When it comes to change, the legal profession has not normally been found at the front of the queue. One obvious reason is the fact that the practice of law is heavily focused on precedent, when court decisions are based on principles set by previous cases.
The image of lawyers forced to pore over law books and case files stacked high on desks late at night has been accentuated over the years by countless movies and TV series. In reality, it is not surprising, perhaps, that a profession that spends so much time delving into the past for guidance has traditionally been less than dynamic in pursuing new ideas.
But change is now with us, brought on by tech advancements and the arrival of a new generation of legal professionals and legal service providers. It may be fanciful to imagine Artificial Intelligence taking over from attorneys in UAE court rooms in the near future, but the days when lawyers are replaced by technology in many aspects of the practice are fast approaching.
The use of lawyers for lawsuits and compliance is very much under threat today, while the practice of obtaining legal counsel for the execution of contracts will soon be a thing of the past. Law firms understand that tech advancements bring greater efficiency and cost savings and, having lagged behind other businesses in capitalising, are eager to make up the lost ground.
Without doubt, the role of a lawyer in the UAE will become increasingly automated within the near future. Already today a large proportion of attorneys depend on technology-assisted reviews, in which a machine reads, analyses, and provides predictive coding in compliance and lawsuits.
While development of this technology is still in its infancy and human interpretation certainly gives more degrees of meaning, a technology-assisted review can offer greater accuracy in its results. It’s inevitable that laws firms will rely more on machines in the future as technology continues to develop and go well beyond the capabilities of a human mind.
We’re already seeing that technology allows contracts and legal drafts to essentially become a computer code rather than words on a page. Removing this process from an attorney’s scope of work saves a great deal of money, and the implications for law firms from future tech gains are enormous both from an efficiency and financial point of view.
Just as the legal profession now embraces change, however, we have several common concerns, not least the risk of confidential material being exposed through the vast use of software to store client information.
Without question, there is an urgent need for new rules to address the dramatic surge of digitally-stored information in the legal field. Our problem here is that, because technology is evolving at such a rapid pace, the privacy-related legislation required may not be able to keep up.
There is no stopping the change running through the legal profession. This process is permanent, and here in the UAE, like law firms everywhere in the world, we must embrace innovation and grasp the opportunities that it brings.
Those that don’t will be left behind. There are many examples in recent times of technology leaving a trail of casualties in its wake.
Sunil Thacker is Senior Partner at STA Law Firm.