Legal Tech: Balancing Justice and Challenges


1. Introduction

1.1 Definition of Legal Tech

Excitement about technology’s influence on the substance of the law is not a new thing. There has been significant growth in not only the marketing but also the development of legal technologies. Significant technological developments, such as writing and papermaking, impacted the development of legal systems and law, and each of them was viewed differently as ‘legal’ technologies. Experts and scholars have lauded legal technological developments as the law’s promising future, but critics believe that it threatens the fundamentals of justice.

Technologies that likely fit in the legal tech penumbra are diverse, thus making it difficult for scholars to concisely and precisely define this concept. According to Julian S Webb, legal tech is “the use of digital information and communication technologies to automate all or part of the legal work process, to offer decision support to legal service producers, and to provide legal information and advice directly to clients/end users.”

A similar definition is provided by Hoffmann-Reim, depicting legal technology as the deployment of digital techs to aid in the identification, interpretation, and application of the law, or at times in its creation. According to Salmerón-Manzano, legal tech is “the application of new technologies to the world of law, to carry out tasks that, until recently, were performed by lawyers or other personnel working in law firms.”

Despite these definitions being quite useful, they fail to incorporate the modern legal technologies’ non-digital precursors. It is important to consider this when talking about 21st-century legal technologies. For the purpose of this paper, legal technology is defined as the software/technology (rather than traditional hardware, including scanners, printers, and computers) that plays a critical role in delivering legal services and supporting the legal industry. It is worth noting that this technology is often designed to enable firms and attorneys to practice law in a more efficient way.

1.2 Importance of Legal Tech

Improved Efficiency: One of the biggest benefits of legal tech is that it can improve the efficiency of legal processes. Legal tech tools can automate repetitive tasks, reduce paperwork, and streamline workflows. This can save time and money, while also freeing up lawyers to focus on more complex legal issues. A study conducted by Lawtech 365, a pioneering legal technology firm, highlighted that legal technology has a transformative influence on law firm effectiveness and efficiency. For example, the study cited that being updated with the latest operations technology and legal workflow can save legal professionals up to 40%. This is achieved through the automation of repetitive tasks, including document management and drafting.

Increased Access to Justice: Legal tech can also improve access to justice by making legal services more affordable and accessible. For example, online legal platforms can provide affordable legal advice to individuals who might not otherwise be able to afford it. Additionally, legal tech tools can help lawyers manage their caseloads more efficiently, allowing them to take on more clients. Legal tech’s most common uses for access to justice issues include technology that: (i) offers information, (ii) connects people to attorneys, and (iii) produces and automates documents. Delivering key legal information is the commonest way of leveraging legal tech to enhance access to justice. For example, organizations such as offer free online legal services for attorneys in pro bono issues.

Legal tech also enhances access to justice by connecting individuals to attorneys. For example, InReach leverages open-source technology to connect LGBTQ+ asylum seekers to service providers, including immigrant-friendly lawyers, in Mexico, the US, and Canada. Similarly, organizations such as the Florida Justice Technology Center and the Colorado Name Change Project have deployed document automation technology to create free websites that assist transgender individuals who want to legally change their names on government identification documents.

Better Decision-Making: Legal tech tools can help lawyers make better decisions by providing them with real-time data and analytics. For example, analytics tools can help lawyers predict case outcomes, identify trends, and provide insights into legal issues. For instance, we can find some data and insights that were never available before about parties, judges, expert witnesses, or attorneys, culled from litigation information’s pages. While legal tech can aid with case law language analytics as well as settlement analysis, it is still an unreliable solution for substituting humans in deciding a case’s outcome.

Improved Compliance: Finally, legal tech can help ensure compliance with legal and regulatory requirements. For example, automated compliance tools can help companies stay up-to-date with changing regulations and avoid costly penalties. Compliance automation today can be powered by legal technology, including AI, to ensure that compliance procedures are easier. Thus, it can empower legal businesses to streamline compliance-related workflows, including corrective action planning and risk assessments.

2. Legal Tech Applications in Different Countries

2.1. Legal Tech in the United States

Legal tech is being used in the US in a variety of ways, including document automation, legal research, e-discovery, and contract management. Some notable examples of US legal tech companies, include LegalZoom, Clio, and Rocket Lawyer. Law enforcement has used AI, big data, and other leading technologies for various years. Machine learning and natural language processing (NLP) are popular intelligent technologies used for legal research to make it more convenient and smarter for lawyers. For instance, CARA and ROSS are common legal research tools powered by AI in the United States. Lex Machina and Westlaw Edge help to strengthen predictive analysis by providing information on impending litigation.

