The term “Legal Tech” is currently used for many things: In recent years, it has become an indispensable marketing buzzword in the presentations of many law firms and some start-ups. This article briefly explains what Legal Tech actually is, what it is not, and what role Legal Tech plays in a modern and innovative law firm like PLANIT//LEGAL.
Where does Legal Tech start?
Actually, any kind of technology, be it hardware or software, that makes life and work easier for legal practitioners (and their clients or customers) is in some way a form of Legal Tech. This means that both a fax machine and Microsoft Word are part of the broad definition of “Legal Tech”. In this sense, it has been impossible to imagine German law firms and courts without Legal Tech for decades.
Of course, when the average lawyer or computer scientist talks about “Legal Tech”, they do not mean a fax machine. The term has now become quite focused and probably only means highly specialised software products (possibly coupled with supporting services) that can solve certain legal tasks or problems better or faster than a human being. The magic word here, not least to attract venture capital, is scalability.
The development therefore continues: Legal Tech in the “narrower sense” only begins where users start thinking about technical innovation. In other words, Legal Tech starts where “we’ve always done it that way” ends.
Against the background that many start-ups specialise exclusively in Legal Tech products, however, the term refers not only to technologies, but to the culture that has formed around the creation and distribution of this technology. Legal Tech thus combines components from the legal, IT and start-up spheres.
Where does Legal Tech stop?
The boundaries of Legal Tech are found in the broad field of artificial intelligence or “AI”. We are still some time away from “general artificial intelligence”, i.e. a general-purpose AI that comes close to human intelligence.
However, it is already possible to train so-called “narrow purpose” AI with a correspondingly limited scope. Techniques such as machine learning and neural networks are used to train algorithms to deliver results “like a human”. But this requires very large amounts of data, very smart computer scientists and a lot of patience. Because “training” in this context also means that errors have to be constantly corrected and weeded out. Products that can recognise or assess certain contract clauses and are based on these technologies are already ready for the market today.
Therefore, Legal Tech offers that particularly advertise “AI” implementations should be treated with caution. These will mostly be either complex (but hard-coded) algorithms or highly experimental applications that are still in the “learning phase”.
In any case, Legal Tech will not be able to replace legal practitioners in the medium term – the focus must be on support services that pre-process or “pre-chew” data. For professional and liability concerns alone, the result will have to go back over a human’s desk.
What role does Legal Tech play at PLANIT//LEGAL?
Legal Tech plays a prominent role at PLANIT//LEGAL – this is already in the name and in our specialisation: in the consulting fields of IT and data protection, we deal with complex, technical matters on a daily basis. But our passion for technology also drives us internally: PLANIT//LEGAL creates its own Legal Tech (software) products and tools with several in-house programmers.
The flagship product is our privacy management platform PLANIT//PRIMA. This innovative tool is used both in-house and by our clients, and even as a white-label solution, and supports companies and law firms of all sizes in setting up and maintaining a data protection management system quickly, legally securely and, above all, innovatively.
This blog article is an abridged version of our presentation at the Autumn Academy 2020 of the German Society for Law and Informatics, available here: https://dsrinas.synology.me/herbstakademie/ha20/robin_schoss/