Technology trends bringing changes to the legal system

By Eugene Clark
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, January 18, 2020
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As Chinese society has become increasingly digital with the growth of e-government and e-commerce, China's legal system has similarly been impacted by the same forces of change. While it is true that the law often lags behind technology, even an institution as conservative as this is facing significant changes and digital disruption. 

Roles within the legal system are under pressure to innovate at faster and faster speeds. This is especially true as citizen consumers increase their demands for both participation in and responsiveness to their needs from public and private sector organizations.

New models of legal practice. Responding to developments in technology has led law firms, governments and businesses to develop new models of legal practice or tweak existing models. There is huge pressure on legal service providers, both in government and the private sector, to improve the efficiency of services as consumers of legal services demand more for less and for it to be delivered at speed. For example, many firms have increased outsourcing in order to focus on their core strengths, while organizations are creating new knowledge products and finding ways to leverage their expertise. The "convergence" of knowledge and focus on the consumer/customer is also resulting in increased competition between accounting, law, technology and other discipline groupings. In fact, lawyers now go to clients with solutions rather than wait for clients to come to them. One especially exciting development is the use of technology in enabling millions of people who for various reasons have previously not had access to justice. Methods and systems for online dispute resolution as well as other technologies hold great promise in enhancing the access to justice and evolving new models that meet the needs of these underserved groups.

Artificial intelligence (AI). AI is predicted to play an increasingly significant role in the law, via its application in fintech, smart contracts and online dispute resolution systems. Technology is also being used to augment and expand what human professionals can do, making them more productive and efficient. In other cases, technology can increase access to expert knowledge for the many who presently cannot afford legal services. 

Big data analytics. AI can be combined with big data analytics to ask new questions, probe data for new insights and devise new and tailored forms of service in innovative ways. Law firms and government departments are now able to access data and use analytic tools to see where data is going, who is using it, how and why. When someone comes up with a new and better method, the challenge is to determine how one can leverage that both across the firm and in enhancing a competitive advantage. The more data one has, and the more smart people are using and looking at it, the more likely it becomes to build systems and evolve standards that enhance the system and devise even better solutions in the future.

Blockchain technology. Blockchain involves recording information in a manner and method that creates trust in the information and makes it extremely difficult to falsify. In addition, this transparent chain of data eliminates the need for a host of intermediaries and third parties who otherwise would have to check and verify the accuracy of the data. This technology is already being deployed in smart contracts and has huge implications for the development of new and improved systems of governance in addition to many other applications.

New networks. Digital technologies and globalization have also given rise to new networks of professionals, including groupings of professionals from different disciplines. A global economy has also led to greater international cooperation and the formation of networks that work across national boundaries. Video conferencing, cloud computing and other advances facilitate virtual law practices and teams that can function across long distances. Other networks create sharing arrangements, such as shared back office storage, logistics and other infrastructure, bringing economies of scale and lower costs to firms of varying sizes.

Individual productivity. At the individual level, technological advancements have had a profound impact on productivity. How do we get access to the highest quality information? Aided by a host of digital technologies, both new and old, a lawyer today can do the work of several lawyers and support staff in the pre-digital world. Lawyers are also freed from more mundane work and can focus on "deeper" and more complex tasks. While there will always be demand for high-level legal work and it can never be replaced by code, technology is rapidly impeding upon and doing more routine work traditionally undertaken by inexperienced lawyers just getting started out in their profession. This has great implications for both the training of lawyers and legal education.

Legal education. Although legal education has been rather slow to change, the pace is likely to pick up significantly in the coming decade. Indeed, law students today are digital natives who are comfortable with and expect law schools to be technology rich environments. They want and understand that law graduates today must have technology literacy as an essential part of their skill set. The challenges of technology impact every subject in the law school curriculum and raise new and complex issues of law, policy and practice that impact all aspects of society and are in real need of research. Many law schools now also teach coding and involve students in creating law hacks that make existing legal services more efficient, with some even devising new forms of legal products and services. Law firms in the private and public sectors also increasingly recognize that lawyers must continue to learn, innovate and be proactive in their use of technology to provide better levels of service for their clients. Technology is also being used to bring together law students who need experiential learning to help real clients make contact with the many people in society who have been underserved and who have had little access to legal representation.

In conclusion, during the coming decade, we need those within China's legal system to display energy, creativity and resilience to improve the legal system for the benefit of all and ensure that the law keeps up with and supports China's continuing success in the information age.

Eugene Clark is a columnist with For more information please visit:

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