Top Trends in Legal Innovation - A Law Student's Guide to their Future Workplace

Sam Taylor

In the ultra-competitive legal services market, the technological aptitude of law graduates is fast changing from an employer preference to a pre-requisite. It has been identified in blogs such as Law21, AboutCareers and Youblawg as one of the most desirable skills to have before applying for a clerkship or graduate position. So what exactly are the specific skills, trends, and types of software that law students can familiarize themselves with before entering the workforce? Read more for how the tertiary sector is catering to the skills need, the leading advancements in legal technology and training options and resources you can turn to to become better versed in such increasingly widespread innovation.

Law School Electives in Legal Technology

Amongst Australia’s 36 law schools, a growing number have elective courses dedicated to legal technology, many of which stress the importance of digital literacy in their syllabus. This may be a pleasing sign that Australian law schools are starting to follow the US trend where universities such as Stanford have incorporated staff from their computer science departments into their legal ones.   Nonetheless, though most electives in Australian Law Schools touch upon legal technologies to some extent, there tends to be a greater emphasis on teaching how the law is regulating technology as opposed to training students on how to use technology for practicing the law. Although there were a several options to choose from, three offerings that teach practical legal technology were evaluated to see how well they each served that purpose. 

The University of Melbourne - Law Apps

Arguably the most targeted at legal innovation, the University of Melbournes “Law Apps” elective sees students, as per the course description, design, build and release a live legal expert system that can provide legal advice to non-lawyers.” Otherwise know as legal expert systems, law apps are applications that replicate the thought processes and actions of a lawyer in connection with a specific legal question. As a growing technology, they are being used in Australia and overseas are using them to provide fast, accurate and cost effective answers to common legal problems; a trend indicating that knowledge of their use and development will be invaluable in the years to come.

The Australian National University

The ANU offers “Information Technology Law” and “Legislative Drafting Options”, with the former looking at the intersection of Information Technology and Law and the latter covering how an increasing number of government agencies are using technology to interpret, analyse and administer complex law and policy. According to the LSS elective guides, both courses are rated favorably, however, “Legislative Drafting and Technology” actually examines the practical applications of technology in legal practice, making it more suited for someone wanting to gain such skills for the workplace.  

The University of South Australia 

The course content of the University of South Australia’s ‘Cyber Law’ elective covers a myriad of technological priorities that law firms should acknowledge, namely data integrity, data security and e-evidence. This course deals with the influence these advancements are having on the legal landscape and how law firms must assist the private and public sector in adapting to these technological disruptions both now and going forward. An awareness of such issues when entering a law firm is highly pertinent considering the significant restructuring of business models that law firms are undergoing. 

Legal Technologies

E-Discovery 

By far the most ubiquitous use of technology in the Law, E-Discovery put simply is the electronic Identification, Preservation, Collection, Processing, Reviewing and Production of data in the discovery stage of litigation. In use by almost all law firms, the chances are that e-discovery software will be encountered when working in legal practice. Moreover, its applications are not limited to a legal workplace with it being utilized by many government departments and other businesses conducting investigations. Despite being around since 1991 and not technically being a modern innovation, in recent years it has begun to evolve by integrating predictive coding into its algorithms, showing its increasing relevancy within the legal sector. Some of the most widely used platforms include Relativity, Nuix, Ringtail and LEAP. 

Training Options  

For such commonplace technology, there is a notable absence of training providers. However, there are some different providers domestically and abroad which offer both broad and specific training for different software types. For free content, e.law, in particular, provides webinars series for those interested in more general learning. A more comprehensive program is paid membership in the Association of Certified E-Discovery Specialists university which entails an intensive course encompassing everything from project management to data processing. Lastly, of all the major platforms, only Nuix offers training to non-clients, with the Nuix 101 course providing a firm foundation on how to use and navigate the software.

Cloud Computing

Cloud computing is the storage, management and processing of data on a system of servers as opposed to a physical hard drive. It is enthusiastically embraced by the full spectrum of law firms from top-tier Clayton Utz to virtual law firm Hive legal. This is particularly the case in boutique firms with the 2015 GlobalX Legal Solutions Law Technology Survey finding 61% of smaller organizations have identified cloud-based technology as the #1 law tech trend affecting their firm. As such, cloud computing of some sort will likely be a component in the work processes of future legal professionals. 

Training Options: While there exist few avenues for training specifically in legal cloud computing as using it is largely intuitive, there are a number cloud computing courses that can be taken to gain a more general background. For instance, the free Harvard edX course, “Introduction to Cloud Computing”, gives a good overview of the basic concepts of cloud computing and should more than suffice in educating someone who is engaging with rather than developing the software

Other Emerging Technologies 

It would be remiss not to mention emerging trends in legal innovation that will undoubtedly be entering the market within the next decade. A recent survey by the Australasian Legal Practice Management Association ascertained that 97 per cent of firms were making an investment in emerging legal technology to differentiate themselves and to help future proof against disruption. I recently asked King and Wood Mallesons Executive Director of Innovation, Michelle Mahoney, what she would consider to be the Top 5 trends in legal innovation. They were-

i) Digital Advisors – the delivery of legal logic, knowledge and reasoning packaged into online tools that provide legal answers or completed document(s) to repeatable legal questions.

ii) Alternative sourcing models – a range of engagement models including full-time, contract and freelance arrangements.  Combined with the increasing capability of the cloud and personal devices you will be more mobile with access to client and office information delivered to increasingly in the clients’ offices where you could be working.

iii) Analysing large data sets with predictive algorithms – Using technology to sort, cut, interrogate and predict data for legal analysis and decision making.

iv) Simplification of legal advice – the standardisation of contracts to reflect evolving market trends and the simplification of advice which is more commercial and less legalistic, consumed by clients whenever and where ever they are.

vi) Decreasing face to face engagement and the increase of alternative communication channels through social computing, new generation personal devices and natural user interfaces.

Conclusion

Given the mass influx of legal innovations, law graduates who have even basic digital literacy stand in good stead to weather the turbulent period of transformation the legal services is currently undergoing.  Whats more, with these same technologies threatening traditional legal roles, it is not too prudent to plan ahead and prepare to be employed in a position that is vastly different and far more digitized than that which you may have anticipated working in at the beginning of your studies. 

This article was written by Sam Taylor. Sam is completing a double degree in Law and International Relations at the Australian National University and is currently the Vice-President of the ANU International Law Society. You can connect with him on LinkedIn. If you are interested in contributing a blog piece, get in touch with us.