying and extracting the key information that determines the decision and applying legal reasoning to predict outcomes in similar cases. The result is an AI-driven decision tree that can predict the outcome of any given case.

This kind of AI-driven predictive analytics allows more accurate business planning, helping to forecast the cost of claims with greater certainty. The next step is to refine the accuracy of these models to create automated solutions that can truly transform the sector.

Cloud-based technology is at the heart of the infrastructure underpinning many of these digital innovations. With the integration of paper and digital documents the key to unlocking access to the cloud, legal firms need solutions that dovetail scanners and printers with online platforms.

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