Legal tech is something that has been sitting patiently on the outskirts of the legal industry. However, has the Covid-19 pandemic been the driving force to push legal tech to the forefront of new developments? With vast restrictions on face to face contact and office operations, we have seen some basic integration of tech into legal proceedings, but as we know, the basis of most things legal excluding the court room, is contract-based. This beckons the question – what’s coming next?
The legal industry has been quick to react in utilising various forms of technology that are readily available. Court proceedings have been using various forms of video technology as a way of maintaining the systems operations. Criminal trials have been held over Skype for example, with judges and lawyers working from home under social distancing. The success of this does create the idea of it becoming the new future, with there being reduced wait times, delays, and transport costs.
The judiciary is not the only sector that has adjusted and rapidly shifted operations online. Law firms that were conducting vacation schemes and training contracts have had very little time to adapt, but have done so with great success. All such programmes, as well as law fairs and insight days, have been moved online using services such as Hopin.
However, this utilisation has only involved pre-existing technology, none of which is strictly legally focused.
General-purpose Legal Mark-up Language (GLML) Consortium is working to develop legal tech that sees the legal documents become the machine code itself. The tech consortium is looking to create high level document automation which will allow law firms to cut the process of marking up and amendments down to 10-12 minutes.
GLML Consortium is doing this through uploading term sheets onto their programme, which can be tailored to the specific firms or departments, based on what is uploaded and the parameters that are set. Through this, it can learn the repeated or common traits of legal and financial documents for the business using it, rather than having back and forth communication between parties about the larger details of a legal document. GLML is open source, meaning it can be read by both humans and machines. This provides a great benefit, allowing real time edits, but also really minimising errors, both human and computer.
BamLegal is a service that also looks at document automation, utilising questionnaires as a way to draft legal documents in a time-effective manner.
The platform consists of different questionnaires for different legal documents such as leases or more complex documents such as ones found in banking or corporate sectors. Catherine Bamford, the CEO and Founder of BamLegal addressed concerns about the automation of more complex documents by providing the example of ‘the time savings when drafting a Banking Facility Agreement that can be achieved simply by selecting whether the deal is Bilateral or Syndicated, whether there is a Double Newco structure; or on a Corporate SPA by asking if there are subsidiaries or if it will be a split exchange and completion’.
In a webinar, Catherine further provided a great example scenario of its use in the sports agent industry. Let’s say you have a new athlete looking for representation – in a non-automated situation there would be a lot of back and forth about demands and what the agency can offer, and the agent seeking clarification from people higher up. Using a questionnaire base, the agent can input the athlete’s details such as their sport, predicted growth and age amongst other characteristics. From this, the questionnaire can draft a contract determining what the agent can offer using parameters set by the agency.
As you can see, the process of document automation, whether through parameter-based questionnaires or through machine code, significantly reduces the time for legal drafting and amending.
Now more than ever, with most people working from home and office communication somewhat reduced, the need for time-reducing processes is ripe. Therefore, I think it is clear that Covid-19 has shown the need for such legal-technology, although I think the developments are still a few years from wider implementation or acceptance.
~ Nat Swartland, The Student Lawyer