6 Ways Technology is Changing Law

It’s no secret that technology is changing the way we live and work. While a court full of ‘robot lawyers’ may be a little far off (though not unthinkable!) there are other significant, more present ways technology is changing law and the legal profession.

It is important for students to recognise, therefore, that even industries which seem to have nothing to do with technology are impacted by advances in STEM. Whether they like it or not, in whatever industry they’re in, students will have to be technologically literate to remain competitive in future. Here are six ways technology is already changing the Law:

1. Automation of low-value legal work

The stereotypical image of a lawyer is of an office worker surrounded by mounds of mindless paperwork. However, technology’s potential to automate low-value, repetitive legal work may make this a reality no more. For example, it was reported in May that Telstra is testing an automated non-disclosure agreement. This may mean that the competition for legal jobs becomes even tougher than it already is, as the need for someone to do basic legal work disappears. But, then again, someone needs to automate it, and that someone may be a student sitting in your classroom.

2. Creation of value in new ways: smart contracts

As KWM says, ‘A smart contract […] can execute a part of its functions by itself.’ For example, think of a car sales contract which automatically transfers ownership when signed. Increases in efficiency such as this can bring down fees, as it takes a lot of the administration work out of creating a contract.

A fun class activity may be to identify what can be easily automated and what can’t. What are things you have to think about when automating something? This doesn’t have to be limited to issues pertaining to code- perhaps there are important policy, economic and ethical issues too.

3. Flexibility in working

One of the benefits of technology in the legal workplace, as in any industry, is the work-flexibility enabled by technology. Much of legal research is now conducted online, for example, and thus can be done remotely.

Law has an infamous reputation with poor work-life balance (it’s called The Holy Grail in this article), and technology can therefore go a long way to improving that. The downside, though, is that lawyers are now connected to their work 24/7. This New Yorker article provides a tragic look of the consequences of technology (amongst other things) on work/life balance.

New technologies created by coders make things more accessible, from searching up legal cases to writing up summons and other legal documents. However, it’s doubtful whether 24/7 accessibility in itself is always a good thing.

4. Artificial Intelligence: Decision making

In areas where the law is well-defined and the facts are often uncontested (Ronald Collins points to landlord-tenant disagreements as a good example of this) it is possible for more mundane cases to be ‘adjudicated by software’. Think of situations where perhaps you simply want to contest a fine you’ve been given. The law is clear, the facts are clearer; the stakes aren’t incredibly high. Situations like these could be decided by software or other artificial intelligence.

In cases where the law is messier, however, it may be more difficult. That’s precisely why many people take things to court- because the law isn’t clear, and the stakes are high enough that it’s worth your while having the case judicially adjudicated. It would also be hard to imagine a scenario where people would be comfortable with criminal or more emotive cases, such as a murder trials, being decided by software. An element of the judicial system is trust in its judgment, and, arguably, the average person would perhaps be more comfortable with trusting a person than lines of seemingly indecipherable code.

Coders would also need legal help to write this adjudication software and ‘fill it out’. Which brings into question interesting issues of liability. What if the code spits out incorrect legal advice? Are the coders at fault and liable, just as lawyers are for negligent practice?

5. Applying data mining to the Law

Data mining could reveal many invaluable insights for legal practitioners. How do certain judges treat certain kinds of plaintiffs? What sort of firm is likely to be sued for what sort of action? Where am I likely to find evidence in this sort of case? The list goes on.

And although the possibilities may be endless, it does bring up interesting implications concerning privacy. And whether it’s in the interest of fairness in the law for lawyers to be ‘gaming’ for certain judges would also probably sit uncomfortably with most.

6. The future of lawyers and the legal industry: do law firms become technology developers?

Dubbed the ‘World’s first robot lawyer’ by creator Joshua Bowder, the chatbot DoNotPay is designed to dispense legal advice when someone gets a fine. The app is free and available in every US state. It may be good at democratising the law, but The Verge does point out that when the app is stumped it ‘provide[s] a rather unhelpful link back to Google.’

Apps like this, though, are a great way of illustrating to students the real-life benefits of how computational thinking can impact people’s lives for the better. Students, the coders of the future (and present!), can make a great difference to people’s lives by automating the mundane bureaucracy that we often get lost in.

Have we missed any upsides (or downsides) of technology’s impact on the law? Can you think of another industry which is being changed by technology? Let us know in the comments!

Huge thanks to Erika Ly for her help with writing this article.