By Anna Simmonds, Head of Commercial at Sparqa Legal.
The English legal system has traditionally been regarded as one of the most respected in the world; with a top-quality bar and independent judiciary, it is the jurisdiction of choice for global business deals and the resolution of international disputes.
It is also horribly overstretched. The legal aid advice network has been decimated by funding cuts. A severe lack of access to affordable legal services exists.
How does this affect small businesses?
Fewer than 10% of people experiencing legal problems instruct solicitors, and with top lawyers charging up to £1,000 per hour, it is no surprise that two thirds of people feel that legal services are too expensive.
Whilst small businesses typically face 8 legal issues a year, 83% see legal services as unaffordable, preferring to go it alone instead. And yet, the information available online is often limited or misleading. Ignorance of the law is no excuse and the stakes are high for businesses who get it wrong. For example, companies who fail to get Employer’s Liability insurance can be fined £2,500 for every day they are not insured and the fines for failure to comply with data protection regulations can be up to 20 million euros or 4% of annual turnover (whichever is greater).Businesses may not be able to afford traditional legal services, but they cannot afford to bury their heads in the sand either.
How can technology help?
It is unsurprising that barriers to accessing quality legal assistance leave individuals vulnerable and businesses at risk.
Now technology can offer a solution.
Technological innovations have the potential to democratize legal services by reducing costs, freeing up lawyers’ time and empowering people to service their own legal needs.
From chatbots and information platforms that provide advice on simple legal issues to the digitalisation of courts and automation of crucial yet time intensive tasks, technological developments are beginning to open up the legal system.
Whilst the justice system has often been slow to innovate, HM Courts &Tribunals Service is currently embarking on a £1 billion digital reform process which is working to overhaul the way justice is administered.Many court services have already been moved online and there will be a continued move away from paper-based systems to digital solutions.
Whilst many legal tech solutions are aimed at helping solicitors to do their jobs more efficiently, they are also increasingly being targeted at individuals who are more and more willing to do some of the groundwork themselves.
Digital law platforms remove the need to seek out face to face legal advice based on proximity and instead widen the pool of services to which individuals have access. Trusted, centralised sources of legal information can be relied on by individuals and businesses to serve many of their day-to-day needs without ever needing to formally engage a lawyer.
So does this mean the end for lawyers?
No; there will of course always be a role for specialist legal advice. Rather than being feared as a threat to traditional law firms, technology can be used to complement the expertise of legal professionals, freeing up time from more mundane tasks to focus on delivering high quality advice.
There are countless examples of innovations improving the way lawyers work. Natural language processing is facilitating smarter legal research processes, e-discovery is cutting down on the cost of lawyers required to assist on large scale document review projects, digital contracts make the whole process more streamlined and cost effective and enable people to do business anywhere in the world without delay. These efficiencies can all be passed on to clients, resulting in the provision of a more affordable and thus, more accessible legal service.
What can we expect in future?
As engagement with legal technologies increases, not only will lawyers’ fees become more competitive, but we expect to see a growing trend of businesses accessing legal services on a subscription basis, attracted by the transparent charging model and the security and agility that 24/7 remote access to support provides them.These new models will open up the way in which lawyers operate, providing more opportunities for remote and flexible working and a solution to the expensive overheads associated with running large law firms, often traditionally in prime central London locations.
Today the market is thriving with £1bn global investment in legal technology last year. In the UK alone, investment into the sector has tripled in recent years, reaching over £62 million in 2019.
With the UK legal tech market growing fast, it is estimated that embracing these new technological developments could double productivity growth and begin to close the justice gap.
In an overstretched legal system, technology will play a key role in levelling out the playing field by improving access to effective, reliable and affordable options for those who would otherwise have been priced out.
Sparqa Legal is an online platform providing expert legal guidance and auto-generated documents for businesses. Founded by a team of senior barristers and tech executives, Sparqa Legal is on a mission to make law accessible and empower businesses to fulfil their own legal needs.
The content in this article is up-to-date at the date of publishing. The information provided is for information purposes only, and is not for the purpose of providing legal advice. ©Sparqa Limited 2020. All rights reserved.