Technology-assisted review (TAR) is a popular e-discovery tool that uses computers to automate the process of identifying, collecting, preserving, and producing electronically stored information (ESI). TAR can significantly reduce the time and cost of e-discovery, making it more affordable and accessible.

In the judiciary, legal tech is used for risk assessments. Many risk assessment software leverage machine learning algorithms to generate risk models from the large data volumes studied. For instance, the Level of Service Inventory-Revised, and the Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions (COMPAS) are popular risk assessment tools in the US. Moreover, algorithms and machine learning have also been embedded in forensic studies. Popular examples of mixture DNA testing tools in forensic practice are BulletProof, TrueAllele, and STRmix. Besides being used for forensics and risk assessment, cognitive computing, voice recognition, and other technologies are also adopted by certain courtrooms for trials within the United States. The popular apps in courts today are voice recognition apps, online dispute resolution, case allocation systems, and optical character recognition (OCR).

2.2 Legal Tech in Europe

Legal tech is also gaining traction in Europe, with a growing number of start-ups and established players. Some of the areas where legal tech is being applied in Europe include e-discovery, contract management, and legal research. Some notable examples of European legal tech companies include Luminance and SeedLegals. Luminance is among the most advanced AI for legal document processing, delivering value, and streamlining operations. Based in London, SeedLegals is a tech-enabled platform that enhances efficiency, reliability, and transparency to a business’ legal aspects. It allows users to create agreements and startup contracts.

2.3 Legal Tech in Asia

Asia is also seeing a rise in legal tech start-ups and applications. Some of the areas where legal tech is being applied in Asia include online dispute resolution, e-discovery, and legal research. Some notable examples of Asian legal tech companies, include LawCanvas, LawAdvisor Asia, and InCounsel. In addition, legal tech enables major law organizations in Asia to manage teams, including the popular Alpha system. In Singapore, LawNet has databases on Singapore legislation, case law, criminal sentencing information, company registration, and parliamentary debates. Online Dispute Resolution has also been critical for civil litigation processes. It enables lawyers to start cases and file court documents wholly online. Overall, the legal profession in Asia (lawyers, judges, and prosecutors) embrace cutting-edge technologies.

2.4 Legal Tech in Other Parts of the World

Legal tech is also being applied in other parts of the world, such as Australia, Canada, and South Africa. In Australia, legal tech startups are focusing on areas, such as online dispute resolution, while in Canada, legal tech is being used to improve access to justice. In South Africa, legal tech is being applied to areas such as e-discovery and document automation. Legal Interact is a widely used contract management platform in Africa. It allows teams to store contracts in a secure cloud-based repository, manage and track obligations, and enhance efficiency. Similar to Europe, smaller firms in Africa are uniquely positioned to challenge and defy traditional practices. LegalZoom has been instrumental in enabling customers to create legal documents without necessarily hiring a lawyer. Generally, legal tech is increasingly becoming pivotal globally because of its role in the justice system.

3. Negative Effects of Legal Tech

3.1. Job Losses

Legal tech contributes to the disruption of traditional legal service providers and the loss of jobs. Over-depending on legal tech has been linked to the reduction in jobs for legal staff support, hence leading to job losses. Adopting efficient legal technology improves accuracy and reduces time. Consequently, it could lead to the replacement of certain tasks, including contract review and research (mainly manual work), thus culminating in lower human capital requirements. According to experts, about 20% of legal workers’ tasks and jobs could be replaced within the next few years, leading to substantial job losses. In addition, Deloitte estimated that by 2036, close to 100,000 legal-related jobs could be automated. Deloitte Insight Research has also disclosed that technology has contributed to the loss of 31,000 legal sector jobs, but a rise of about 80,000 jobs, with the majority being better compensated and higher qualified.

3.2. Unintended Bias

Legal tech can also lead to dependence on algorithms and AI for legal decision-making, which may lead to unintended bias or lack of human judgment. Algorithms can breed bias in various ways. For example, AI systems learn how to make decisions premised on training data, including biased human decisions or social or historical inequities. Flawed data sampling is the other source of bias, where groups are under or overrepresented within the training data.

