How have online estate agencies encouraged the digitisation of legal sector?

The digital revolution is affecting almost every industry, driven by growing digital expectations.  Many sectors including retail, healthcare and education are already harnessing the opportunities provided by big data, IoT and AI but will the legal sector be next to follow suit?

The Legal sector certainly hasn’t been the first to lead the charge. Despite often dealing with complex cases and sensitive information, the industry still needs to evolve. In an age when you can buy a house online, it would be illogical not to be able to deal with a solicitor this way too. More legal firms are now adopting digital approaches, but there are still many more opportunities for the industry.

The estate agency industry is one whose digital development surprised many people. Buying a home is a ‘real-world’ experience, yet the industry was still disrupted by online agents. With the digitalisation of this service, it was natural for the accompanying paperwork to be modernised.

There are many conveyancing services that deal with all the legal aspects of moving house digitally. MyHomeMove offers an online case management system called eWay. This allows you to monitor changes, make payments and update documents 24/7, online or via an app. You can still call someone, but there is no need to wait for office hours or make a face-to-face appointment as you can make edits whenever it suits you.

It is, of course, not just conveyancing that can be digitised. Services industry-wide could be revolutionised. Axiom are a worldwide company that describe themselves as “tech-enabled” and have changed the way billing in the industry is understood. Rather than bill hour-by-hour, they work by negotiated flat fees.

How do they manage to offer this? Simple. They keep their costs low by being based in cheap locations. Digital businesses do not rely on footfall and can therefore reduce their overheads. Axiom offer a range of legal services, focussing on contracts, compliance, corporate transactions and insourcing but would not describe themselves as a law firm.

With digitisation seeming to offer as many benefits it begins to beg the question why are more legal services not yet digitised?

Despite these success stories, the legal industry is still resisting the digitising of sensitive information. But is it clients that fear their documents existing in the cloud, or is the reluctance coming from inside the legal sector?

After all, the financial industry has had success with online banking, so it seems unusual that those same customers are not willing to virtually sign a document. While it is understandable that any sector that deals with sensitive information may be reluctant to digitise, there are ways to secure data online. Once more firms become comfortable with digital documents, those who insist on a paper-only existence risk being left behind.

So what key trends can we expect to see in the near future?

1. AI and machine learning

One of the most significant practical implementations of AI within the legal sector is predictive coding. This is a form of technology-assisted review used to assess the relevance of vast numbers of documents for purposes of electronic disclosure (e-disclosure). Predictive coding employs a combination of keyword search and iterative computer learning to rank the relevance of each particular document.

2. Big Data and legal research

One way in which the legal sector can take advantage of Big Data is through advanced legal research tools. A good example of this are products which offer a “legal analytics platform” to help lawyers decide on the best litigation strategies by looking for trends in the outcomes of previous relevant cases.

Many law firms have a goldmine of their own Big Data in the form of client databases and website user data. Despite our post-GDPR existence, this data can be extremely useful in terms of identifying upselling opportunities and optimising marketing campaigns.

3. DIY law and chatbots

Chatbots are beginning to make headway in the legal profession as a way to answer basic questions from clients and free up lawyers to deal with more complex matters.

Earlier this year, the first Australian law firm chatbot, named ‘Parker’, was developed to give basic answers to questions about changes to the law on data protection and privacy and was aimed at businesses dealing with the new legislation that came into force. On the first day of that chatbot’s roll out, it engaged in 1,000 conversations with potential clients.

In some cases, the users are clients who cannot afford legal advice. One of first legal chatbots was DoNotPay, which was developed by a Stanford University student and has saved thousands of motorists a total of $13m in parking fines.

Driving this change will of course be clients and as their demands and expectations continue to evolve, the sector will be forced to adapt or risk losing customers to more digital-savvy competitors. To find out more about how customer expectations are driving digital transformation across professional services, check out our recent blog here.

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