How will lawyers’ profession evolve in the era of new technologies?

During the Mobile World Congress 2016 in Barcelona, I had the opportunity to rediscover during the 7 days of the event many of the technological innovations that will affect our lives in the short, medium and long terms. Inspired by that scene, my thought immediately flew to their general impact over the legal field, and especially on legal professions such as that of lawyers.

Two things particularly fed thought incursion into the future of attorneys, virtual reality and robotics.

virtual-reality                                     Photo credits: Reuters

Virtual reality (VR)

VR may have some impactful applications for the profession by removing the last barriers of geographical distance that remained standing. The likely scenarios that I thought of are:

  1. During a trials, solving the logistical issue that occurs when the lawyer has on the same date hearings in different courts or states. VR could enable him to legally represent almost consecutively multiple customers, despite the courts might be 3000km away from each other. Using the technology I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing at MWC, this would be possible without the lawyer (and why not also the other parties of involved in the trial, such as as witnesses or experts) stepping into the court. It is clear that today this remains the domain of science-fiction, but it’s realistic to imagine that one day not too distant from now may be able make use of this option;
  2. Evidence reconstitution. Imagine that we could virtually recreate the perpetration of the offense or of the crime scene. The magistrate would thus be able to analyse them in a context identical to that of the offense without physical travelling. This would bring an important contribution to procedural economy.
  3. Consulting in the virtual world. Currently we have platforms such as Skype or Fuze that facilitate offering legal advice online, without requiring either the client or the lawyer to travel outside his office. Nevertheless, given the privileged attorney-client relationship, these can suffer losses for the level of authenticity of inter-personal interactions, especially during business meetings that involve the negotiation of legal issues. Here is then another chapter where VR promises to bring major improvements. Lawyers would thus advise, accompany and legally represent their clients anywhere in the world without traveling (which would also implicitly entail cost savings for legal representation).
RobotsPhoto credits: CNN

Robots

Also at MWC, I had the pleasure of seeing some of the most advanced robots in the world. We are in the early stage where robots can now, thanks to their software and facial recognition sensors, interact and maintain conversations at an elementary level.

In the medium term, I expect we’ll see robots gradually introduced into the legal world. In fact, they are already here, although we might not have always been aware of their presence. Internationally, companies have already started implementation of such legal assistant in a limited number of practices. Of course, these are not the robots we’re used to seeing in science-fiction movies, but take the form of mere bots or software programs that process a request, search through enormous electronic databases of contemporary jurisprudence and offer a range of applicable legal solutions – like any internet search engine. All of these with a significantly reduced time and costs expended compared the to traditional lawyer.

Their presence will consolidate on the medium to long term. Certainly, their increased visibility will witnessed in paralegal functions. Then, along with artificial intelligence progress and the enhanced capacity to perform tasks increasingly complex, we could reach the phase in which a robot would plead a case before a Magistrate. Or maybe we will be the ones standing before a Magistrate robot to plead a case.

Yet, before deploying robots in the legal field, there remain some questions for which we will still need first to find out the answers, such as:

  • Will they remain confined at the stage of paralegal advisers?
  • If they will perform the functions of lawyers, will they require similar certifications like that of a degree in law? How will they obtain it?
  • Will insurance companies be willing to provide assurance for the quality of the professional work done by lawyers robots?
  • Will they incur taxes?
  • Will receive the status of legal persons?
  • Until we have answered the above questions, will the law firms using robots to issue memoranda, reports, opinions, documents to be signed by a lawyer human, be conducting an act unfair competition? Would we be faced with a situation of professional intrusion by robots?

To conclude, in a form more or less similar to those listed by me, we will be witnessing the our lawyer adapt to these new technologies – a thing for which all aspiring lawyers should be prepared. But it is clear that the exact form this will take in the digital age first requires careful analysis and a full debate, otherwise the consequences could be catastrophic for the entire legal system.

 


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