Do You Really Think Legal Tech Can Automatize a Lawyer’s Job?

6/2021 4.11.2021
Legal Tech
Compliance rules and law regulation policy concept on virtual screen.

In my previous article “When Law meets the Digital World”, I concluded the article by writing how also legal matters are going through technological transformation, in a form of Legal Tech. I wrote that use of technology and software has certainly facilitated handling also legal matters, and to some extent Legal Tech could potentially also be used in streamlining certain standard legal processes, but that in a context of confrontation where the traditional law meets the digital world, any artificial intelligence could hardly replace lawyers and scholars in trying to adapt the law to the digital world.

Every now and then I bump into sponsored posts in my LinkedIn feed, advertising tools capable of “automatizing legal documents” and “simplifying, speeding up and streamlining legal processes”. These tools surely sound appealing to management and business persons struggling with required “bureaucratic” legal processes in drafting agreements and other arrangements involving legal issues. “Wouldn’t it be nice if you could create an agreement just by filling in details and pushing button?” Well of course it would! It’s just that “agreement” seldom is a mere template with details to be filled but more of a legal instrument that is meant to describe the intent of the contracting parties and document the result of their negotiations. Best way to succeed in this is to attend the negotiations, unless this is not possible (for example because business people already negotiated “the deal”).

“Agreeing” in agreements is never just about who does what and who pays how much and when. It is about balancing business interests and addressing also other issues, such as existing contractual relationships that may affect the specific agreement. Indeed, the agreement may have impact also beyond the parties and the agreement needs to address that. It would be interesting to see an agreement generator (potentially based on artificial intelligence) which would, after all the related relevant contracts have been inputted to it, consider the relevant contractual relations and conclude with a contract which would not conflict with any potential exclusivity clauses, complies with agreed business principles, and otherwise fits in to the corporate contracting policy and structure.

One form of legal tech is “chat bots” that are configured to provide answers to variety of questions, such as legal questions. They can certainly be helpful for consumers in providing help in general legal matters which do not involve multiple aspects and where answers can be standardized. In this kind of cases, it is only good thing that customers can get advice more cost-efficiently than by asking from a lawyer. Legal tech in making law more accessible and affordable to consumers is warmly welcome.

I call myself technology lawyer. I deal with technology related issues every day. I patent technology related inventions, I am engaged in technology related discussions with software coders, I try to educate them how to address open-source licenses when they are using third party components in software development and how it is important to employ privacy-by-design -principle in software products. I’m also trying to monitor all the new acts and directives to come, regulating data control and digital services. Essentially, even if they are legal regulations, they concern technology and how the technology should address the regulated issues. However, software coders do not read legal newsletters about upcoming directives or attend webinars concerning them. Lawyers do that for them. As fascinating it would be to create such a tool where the software coder could always get their code compliant with all the relevant and upcoming laws, it is not possible. Law needs to be implemented in action and lawyers are the interface to do that. They provide the legal framework within which the product or the process shall fit in, and it is technical guys who then implement it. An example of this is GDPR, i.e. data privacy. No lawyer can have overall responsibility for GDPR-compliance in a company. Data (of customers, employees, suppliers etc.) is handled everywhere in the organization and lawyers can only provide rules for handling, which other functions comply with.

Of course, Legal Tech as an additional means available to lawyers is very helpful and appreciated. Digital signing has streamlined the process of signing documents and removed need for exchanging paper copies. Contract management tools are great help in archiving agreements safely and keeping document history in control. These are also very sustainable way to handle documents as everyone is striving towards paperless office. However, they are tools that streamline the process AFTER any agreement has been drafted and finalized. They do not help in creating content to the agreements, the content meaning the factually negotiated business deal and addressing all the related business aspects. Then again, for consumers contract generators may be of great help for example in making their own wills, if only they understand the required procedures to make the document enforceable.

Private business has been the subject of my discussion so far. The court system is also overgoing digital transformation, and what is said above is most probably applicable to courts also. Legal tech could hardly automatize generating verdicts based on facts of the case as it is about interpreting law and again, about finding the right balance. It has been said that “artificial intelligence cannot be an attorney or judge, but it can serve as a good tool for them.” That captures the previous thinking, legal tech being great additional tool to lawyers.

In my dissertation “Complex of laws – interfacing different employment and patent regimes in global inventions – a piece of cake?” I used a lot the metaphor of cake. My mentor Katja Weckström used to encourage me by saying that “You have the recipe, just bake the cake”, referring to my long-matured writing project. If I applied the cake metaphor in the context of this article regarding legal tech, I would say that the recipes of the legal “cakes” contain fair number of laws, rules and other regulations that are spiced with business aspects to be addressed. Even with the same cake, namely an agreement type, companies have individual business aspects, so the recipe is always tailor-made. Legal tech could be considered to help in glazing the cake, but the actual baking is based on a secret recipe of the contracting company and no legal tech could ever access such a “trade secret”.