Non-lawyers will disrupt the legal tech market in ways that will create a “tipping point”, likely within the next five years, the outgoing director of Lawtech UK has predicted.
Jenifer Swallow is leaving the government-backed initiative, which aims to support technology transforming the UK legal sector, this summer, after setting it up two and a half years ago. His successor has been chosen; she is a woman but her identity has not yet been announced.
The organization has produced a summary of “what we have achieved” to mark Ms Swallow’s departure. It focuses on a number of areas, such as the lawtech sandbox, which connects lawtech start-ups with regulators and policymakers in a supportive environment.
Other achievements include a proof-of-concept online dispute resolution platform, the UK legal statement on crypto-assets and smart contracts, an online learning and resource centre, miscellaneous reports, advice and projects on issues such as multi-stakeholder data access.
Talk to legal futures, Ms Swallow, former general counsel at money transfer company TransferWise (now simply Wise), predicted the tipping point would come from the use of structured data.
“It’s going to be one of those things that, when it happens, will hit you like a train,” she said. It would be an innovation that would make accessing the law “super easy, because you’re just in your Word file or wherever you’re used to and you produce data underneath that’s structured…
“Obviously this opens up opportunities for datasets, for predictive risk analysis, for sharing data, information [and so on]. I find that exciting.
The change would most likely come from non-lawyers who spotted an opportunity, rather than from within the legal profession.
She gave the example of two start-ups chosen by Lawtech UK to enter its sandbox programme: the employment problem-solving platform Valla and the smart contract platform Hunit, which allows to digitally sign and issue agreements on a ledger-based distributed network directly from Microsoft Word. .
Valla was created by two women who had “no legal training” but had workplace grievances and created a product that anyone with an employment dispute could use to help build their case. “It was just people who were really pissed off,” she said.
Hunit was developed by serial entrepreneurs who saw a “multi-trillion market opportunity”.
Venture capitalists also became more interested in the law and provided the necessary capital.
“I think we will be very surprised to know where [change] just. What we generally see so far is the pattern of someone who has experience with the law and someone who has experience with technology and they come together to solve the problem…
“I think some of the really exciting things [future] founders will not necessarily follow this paradigm.
Until now, much of the focus among startups had been in the area of contract automation and discovery tools and other tools for deep-pocketed customers. Tools aimed at consumers, and to a lesser extent SMBs, would be more volume-driven, Swallow predicted.
“It’s a different model, so it takes a slightly different mindset,” which is why people who weren’t lawyers were likely to step in and disrupt the market, she suggested. .
She predicted that the change would “shrink in terms of pace” now that the Covid-induced boost has subsided.
The pandemic had forced us “to be able to do everything remotely at a crazy pace”, which drove the market forward. “But of course we know that videoconferencing is not an innovation and is not the future of law”. A key role for Lawtech UK was to maintain momentum.
A key question was the future of British jurisdiction in the digital world. Other jurisdictions offering English law solutions challenged the country’s primacy and it remained to be seen whether the UK had done enough to ensure the centrality of its role.
Ms Swallow said positioning the jurisdiction was a major challenge for the next phase of Lawtech UK. His successor will also have to tackle work in the field of SMEs and mass consumption.
When asked if the legal profession was capable of changing like other industries had in terms of technology adoption, she predicted that much of the change would come from consumer demand and not shouldn’t be difficult or require a lot of investment.
“I would say incremental progress is always progress. My high street business going from sending me letters, to sending me emails, to sending me something on a portal, that’s innovation. And it’s fantastic and actually no [cost much money or time].”
Everyone was capable of change, she pointed out, adding, “It’s easy to be lethargic when no one is forcing you to change, but in fact customer sophistication is increasing…
“The truth is that if [lawyers] don’t answer, they will lose their jobs because people will stop educating them.