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London, recharged

How to guarantee continued legal innovation

By Catherine McGuinness  

Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA Archive/PA Images

London is already a world leader in legal innovation, with an ecosystem of international legal headquarters, lawtech firms and supporting organisations incubating and accelerating change. We frequently see new roles developed, and new tools—such as artificial intelligence or data science—incorporated into the way lawyers perform their duties and deliver outcomes to clients. This has greatly improved the accessibility, efficiency and quality of UK-based legal services delivered worldwide.

In light of Covid-19, remote working has also enabled London to serve as a key connection point with regional legal services, incorporating more open and diversified talent.

Our challenge, amid the societal and economic effects of the pandemic, remains how to take advantage of the current cultural shift and galvanise innovation moving forward, so that UK legal services remain globally competitive.

At the City of London Corporation, our strategic vision is one where technology makes English law accessible to all.

In our “London Recharged” report, we elaborate on four themes which speak to this opportunity. The accompanying recommendations provide a roadmap for interaction in the legal system, and highlight the role of continued collaboration and investment in innovation.

A. Invest in and roll out tech-enabled court processes

At the core, court systems need to be user-centric, technologically flexible and digital first. Courts should be approached as a service, not just a place.

Comprehensive digitalisation of court infrastructure is essential to providing equality of service delivery and data gathering that can improve processes. It is also a key component of building resilience into our legal structures. This starts with equipping court facilities with the tools they need to be accessible and efficient, and procedures that assist counsel and client. There are many lessons to be learned from the way remote courts have functioned, and a formal review will help us to understand any long-term impacts and implement re-design.

B. Emphasise the importance of innovation in legal services

The UK continues to be a leader in the development of legal technology, or lawtech. Encouraging investment and providing the necessary infrastructure, data, and programming interfaces for testing and validation of these tools is essential to increasing levels of adoption. Cross-collaboration is also a priority, as solutions must be outcome-driven and new methods interoperable with professional services more widely, to ensure success.

At the level of individual firms, incentivising change in behaviour and showcasing the value of technology is key to ensuring current progress is not unwound. That progress should be supported by clear policies and procedures that simplify the procurement, integration and use of digital tools.

There is also a role for regulators, professional bodies and government to play. Compiling lessons about digital tools such as digital signatures and cloud computing, and sharing this information with the profession, would assist organisations with time and resourcing constraints in ensuring service delivery is uninterrupted.

C. Upskill legal practitioners to embrace digitised legal services as the status quo

Digital literacy is increasingly important in legal services delivery. This issue can be approached from two angles: training new lawyers with the skills they need, and cross-skilling the current profession.

Again, collaboration will be key. Opportunities for people and firms to work together in training programmes, to work within the lawtech ecosystem, and to learn from other legal hubs will benefit service delivery. E-training hubs or similar mentoring programmes can provide an opportunity to share experiences and ensure small- and mid-sized firms are not left behind.

D. Finance the development of platforms for alternative dispute resolution

Alternative dispute resolution provides a key opportunity to increase global access to English law and grow the market. Scaling up existing portals can help to provide timely and cost-effective alternative and sustainable methods of business interaction. Industry-led initiatives to collaborate on developing new protocols should be welcomed, as well as investment in virtual tools that meet the needs of practitioners.

We hope these recommendations provide a framework for activity and a catalyst for continued innovation. It is our goal that they support recovery across the UK and protect our long-term competitiveness.

This article features in Prospect’s new legal report in partnership with the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, Jones Day and the City of London Corporation

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