At the recent Legal Innovation and Tech Fest, held in Johannesburg in June, delegates were treated to a wide array of technology and innovation aimed at improving the delivery of law in the fourth industrial revolution.

Speaker upon speaker highlighted the important role that technology is going to play in the future delivery of legal services and how the landscape is changing at a rapid pace. The words “disruption” and “change” were on everybody’s lips and the air was abuzz with excitement.

There is no doubt that technology will change law. I could not help but wonder, however, whether technology will enhance the effectiveness of human lawyers or whether it will gradually and ultimately replace human lawyers altogether.

Modern day technological advancements have one common denominator, which is to enable tasks to be performed more effectively and efficiently. It’s all about doing things quicker and better. At a basic level, the clever minds that write programs and develop the systems, applications, and tools that we rely on daily to manage our professional and personal lives start off by analysing current systems before identifying problems within them. They then conceptualise improved systems which directly address the problems, and in so doing, they develop and are able to offer viable solutions that are capable of being commercialised.

Because such businesses are often start-ups, they are agile and they are able to change course as and when required. They think outside the box and they try out different things until they find solutions that actually work and are practical and implementable.

Having technology that can assist human lawyers to perform various tasks quicker obviously gives rise to great benefits, which can often be quantified in financial terms for the lawyers themselves and for their clients. But human lawyers will not become obsolete because of technology. In fact lawyers, supported by the right technologies, are going to become even more relevant in the future. What is likely to change over time is their function or role as technology will take away certain tasks, requiring them to redefine their value to clients.

We are likely to see lawyers becoming more specialist and business centric in that they will evolve to become business advisors as opposed to lawyers in the traditional sense. Technology will enable lawyers to become true business partners to their clients as it will unlock time that can be used for lawyers to give more strategic advice to clients. In-house lawyers will play a more strategic role and law practices will be required to become more agile and to align closely with their client’s strategies if they are to add tangible value.

While clients will benefit from increased efficiencies and a reduction in legal costs, they will still rely on advice from human lawyers. How that advice will be delivered is where technology will play a pivotal role. Lawyers are going to be able to research quicker using technology. They will be able to communicate quicker and the efficiencies that technology will create for them will be passed on to their clients. Clients will in turn be able to process advice quicker and, where required, implement such advice in a manner and at a time when the greatest impact will be realised for the benefit of stakeholders.

In her keynote address at the Legal Innovation and Tech Fest, Jorden Lam, General Counsel at Hesta in Australia, highlighted the importance of effective teams for the work we do as external or in-house lawyers. While the technology and innovation bubble is exciting and full of potential, we must not forget that at the heart of any organisation are its people. Even with the best technologies in place, people will still be central in ensuring that organisational goals and objectives are met.

Munya Gwanzura is an in-house lawyer, commercial mediator and thought leader.

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