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Justice for all: the transformation of legal services through technology

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Four billion people are robbed of the chance to build a better life for themselves because they are excluded from the rule of law. It means that the majority of people living on our planet do not have access to legal services when they encounter a legal issue in their everyday life. Wouldn’t it be great if we can actually change that? We might  have a chance with the latest innovations in the field of legal technology.

Contrary to common belief, solving legal problems does not always require the assistance of a lawyer. There is a wide range of options, and technology is one of them. Developments in machine learning, artificial intelligence and predictive algorithms have the potential to be the game-changers in the fight for access to justice. This will not only have consequences for each of you reading this article, but for billions of people all around the world.

I would like to share two exciting examples on how technology is used to improve and revolutionise access to justice.

Chatbots increasing access to justice –  is that a thing?

Using artificial intelligence software, chatbots can stimulate  conversations with users and ask relevant questions in natural language – just as a human lawyer would. While the most complex matters will and should remain in the hands of human lawyers, the reality is that basic legal answers can be programmed into decision trees and delivered to the public at large thanks to chatbots. As a result, individuals can gain a better understanding of the law and receive legal help anytime, anywhere, via tools that they use every day. Chatbots become even more powerful when they enable us to help those who need it the most.

Think about an asylum seeker who cannot  find the information they urgently need to progress their case. A chatbot enables them to access free legal advice,  determine their legal rights and potentially file a claim. And with the progress of voice-recognition technology and voice as a user interface, these services are finally available to the 750 million people around the world who are illiterate.

Artificial intelligence as your virtual legal research assistant

Let’s now look beyond the most vulnerable. The reality is that legal services are still not fully accessible even to the middle classes. One of the reasons for this  is that lawyers have to go through hundreds of past cases to find the specific one that would help their client’s case. Although research has always played an important role in the practice of law, it can be like trying  to find a needle in a haystack. According to some studies, lawyers spend nearly a third of their working hours conducting legal research or about 15 hours per week on average. Not only such practice is very costly for those who can afford it, but it constitutes another barrier to access to legal services for those who can’t.

The good news is that start-ups and companies are building  legal technology solutions, powered by artificial intelligence, that can sift  through all the available case law to flag what’s most relevant. For example, Deloitte created  TAX-I, a virtual legal research assistant,  which has been exclusively designed to support lawyers in the field of tax law. Such tools can show connections between cases, generate cases summaries and conduct statistical analysis to power predictive modelling for case outcomes. It allows lawyers to reduce their workload from hours to minutes, significantly reducing the costs of legal services and, therefore, making them more accessible.

To be continued…

These examples are perfect proof that the field of legal technology is transforming access to justice. The legal tech community is working hard to ensure that we have the right ecosystems in place to allow these technologies to flourish. However, the legal industry as well as legal professionals themselves must also be willing to change and accept this technological wave. This is why we must train the next generation of legal talent to be ready for this new reality.

While writing this article, this famous joke came  to my mind: how many lawyers does it take to change a light bulb? The answer: as many as you can  afford. With current technological advances, I am hoping that the punchline will change to only one lawyer – the one who builds the chatbot and interacts with the virtual legal research assistant. That way we will certainly increase access to justice.

By Laura Aade

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