Innovation in the legal sector, between legal design and legal tech

Innovation in the legal sector, between legal design and legal tech

The legal sector, considered as a system made of codes and laws that are not always easy to read, often interfaces with people’s lives. Due to the complexity of bureaucracy and legal language, defined by many authors as an intricate labyrinth of notions, paragraphs and articles, people feel inadequate and very often disoriented. In response to these difficulties, the idea has emerged that the legal system should be redefined in order to make it intelligible to everyone by employing a more linear and clear language. This process of legal innovation was developed through two important legal profiles: legal design and legal tech.

Indeed, the legal discipline has tried to improve the comprehensibility of legal language by abandoning, albeit partially, the so-called “scriptorum” of classical scholars through the use of Legal Design. In fact, the  main purpose of this new legal instrument in the hands of new professional figures in the legal field was to limit the use of all technical terms, complex concepts and a particularly articulated syntax in order to facilitate the understandability of rules or contracts, taking into account the difficulty and needs of all relevant parties.

According to the Legal Design Lab of Stanford University, the notion of “design” indicates not only a simple aesthetic design, but also a completely new and innovative methodology that aims at creating intuitive results and legal tools through the employment of icons, graphic signs and argumentative maps in order to make law more transparent and understandable. The legal document is reshaped by resorting to illustrations and schemes, only the essential parts remain, in order to enable people who are not familiar with the legal sector to interact with the latter and understand it in the best way possible.

In Italy, the Bruno Kessler Foundation of Trento developed a project named “SIMPATICO” with the aim of simplifying legal language through the employment of artificial intelligence. The process created by the Foundation is structured around the prior analysis of the text and its consequent translation and adaptation to the needs and factual knowledge of the user, in order to achieve a final objective: to make the document comprehensible and decipherable by the reader. It has been recognized that digital development, which has been raging in every sector of the economy for over a decade, has also revolutionized the world of law and legal services, that more and more employ digital, fast, easy to understand and innovative systems.

Nowadays, legal professionals begin to be familiar with artificial intelligence, algorithms and machine learning, as these tools enable them to combine legal skills with innovative and highly technological solutions. In this context, professionals feel the continuous and growing need to respond to and satisfy new needs, including the reduction of time frames and the simplification of procedures that have always been cumbersome.

According to Claudia Sandei, head of the Innovation Technology Law Lab (IITL) of Padova University, the figure of the legal professional is going to change in the next decade, as he will  acquire competences and skills that will allow him to perform efficiently in the digital sector.

The early forms of legal tech were conceived at the end of 2000s, with the purpose of improving all the activities performed by law firms, including: acquisition of customers; monitoring of workflow; restructuring of  information architecture; use of online space and cloud; as well as speeding up the management of relations with clients and institutions. 

The rise of technology in the legal profession, in the form of legal tech, fintech and insurtech, also represents an industrial trend in technological development. In addition to the birth of tech boutiques and companies with legal in-house, new technological developments have entered the system. In 2019 there were significant decreases in the length of legal processes, originated and favored by the implementation of platforms aimed at resolving online disputes.

The United Kingdom and the United States are the prodromal example of the digitalization process of courts and tribunals. In fact, the two countries have encouraged the use of digital platforms to facilitate the performance of legal processes in a virtual way, without the need to be physically present in the courthouse. This, undoubtedly, takes on even more importance in view of the pandemic that is raging on a global level. The estimates regarding investments in the digital revolution of the legal sector show the complexity of the increasing digitalisation of law. In particular, in the two-year period 2018-2019, revenue in the legal sector, notably the one employing legal tech instruments, exceeded 10.7 billion euro.

Moreover, according to Lawgeex, a contract review platform, there are multiple types of tools relating to the world of legal technology (the platform currently estimates about thirty of them). The impact of new legal tech solutions, such as artificial intelligence, blockchain and intellectual property innovation, is absolutely disruptive and without precedents. These new legal instruments not only guarantee the production of tailor-made documents, shaped according to the needs of clients and professionals, but also ensure the traceability of the various versions of each document, allowing professionals to work simultaneously on the same document.

Nowadays, it should be pointed out that, even though they may seem synonyms, there is a remarkable difference between the notion of “legaltech” and that of “lawtech”. Indeed, when we talk about legaltech, we refer to the software and technologies that legal professionals use to simplify and speed up their work; instead, the notion of “lawtech” identifies a complexity of tools available to clients (legal chatbots, online markets).

To sum up, legal technology is being developed in three main fields: 1) management of the law firm through advanced control systems, 2) management and execution of practices aimed at better administration of the same and, finally, 3) legal services to the market, as platforms serving delivery services. As legal technology continues to improve in all these areas, we can begin to imagine a future in which legal tech tools will play an increasingly central role in the lives of both professionals and clients, making the legal sector easier to understand and navigate.