When we think of legal tech, we often are drawn to technologies relating to contract automation, document management systems, knowledge management systems, artificial intelligence and so many other buzz words.
In my view, a lot of attention is given to these technologies, and rightly so, but this is often at the expense of overlooking a huge area of legal tech that has slowly been developing over time in the background. The trouble is there is no buzz word for this area of legal tech – it is just software designed or adapted to solve one or many pain points that lawyers (or non-lawyers) face when trying to make sure that their organisations comply with the one or many areas of the law.
Why has this area flown under the radar for so long?
This area of legal technology mainly consists of either business function led solutions (e.g. corporate filing platforms, cyber incident response platforms, credit approval systems, HR systems, platforms to coordinate your series A funding round, etc.) or leveraged solutions (e.g. a CRM platform that caters for newly introduced data privacy requirements, the adaptation of an IT ticketing system to record and handle data incidents or legal queries, etc.) which are often introduced into organisations in a way that may entirely or partly circumvent a legal function. These solutions aren't the wares of scrupulous organisations trying to overload their products with fancy features and extol the burning man platform of compliance.
In the case of business function led solutions, often they are products founded on a strong understanding of a particular area of business (including the law and regulation that governs that area) and the result is a product that intuitively guides its users through a process that is conducted in, for the most part, a legally sound way (the users of these products may often be oblivious to the fact that it is legally sound – to them, it is just the way things are done).
In the case of leveraged solutions, often it is just sound commercial rationale to leverage an existing system to address another pain point of the business. The use of excel in so many fields is a prime example of this.
Whilst on the one hand what I am suggesting means that there is much more competition in the legal tech world than is immediately apparent, on the other hand, I think this provides a lot of opportunities for legal tech players to make their mark.
Rarely do business function led or leveraged solutions have as their primary purpose compliance with the law and often there can be significant gaps or oversights in the way in which they are set up. Organisations take a risk-based approach when selecting technology, which may lead to compromising on some aspects and/or setting up work-around solutions (often manual ones) to make sure things remain compliant. The result can be a leaky ship that in actual fact is riddled with legal and compliance risks. I am hearing from many legal practitioners now that these systems are proving less than ideal and in some cases frustrating and it is here where the opportunity lies for legal tech players.
Legal tech needs to step in to either provide compliance led solutions to replace these inadequate solutions or, alternatively, to provide new, perhaps more discrete solutions to plug the leaks.
As with any leak though – the trick is finding where the water is coming from in the first place!