“Future lawyers” – legal technology insights for young lawyers

Earlier this month, ADLS, in association with MinterEllisonRuddWatts, put on an informative evening for young lawyers in Auckland, showcasing emerging technologies and how these might impact on the practice of law.

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New technologies in the legal space are going to bring about industry-wide changes, and firms which are not prepared will ultimately be left behind. However, for firms which can adapt to technological progress and appropriately adopt new technologies in this rapidly changing field, opportunities exist to enhance profitability and add value to client outcomes.

The evening discussed possible changes to law firm structure as result of technology impacting on work practices. Traditional, pyramid-shaped law firms – with a large number of junior lawyers and a small number of senior practitioners – may give way to a more linear structure, as technology automates many of the tasks usually assigned to juniors.

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The first areas already being automated are discovery and due diligence, and we are also seeing automated document drafting (often seen as the “bread and butter” of a law firm) being done by software programmes. In addition, “smart” contracts (i.e. contracts which are self-executing/self-enforcing) are beginning to be used in a number of sectors.

The implications of these sorts of developments for the legal industry will be wide-ranging, particularly as regards the employment of lawyers. With (potentially) fewer junior lawyer jobs on offer, universities may need to reassess their intake levels and consider offering a range of new legal technology courses to better prepare graduates. It also appears likely that technology will drive a shift, away from the billable unit, to more flexible methods of billing.

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Senior Associate at MinterEllisonRuddWatts and member of the firm’s financial services team, Andrew Suggate, guided the audience through the intricacies of “blockchain” – the decentralised ledger technology that underlies Bitcoin and other digital and crypto-currencies. Mr Suggate noted that blockchain systems allow for the secure transfer of digital assets (such as crypto-currencies), without reliance on trusted intermediaries (such as banks). He also noted that, in the past, public offers of digital tokens were considered by offerors to fall outside existing securities laws. However, an increasing understanding of the way digital tokens work, and an increasing focus by regulators worldwide, mean that many of these offers are now seen to be regulated offers subject to existing securities laws.

Rod Morris (Assistant General Counsel and Head of Commercial at Spark New Zealand) and Tom Maasland (Partner at MinterEllisonRuddWatts) discussed cyber security and its importance for law firms, and the tendency of some law firms to lag behind in this area. Law firms store enormous amounts of sensitive client information, and this can be incredibly valuable in the wrong hands. Disgruntled employees, hackers and even organised crime syndicates, all pose threats to law firms – and the implications of a breach go beyond that of simple financial loss. Law firms can be extorted through ransomware, risk losing their reputation, and potentially expose their own clients and themselves to liability.

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Nick Whitehouse (formerly of MinterEllisonRuddWatts, now CEO of McCarthyFinch, a MinterEllisonRuddWatts-backed legal artificial intelligence firm), spoke of forthcoming changes in the legal sector arising from Artificial Intelligence (AI). He observed that, while clients still want to interact with people, better outcomes can be achieved when those interactions are supported by technology. Ultimately, a hybrid of technology (particularly AI) with traditional, face-to-face lawyer/client contact may provide the best value for clients, with firms potentially hiring “legal engineers” or “legal innovation leads” in the not too-distant future.

The night was a huge success and also provided an excellent opportunity for young lawyers to catch up and network with each other. ADLS would like to thank all of the presenters, as well as our generous sponsor, MinterEllisonRuddWatts, for hosting the event. 

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