3.3. Data Privacy and Security

There are also concerns over data privacy and security, as legal tech often involves handling sensitive personal and legal information. Cybercrime remains a critical issue, with experts estimating that an attack occurs every 11 seconds and costs the international economy $6.1 trillion every year. In addition, studies have established that cyberattacks impacted 22% of legal organizations. Cybercriminals mainly aim to capture data, and law firms are potentially attractive data sources because of the sensitive information they hold. Using digital tools for accessibility, file sharing, as well as correspondence between clients and lawyers, provides more opportunities for hacks, mistakes, and oversights. The legal sector grapples with a detrimental threat, making it critical for cybersecurity to deter potential breaches.

3.4. Worsen Existing Inequalities

Low-income individuals and marginalized communities might have low access to legal tech, which may further exacerbate existing inequalities. Marginalized groups fail to be represented adequately while designing and implementing new technology. Racialized, low-income, and marginalized groups disproportionately bear the brunt of increased technology use in societies. Certain datasets are used for legal tech, reinforcing existing power structures that perpetuate the marginalized and racialized groups’ oppression systems. For instance, AI systems utilized to do an evaluation of potential tenants depend on court records and other datasets containing their built-in biases that depict systemic ableism, sexism, racism, and full of errors. Such algorithms might use data like criminal histories, which depict the long-standing racial disparities within the criminal legal system that discriminate against marginalized communities.

3.5. Ethical and Legal Violations

The lack of oversight and regulation in the legal tech industry may lead to ethical or legal violations. Legal tech is a comparatively new field that has only been gaining momentum during the last few years. There is still a lack of adequate regulations and knowledge on how firms can benefit from it. Ethical and legal violations could result from people’s beliefs that legal tech only relates to law enforcement agencies and how they use technology. In addition, many businesses lack information on the actual meaning of legal tech. They usually lack a clear vision of their direction and ultimately make decisions premised on emotion rather than logic.

3.6 Constant Capital Costs

Implementing digital transformation is a continuous change in mindset towards continuous digital development and growth. Thus, the software and technology invested in today will have to be upgraded, updated, or retired later with the emergence of new advancements. Failing to update with technological advancements can disadvantage legal firms since they would require continued technological investments. In addition, digital transformation entails detrimental costs related to purchasing, training, and stakeholder buy-in, particularly for large law organizations. In addition, relatively smaller firms may lack the financial strength to embrace the new technology. Thus, law firms that can afford legal tech can become richer while others cannot. For example, buying an AI assistant can cost solo law practitioners about $200 to handle work successfully. On the other hand, managing time-consuming legal tasks, including contract review and workflow management, could cost small firms $30,000 on software. Lawyers need $250,000 to have a system that can manage about 500 users. This is the cost related to tech support after initially setting up the business.

4. Effects of Legal Tech on Rights and Freedoms

4.1 Lack of Transparency and Accountability

There is a risk of replacing human judgment and decision-making with automated processes, which may lead to a lack of transparency and accountability in legal decision-making. In addition, legal tech that is not subject to appropriate oversight or accountability mechanisms can contribute to impunity. For example, if a private company develops a tool for law enforcement that is not subject to independent review or oversight, there may be few avenues for individuals to challenge its use or hold officials accountable for abuses.

To address the issue of accountability, it is important to encourage the development and use of legal tech that supports transparency and accountability, such as tools that enable the tracking and reporting of human rights abuses, or tools that enable the verification of the authenticity of evidence.

Regarding the lack of transparency, legal tech that is shrouded in secrecy or lacks transparency can make it difficult to hold decision-makers accountable. For example, if a government agency uses a secret algorithm to make decisions about who should be subject to surveillance or who should be denied access to public benefits, it can be difficult to challenge those decisions or hold officials accountable for abuses of power.

4.2 Bias and Discrimination

Legal tech also has the potential to be biased or discriminatory, particularly if it is not developed and implemented in an ethical and responsible manner. Legal tech that relies on machine learning or other forms of artificial intelligence may reflect the biases of their developers (as reflected in biased algorithms), leading to discriminatory outcomes. This can lead to impunity for those who are privileged or in positions of power, while those who are marginalized or vulnerable may face disproportionate consequences. For example, an algorithm widely used in the United States for the prediction of the rates of criminal re-offending has been found to exhibit unintentional racial bias. Legal tech that is only available to certain groups or individuals can lead to impunity for those who are able to access it. For example, if a legal research database is prohibitively expensive for small or underfunded organizations, those organizations may not be able to access the same level of legal research and analysis as their wealthier counterparts, leading to disparities in outcomes.

