Covid-19: a catalyst for tech advances in the legal sector

Much has been said about the need to accelerate the development, transformation, implementation and availability available of new technologies within the legal sector. As Dr Richard Susskind has insisted, there is an urgent need for lawyers and countries to increase the innovation in the legal profession, in order to solve problems such as the access to justice and to satisfy the clients’ increasingly sophisticated requirements.

This time, the push for speeding up that trend has come from a ‘black swan’ or unpredictable event: Covid-19. The new virus has challenged traditional working methods and forced firms to rely almost exclusively on available technological solutions in order to avoid precarious or unsafe working conditions. Covid-19 has, therefore, ended up reinforcing the importance of technology in the legal profession.

In that regard, we can identify China as a leading player in the LegalTech sector, and a market from which there is much to learn. According to Thomson Reuters, ‘more than half – 51 per cent – (of LegalTech patents) were filed in China last year [2018], while 23 per cent were filed in the US and 11 per cent in South Korea’. We have already seen: law firms such as Tiantong & Partners developing successful business models in which technology plays a key role; digital courts opening in several cities across China; alternative dispute resolution methods being developed and are embedded in super apps like Alipay and WeChat.

Carey has been following these trends closely from our firm’s office in Shanghai. We have also been involved in such an initiative, being invited to join an AI-based solution for drafting contracts and reviewing documents (docQbot). This has been led by a team of senior foreign and Chinese lawyers and executives with decades of outward direct investment (ODI)/ foreign direct investment (FDI), and cross-border expertise. We have been assisting docQbot in the localisation of the generated templates following Chilean regulation and best practices. We think this will become a powerful and a valuable resource when assisting Chinese clients in their operations in Latin America and also when advising our Latin American clients in understanding the new foreign investment law regime and other legal issues in China. We consider this trend to be in line with the rapid development of online to offline (O2O) services which are also reaching the legal sector.

With the uncertainty of when and what sort of normality will be resumed, it is urgent to recognise the special importance of continuing to invest in legal technologies – both the private and public sectors – in order to protect people’s health, provide more access to justice and offer clients an improved legal service.

If Covid-19 creates a ‘new normal’ for several industries, the same will doubtless apply to the legal sector. The virus has merely accelerated a trend that was already hard to ignore.