An Ideal Legal Technologist
“Embarking on a road less travelled is hurdled with apprehensions, but those willing to risk it, often emerge victorious.”
Legal technology: an area which is still in its early stages but has started to spread its wings in the light of new and innovative uses of technology and the growing application of artificial intelligence.
Lawyers and judges are being encouraged to adapt to the changing times by adopting the use of technology in their legal practice. Law students and young lawyers are looking up to the new roles which have evolved as a result of this. Namely, legal engineers, legal technologists, legal designers and legal data scientists. While these roles are relatively recent, they have thrived in the face of COVID-19 as the pandemic has led to many changes and transformations in the world recently, including the shift online and embrace of the digital agenda (namely through the need to electronically execute contracts).
With legal technology prospering, it is clear that related roles are attracting a young generation of lawyers and law students, but it is not only limited to them. A lot of computer science students and engineers have also been attracted to legal technology as software and applications such as DoNotPay, matters.cloud and ROSS Intelligence have enticed them to explore this arena. However, when someone aspires to become a legal engineer/legal technologist, the first question which pops into their mind is: “How can I become a legal technologist?” The next step leads them to browse courses and certifications which can help them pursue this career. One can come across courses like LL.M. in Legal Technology offered by Swansea University and University of Portsmouth in the UK and I.E. Law School in Spain. Besides these courses, some related programmes are offered by Stanford University (USA), University of Edinburgh (UK), Hertfordshire University (UK), National University of Singapore and the University of Kebangsaan in Malaysia, etc. Furthermore, Bucerius Law School in Germany also offers a summer programme titled “Legal Technology and Operations” which is a very reputable and widely known programme, attended by law students from all over the world.
Gathering information about such programmes, researching, analysing and comparing to find out which is the best course to pursue is a hassle. After this is resolved, another issue which lies ahead before one can embark on their journey to become a legal technologist is that of eligibility, as well as capability. This issue arises due to the amalgamation of law and technology, which is new and has emerged along with the evolution of legal tech. This is confusing because law had remained very distinct and unrelated to engineering up until now, unlike medicine, where forensics has always been connected and linked with law since its very inception.
When the term legal technologist is mentioned, it leads one to wonder whether they are lawyers, engineers, or both? The book, ‘End of Lawyers?’ by Richard Susskind reveals that legal engineers/technologists are those engineers or tech experts, who, after gaining experience of working in tech-related roles in law firms, become acquainted with the legal process. Legal engineers can be and are also lawyers or former lawyers who are adept with technology and use their skills and ideas to improve legal processes by employing technology to achieve the same. This causes fears and confusion; creating apprehensions in the mind of aspiring legal technologists about whether they are capable of this role or not. A similar query was asked in a recent webinar, “Artificial Intelligence, Law and Evolution of Legal Engineering” organised by the BeABP Foundation, in which an insightful talk on such roles was thoroughly provided by Mr. Akber Datoo, the Founder and CEO of D2 Legal Technology, who is also the author of the Wiley practitioner text, ‘Legal Data for Banking’. When asked who would make an ideal legal technologist, he shared his personal experience by saying that there was currently a chasm between the technology and legal industries which needed to be addressed. In his initial professional life as a technologist, he witnessed the legal profession’s dismissiveness of suggestions as to how to automate and utilise technology to unlock business value through technological change. Accordingly, he decided to go back to law school and qualify and work as a Solicitor in England and Wales, before merging the two skillsets – he is now a pioneer of legal technology and very successful in this field.
Several legal tech professionals and academics have revealed that if a person belongs to the tech background, they should enrol in a law school to get a law degree and then step in the field of legal tech, whereas, if the person is a lawyer or a law student with no background or experience in technology, they can still enrol for masters in legal technology as well as pursue a career as a legal technologist without the requirement of any advanced degree in tech. However, if one really aspires to explore this arena and join this field, one should learn a coding language. Although any language would suffice, Python is recommended by legal tech academicians as it is platform-independent, which means it can be used on any platform and is relatively easy to learn in comparison with other languages.
Eligibility to become a legal engineer is explained by an example found on the website of Simmons Wavelength (the legal tech-specific arm of global law firm Simmons & Simmons), which is working at the intersection of law and technology. It provides the example of a person; Sam, who is an undergraduate student and has studied particular legal tech modules or has worked on a thesis about the impact of technology or related topics on law. This example suggests that even a lawyer who has written a thesis on a legal tech related topic or has taken some modules of legal tech, is eligible to become a legal engineer.
In my opinion, the ideal legal technologist would be one who is a lawyer and has either learned some coding language or has taken modules of legal tech, or has written a thesis on a related topic. They may also be lawyers who possess skills and knowledge of technology, or one who has gained experience of technology by working in tech related roles in law firms (which may include working on spreadsheet automation or the use of document automation products). Nonetheless, it can be anyone aspiring to explore this arena backed with the passion for legal technology.
“Technologising law is a revolutionary feat and its pioneers are no less than revolutionaries.”
CEO & Co-founder of N & T’s Legal Tech