Disruptive Technologies in Legal Practice

The business concept of disruptive innovation becomes noteworthy in the legal practice. It refers to a process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves up market, eventually displacing established competitors.

In his book Tomorrow’s Lawyers: An Introduction to Your Future, the legal futurist Richard Susskind commented that our legal profession will be dismantled in favour of increasingly capable systems. He highlighted the emergence of various disruptive legal technologies to challenge and change delivery of current legal services. Document automation, document analysis and legal project management are three currently widely-adopted technologies used in big law firms.

Document automation can automate a time-consuming and repetitive manual task into an almost instantaneous deliverable in minutes, whereas, in the past, junior lawyers and paralegals would have taken numerous hours to complete. This provides a much more less costly client solution and eliminates human errors.

Document analysis is particularly relevant to litigation and regulatory investigation work which often involves review of a large volume of documents. For instance, an e-discovery platform can enable lawyers to focus on the analysis of relevant information extracted from big data analytics.

Legal project management involves new methods, systems and techniques to meet a client’s particular needs with a level of efficiency akin to mass production. These strategies can improve communication amongst different stakeholders in the matter cycle, eliminate any wasteful steps, minimize complexity, diagnose bottlenecks and keep monitoring performance.

Innovation always starts from intrinsic motivation. Lawyers need time and space to experiment and explore without fear of being disadvantaged because of their contributions and at the same time law firms need to be able to efficiently develop and assess new ideas and get them to market. The future generations of lawyers can look for premium advisory work that would likely favour human judgment and capabilities. At the same time, they can directly get involved in building technological products that would ultimately automate some of the time-consuming manual repetitive work at the lower end.

Law firms can inspire their fee earners to develop own innovation capabilities and become original thinkers. In the UK, lawyers are now encouraged to pitch for time off from billable hours for exploration and reflection. An innovation group led by qualified professionals can be set up to encourage organisational collaboration and bring innovative ideas which will be a source of sustainable competitive advantage for law firms and for the clients. Afterall, a clear strategy, efficient delivery and engaging effectively with emerging technologies will be essential but disruption starts with people and their ideas.


Associate, Simmons & Simmons