Future firms

THE legal profession is rapidly changing — but not in Pakistan. From structural changes in the procedures required to establish a law firm, to technological changes in research and development, the profession is undergoing massive transformations. To meet the challenge, Pakistan’s legal industry needs to embrace technology and fundamentally alter its service structures.

Many lawyers are now moving beyond the traditional business model (ie solo practice) to join professional referral networks or organise law firm networks. Member firms coordinate effectively across borders through close collaboration, information sharing and training, posing a challenge to those who only offer local services. Lawyers working in domestic jurisdictions need to appreciate the value of law firm networks to improve the quality, impact, reach and even the scope of their legal services. Legal technology companies, for example, are increasingly occupying the space of small firms and solo lawyers, and are set to reshape traditional models of legal services.

New technologies are revolutionising the legal system: data security, big data, Bitcoin, computable contract, legal help web, digital technology, document automation, outcome prediction, machine learning, automation of legal work, legal analytics, mobile computing, data mining, legal app, electronic document-management systems, virtual law firms, online dispute resolution, electronic courts and e-filing of court documents, cloud computing, social media, block-chain money transfers and even robot lawyers are transforming the way legal work has traditionally been done. Who will prosper and who will be left behind will depend on who adapts best to these revolutionary changes.

Tomorrow’s lawyers need to be well versed in technology.

Artificial intelligence, for example, is having an impact on every sector, including in the legal sector. This technology is already being used to scan and predict documents relevant to a particular case. Some firms are using AI to review contracts, conduct due diligence and undertake legal research. Now e-discovery software can analyse millions of documents in a very short space of time for very little cost. An e-discovery provider in Silicon Valley, for example, can help analyse 1.5 million documents for less than $100,000.

Some programmes have the ability to extract relevant concepts at computer speed. In one competition, an AI programme developed to measure aptitude and legal intelligence had an accuracy rate of 86.6 per cent, compared with 66.3pc for human lawyers. E-courtrooms, meanwhile, are already operational in some countries. For example, the Federal Court of Australia uses e-courtrooms to assist in matters such as ex-parte applications for substituted service in bankruptcy proceedings. Access to, and management of, court documents is easier, saving time and money while increasing accuracy and reliability.

Social media platforms can be used to generate business and establish professional networks as well as improve education, career development, and rights-awareness for the general public. In Australia, a justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria notified claimants of a class action case about the registration requirements via Facebook. In Pakistan, where court proceedings get delayed for non-service of notice, Facebook may be used as a substitute mode of service for those who avoid the court process. Such usage needs to be balanced to ensure privacy rights are protected.

The International Bar Association Presi­den­tial Task Force on the Future of Legal Services report of 2017 lists several drivers of change.

These include (a) increased complexity of the legal environment and the need for fast and efficient answers, (b) client demands and increased client sophistication in de­­manding less expensive legal services, including an expansion of online legal aid, (c) a focus on process improvement within law firms, including virtual/remote working and electronic access to both case law and research materials, (d) in­­creased demand for cross-border legal advice and alternative forms of dispute resolution, (e) increased need for regulatory and global compliance advice, (f) emergence of innovators to provide solutions and increased role of non-lawyers in solving consumers legal problems, (g) customers widespread access to legal information, (h) growth of unmet legal needs, (i) shrinkage of lawyers’ knowledge monopoly, (j) increased transparency of lawyers’ work, (k) increasing segmentation of legal solution providers, (l) multidisciplinary service firms, and (m) increased expectation for lawyers to be available 24/7.

Studies like this show that domestic legal institutions have to respond to global trends. The sooner Pakistan’s legal system adapts the better. A new generation of lawyers and judges must be prepared to meet the challenges posed by technology. In this regard, law schools, bar councils and judicial academies should provide special courses on ‘law and technology’. The rights and demands of the people will be even further compromised if the legal profession is not immediately upgraded.

The writer is a lawyer.

Published in Dawn, March 25th, 2018

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