by Maia Gibb
OWLSS’s first panel event focused on the future of the legal industry following recent technological advances. Technology has already impacted the legal sector massively, but its future potential remains as exciting as it is daunting. In keeping with OWLSS’s aim, the discussion centred on the identity of the legal world through this technological revolution and the impact it could have on diversity. This debate proved fruitful in providing answers, advice, and insights to the questions posed due to its four outstanding panellists, alongside Dr Justine Pila who acted as moderator.
The discussion began with Nikita Aggarwal, Research and Teaching Fellow at the University of Oxford, describing the changes that technology has instigated in the legal sector to date. One such prominent change has been the assignment of more menial and repetitive tasks to computer programmes. This includes contract automation, where one can search for relevant clauses from an online database rather than through thousands of hardcopies. While the development may increase the excitement on the job, Nikita questioned if this would impact the learning programme for trainees. She theorised that there may be a change in the priorities with more importance placed on tech literacy than attention to spelling. However, Catherine Hammon, Digital Revolution Knowledge Lawyer at Osborne Clarke, argued that the removal of the menial cognition has allowed lawyers to re-focus on the insightful work they are valued for. The potential result may be an eventual increase in the value of the lawyer at all levels of employment, not just the due-diligence drowned trainee.
Hannah Crowther, Senior Associate in Data protection and information law at Bristows, introduced a further impact of technology: the development of entirely new legal sectors. Her personal experience as a Data Protection lawyer indicated that many of the roles that may be required for future lawyers have not even been conceived of. Novel legal areas reveal the opportunity that technology has introduced. Catherine made the poignant comment that a vast majority English law was written by older, white males in a position of socio-economic advantage. These new areas are unmarked territories, free from any precedent and open to a far wider range of legal academics to innovate. There are no right answers to this kind of law, meaning that educated views will be equally valid, no matter from whom they originate. This phenomenon was described aptly by Hannah as ‘scientific invention breeding social innovation’.
The panellists moved onto discuss this idea in a wider context with regard to diversity. With law being a service-based industry, the changing identity of financially attractive clients means concomitant change and adaptation by law firms. The exponential rise in the wealth of tech firms in recent years has disrupted the picture of the traditional desirable client - banks. Due to the nature of their work, tech firms are typically young themselves with employees who reflect the diversity and innovative values of modern society. In pursuit of creating lasting relationships, law firms will be encouraged to hire lawyers as diverse and socially conscious as their prospective clients. There is no doubt that this is beneficial to the progression of diversity and inclusivity in the legal sector.
Recruitment in law firms has already become more diversified due to technology. Catherine described how law firms use technology to analyse data from candidates to flag those facing societal or familial challenges that may have hindered their path to a career in law. Kate Gaskell, Director of Practice Area Strategy for LexisPSL at LexisNexis, went on to discuss how she was hopeful that the gender imbalance in senior roles in the legal sector can be addressed through technology. By acting as a disruptor, technology is forcing changes in our norms. This allows those who do not fit the mould of the stereotypical partner to progress. The internet, heralding increased flexibility around hours and working from home, has already made it far more feasible for women to balance their career and family simultaneously. This has significantly increased the potential for gender equality.
The overwhelming take-away from the discussion was positive in regard to the impact of technology on the legal sector. Technology seems to be, and will continue to, provide new and interesting challenges to the law while widening the opportunities to grasp them to a diverse cohort. This disruption should be welcomed as the chance to re-define law in a modern setting.
Maia Gibb is a Staff Writer for the OWLSS. Her interests include commercial law, technology and the interrelation of the two. Maia is also an active member of the Oxford University Law Society and the Oxford Women in Business Society. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.