We have clearly reached a tipping point. Legal tech has moved from a nice to have, to an essential. It has proved successful in everything from improving profitability to reducing labour intensive work. The big question now, is where is legal tech headed? At Clocktimizer, we have a few ideas. Advances in NLP, virtual courts, or intelligent bots to name but a few. Here are our top predictions for legal tech by 2020.

We’ll all be living in the clouds

Well, for those of us in the Netherlands, this is already the case. Unfortunately that’s mostly weather related. However, following the recent breach at DLA, it is clear that on premise solutions are not the fortresses Big Law thinks they are. On prem solutions were originally considered the safest option. Data does not leave the site. As such, it was believed that information could not be intercepted. Better still, there was no ‘weak link’ for hackers to exploit. Malware, however, has forced a change in this assumption.

We predict, thus, that cloud computing is about to become more popular with Big Law. It is cheaper than an on premise solution. It requires considerably less computing power on behalf of the firm. And now, it seems that it is equally as safe as the other options. Clearly, this could provide a big financial win for firms which migrate.

Legal chatbots are about to get much more intelligent

Legal chatbots are not a new phenomenon. DoNotPay, a chatbot which helps fights parking tickets, has seen great success. Similarly, DivorceBot is able to help parties through their separation. There’s even a fantastic initiative using bots to help refugees. However, many bots are still not yet capable of offering complex legal advice. They are limited to parking fines, or filling out forms.

The advances in Natural Language Processing (NLP) are about to change all that. NLP, for those unfamiliar, is a way of allowing computers to read and understand information in plain language. However, as NLP is such a recent arrival in the legal world, the bots are still fairly unsophisticated. The more we are able to integrate with other semantic and cognitive technologies, the more NLP will allow bots to help. Think of the advances Siri has made over the last five years. This is the sort of leap we predict legal bots making. It also helps that they cost considerably less than a human lawyer.

Your virtual court room awaits

This one, we believe, is fairly straight forward. Courts are expensive. Not just for the individuals attending, but for the governments as well. On the flip side, courts are also essential institutions. There is little in terms of process that one can cut away. However, one can save considerable money by moving courts online. Notwithstanding reducing the burden on the state, online courts would also be more accessible for the public. You can have your day in court from the comfort of your own home. Furthermore, Online Dispute Resolution is also available where necessary. Parties can reach agreements which are ratified by the court through a portal. Again, reducing the case burden for the courts themselves.

This trend is clearly already on the cards. The Civil Resolution Tribunal in British Columbia has seen great success. The CCSR in the UK is paving the way for online courts. Similar initiatives can be seen in Australia, the Netherlands and the US. We believe we’ll see a great deal of progress here by 2020.

Smarter applications to reduce legwork

We all know how wonderful autocomplete is. Not having to painstakingly fill in all of your details each time you complete a form. Well, we believe that we’re not far off seeing this sophistication in the legal sector. Now this could be something simple like document signing. Tools like Docusign already exist to help. Instead of having to print, sign and send in copies of contracts, you can emails and digitally sign them. The document then arrives, signed, in your inbox in digital form.

Thinking further ahead, we have some more predictions. Take client intake. Currently the review is handled by an entire team. In a few years, this work could be done using real time checks, freeing up teams to do more high value work. New projects could also be streamlined. Software could be developed to pre-fill your folders with the required templates and structures.

Data scientists, not data slaves

Well, we know by now that data is important. Google, of course, being the shining example. However, we foresee data strategy taking center stage in the coming years. Firms are now aware that collecting data is important. And so, they are collecting it. Many are using a portion of that data. At Clocktimizer, we see the power of harnessing time tracking data to increase profitability. We also see that firms who use software like ours, enjoy a huge financial reward from information that was just left gathering dust.

However, there are still streams of data that sit in silos, unused. The most common cause is that firms don’t know what to do with it all. For this reason, we see the rise of the legal data scientist. It is already a job title commonly found in Silicon Valley. We see it migrating to the legal world. In the coming years we predict that every successful firm will have a data policy in place. Or they are likely to get left behind.