Is legal technology a tool to improve lawyers’ efficiency, or a savage beast that will ravage the entire legal industry? The answer depends first and foremost on your definition of legal technology. Many law firms surveyed say they have invested in technology software that saves manpower, improves work efficiency, and optimizes law firm management.
However, Wu Xiaoliang, managing partner of CM Law Firm based in Shanghai, says the mere application of software and systems is not enough to qualify legal technology, which can more accurately be termed legal tools. “The core value of a law firm lies in the knowledge map that constitutes knowledge in the minds of all lawyers,” says Wu, who has worked with many internet companies.
“Legal technology, which is being heatedly discussed by everyone, hopes to link these maps through technology and enable them to be coded. This belongs to the category of industrial internet, which is a capacity possessed by internet companies, not by law firms.”
Wu points out that the law firm has unique advantages in the application of legal science and technology, and she is trying to use legal tools to create knowledge maps that make contributions to the professional development of the market.
Wayne Chen, a partner of Llinks Law Offices in Shanghai, claims that there are three core links in legal service work, namely professional execution, market expansion, and internal management of firms and teams. Legal technology has gradually become an operation platform covering all kinds of needs in the above-mentioned core links. For example, with professional execution Chen says legal services are becoming increasingly standardized, but non-standardized legal services will also keep developing.
“Considering the fundamentals of legal services is still oriented by professionalism, non-standardized legal services have integrated technical competence and artistic creativity,” he says. “Even with the help of next-generation information technologies such as big data, AI and cloud computing, legal technology will still be supplementary to a massive amount of non-standardized legal services, as opposed to an element of substitution.”
Frank Liu, a partner at Tiantai Law Firm in Shanghai, agrees. “[Legal technology] can surely improve the efficiency of lawyers’ work to a certain extent,” he says. “It can even feasibly replace humans in some simple and repeated legal assistance work, but we think it is impossible for it to completely replace lawyers.”
Chen says the application of legal science and technology into China’s legal market has achieved profound progress in aspects such as information and database construction, market information notification, electronic signature, and standardized document filing. In professional implementation, where technology can improve lawyers’ service ability and efficiency, current applications still concentrate on search, statistics, classification and simple visualization.
“We are also very much looking forward to the emergence of technology with higher added value, such as legal technology products that can conduct a certain level of in-depth analysis,” he says. However, some experts argue that legal technology brings about disruption rather than positive change. Vincent Sun, managing partner of Young-Ben Law Firm based in Shanghai, says that with the ongoing advancement of AI, legal technology will disruptively change this traditionally knowledge and experience-intensive industry.
“Legal technology will break the old logic and market structure of the legal services market, and really eliminate the poor performers,” says Sun. “In the future era of AI, when all the facts are recorded by distributed data, and when laws shift into rules automatically executed by a system rather than artificially formulated provisions, perhaps the function and form of the law itself will be redefined, let alone legal services.”