Three legal tech trends changing the future of law

No sector, industry or career is immune to the changes and advancements of new and innovative technology. Law, fortunately, is no different. Here, creative technology solutions and legal tech trends are being used to improve and transform the legal sector. Pursuing a career in law these days means accessing the best of tech tools to make applying the law easier, faster and smarter. It also means finding fresh solutions to traditional legal challenges.

The integration of tech within the legal sector has grown from being an optional extra to a fundamental necessity. Technology is no longer confined to administrative tasks - it's now reshaping basic legal processes, from research and documentation to client interactions and courtroom proceedings. It has significantly shifted how the legal profession services its clients.

The top three tech trends

  1. AI and automation: the new legal assistants

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is revolutionising the way lawyers operate. With AI, computers imitate human intelligence to carry out tasks that usually need human understanding, like using natural language, recognising patterns, making decisions, and learning through experience.

AI has the power to automate routine tasks. It’s ability to process and analyse data at a rapid pace means greater efficiency for legal professionals in the following areas:

    • Legal research: AI-powered platforms speed up research by sifting through extensive databases of case law, statutes, regulations and legal documents to provide precise and relevant information, enabling legal representatives to focus on critical analysis. 
    • Document review: AI algorithms excel at reviewing large volumes of documents, identifying relevant information such as contract clauses, key terms, or potential risks. For example, in contract review, AI can scan agreements in seconds and pinpoint clauses that require scrutiny, allowing legal professionals to focus on crucial aspects. 
    • Predictive analytics: AI's ability to identify patterns in historical data assist legal professionals in predicting case outcomes or potential legal issues. By analysing past rulings and legal precedents, AI systems offer insights that inform case strategies and negotiation tactics. 
    • E-discovery: in litigation, AI can efficiently manage electronic discovery, sifting through massive volumes of digital data to identify relevant evidence. This speeds up the process of preparing cases for trial and ensures that no crucial evidence is overlooked.
  1. Virtual courtrooms

Another emerging trend in how technology is reshaping traditional practices and processes is the adoption of virtual courtrooms – revolutionising the way legal proceedings are conducted and resolved.

Virtual courtrooms are digital platforms that facilitate legal proceedings, hearings, and trials remotely, eliminating the need for any physical presence in a traditional courtroom setting. Judges, arbitrators, mediators, lawyers and clients can participate from their respective locations using video conferencing tools.

The adoption of virtual courtrooms has been driven by several factors:

    • Continuity during the Covid-19 pandemic: the global pandemic highlighted the need for flexible and adaptable legal processes. Virtual courtrooms ensured the continuity of legal proceedings during lockdown and travel restrictions, and continues to be used well after the pandemic. 
    • Geographical access: virtual legal proceedings remove geographical barriers, allowing parties from different regions to participate without the need for travel. 
    • Efficiency: virtual courtrooms save time and resources, as lawyers, clients, mediators and arbitrators can engage in hearings without delays associated with travel and scheduling.

That said, virtual proceedings come with challenges as well as opportunities. Some of the challenges include:

    • Uneven technological access: access to reliable internet and appropriate technology is crucial for seamless virtual proceedings. 
    • Unequal access to technology or digital literacy: this digital divide affects effective participation in virtual proceedings. 
    • Data security and privacy: virtual proceedings involve the exchange of sensitive legal information, making security a critical concern.

Opportunities related to virtual proceedings include:

    • Faster case resolution: virtual proceedings lead to more efficient case resolution, as parties can present their arguments and evidence without delays of physical presence. 
    • Reduced costs: virtual proceedings can significantly lower costs of travel, accommodation and logistics. 
    • Access to expertise: virtual platforms allow parties to engage experts and witnesses from different geographical locations, enhancing the quality of evidence presented in a case.
  1. Cybersecurity and Data Protection Challenges

Along with the benefits of integrating technology into the legal sector, firms are also exposed to challenges with cybersecurity and the protection of data. Safeguarding sensitive legal information and effectively responding to data breaches are critical to maintaining the integrity and trustworthiness of legal services.

To address this challenge, legal tech solutions are being developed and adopted. These include:

    • Encryption: using strong encryption techniques to protect data makes it much more difficult for unauthorised individuals to access information even if they manage to breach security measures. 
    • Access controls: multi-factor authentication and role-based access restrict data access to authorised personnel only. 
    • Secure communication: using encrypted communication channels for exchanging sensitive information prevents interception and eavesdropping during data transmission.

The consequences of a data breach in a legal firm are severe, resulting in reputational damage, legal liabilities, and financial losses. It is therefore crucial to have a robust response plan that includes:

    • Conducting frequent security audits and assessments to identify vulnerabilities and address them promptly. 
    • Training staff in cybersecurity best practices, including recognising phishing attempts and using strong passwords. Training can significantly reduce the risk of breaches caused by human error. 
    • Developing a comprehensive incident response plan to handle data breaches including steps to contain the breach, notifying affected parties, and working towards a resolution. 
    • Regularly back up data to secure locations. In case of a breach, having recent backups minimise data loss and operational disruption.

By embracing these legal tech trends – harnessing the opportunities cutting-edge technology brings and not being intimidated by it – law firms and legal practitioners can better adapt to an evolving landscape and ensure the industry's continued growth and relevance.

About The IIE’s Varsity College

The Independent Institute of Education (The IIE) of which Varsity College is a brand, is South Africa’s largest registered and accredited private provider of higher education. At Varsity College we understand that no two students are the same or learn the same. That’s why we make sure a student’s education is shaped around them; how they like to learn, what they are passionate about, what makes them tick, and what makes them thrive. Our education by design approach allows students to grow into their best, and creates a space where they can live, learn and play – their way.