4.3 Freedom of Expression and Access to Information

Legal tech can be used to support repressive or authoritarian regimes, which may lead to violations of human rights and freedoms. The quest for profits and global reach across all cultures can influence legal tech firms to permit their digital tools to be deployed against critics. For example, legal tech could be deployed by repressive regimes to restrict or censor the freedom of expression and ability to access information online, especially within countries that have restrictive internet policies. Ideally, the risk of increased surveillance and monitoring of individuals’ online activities can restrict people’s freedom of expression and privacy rights. To address this challenge, it is important to support the work of human rights defenders and civil society organizations that seek to expose human rights abuses and hold perpetrators accountable, including by providing access to legal tech tools that can help to document and report abuses.

5. Balancing the Positive and Negative Effects of Legal Tech on Justice

To address the negative effects of legal tech on justice, it is important to ensure that legal tech is developed and implemented in a way that is ethical, transparent, and equitable. This may involve establishing industry standards and regulations to ensure that legal tech is used responsibly and in the public interest. Legal tech should be conceptualized, developed, and embraced in a way that preserves the rule of law and ensures access to justice through the application of scrutiny and care. As society welcomes legal tech opportunities, it should refrain from embracing these innovations without conducting the necessary due diligence.

The Black Box Challenge (lack of knowledge on the functioning and operation of a particular technology) can be solved by making a judicious decision while selecting a firm’s tech solution. Opting for solutions with tech-compliance standards can improve confidence within the technology, benefitting the legal firms and law tech vendors.

For the cost challenges, costs determine whether firms should embrace tech solutions or not. Law firms often view law tech solutions as a cost, and existing pricing models of solutions aggravate it. It does not always entail choosing the cheapest solution. However, organizations should strike a balance between the cost vs. feature ratio. Legal firms should select services that ensure their expenditure is low and empower their workflows at the same time.

Additionally, efforts can be made to increase access to legal tech for marginalized communities and to ensure that legal professionals are trained to use legal tech responsibly and effectively. Ultimately, the goal should be to leverage the positive effects of legal tech while mitigating any negative consequences to ensure that justice is served for all. One of the ways of achieving this is by focusing on ensuring that the design and development of legal tech is based on the needs and involvement of marginalized communities and individuals. Rather than accepting and reinforcing the perception of a power dynamic whereby only a privileged few design legal tech to then impose on marginalized groups, society should seek to ensure that the design of technology acknowledges the needs of the marginalized segments of society.

Policymakers and regulators should work to establish industry standards and regulations that ensure legal tech is used responsibly and in the public interest. This may involve establishing data privacy and security standards, requiring transparency in the use of algorithms and AI, and ensuring that legal tech is accessible and affordable for all. In addition, organizations should select solutions that assist them to handle issues such as team management, contract management, and manual litigation processes. By taking a holistic approach to balance the positive and negative effects of legal tech on justice, we can ensure that legal tech serves the greater good and helps to promote justice for all.

6. Conclusion

This paper has examined the importance of legal tech today, its application in different countries, its negative impacts on justice, balancing positive and negative effects, and its impacts on rights and freedoms. The core benefits are more efficient legal processes, enhanced access to justice, better decision-making, improved collaboration, and improved compliance. Regarding its application, legal tech is embraced globally because of its transformative effect on access to justice. The US, Asia, and Europe are the most advanced in embedding it into their practices. Despite its vital benefits, legal tech has the potential to contribute to constant capital losses, job losses, violation of data privacy and security, ethical and legal violations, and aggravate existing inequalities. Thus, it is important to strike a balance between the positives and negatives of legal tech to ensure that it enhances access to justice. Notwithstanding, it is also critical to consider its potential impacts on rights and freedoms, including promoting discrimination, curtailing the freedom of expression and the right to access information, the right to privacy and confidentiality, and the lack of transparency and accountability.

It should also be noted that the legal tech’s development cannot go beyond the impact of each state’s legal or political tradition. However, from the pros and cons, cross-country comparison, and the need to strike a balance, states can still gain insights from each other’s beneficial practices. For strategic deployment, the legal sector is quite unique, and working on legal technology until artificial intelligence tools mature enough to be embraced is better. Gaps in access to justice should also be tackled. In addition, legal tech needs to target lawyers and the judiciary, the public, and litigants. In this regard, technology should remain secondary to human judges instead of aiming to substitute them.