On Nov. 24, the 2019 Legal Tech Innovation Summit sponsored by Alibaba Group and Ant Financial was held in Hangzhou. Thomson Reuters was one of the co-organizers.

 

The full-day summit consisting of one main discussion and five sub-discussions gathered dozens of experts from governments, professional organisations, enterprises, different legal entities and more than a thousand of other participants to discuss the current situation of law and technology. Challenges and the future of integration of law and technology were also discussed. The event is highly informative, so ALB has summarised a few points for people who are interested in legal tech.

Is the legal profession ready for the era of technology?

In the view of Timothy A. Steinert, partner and general counsel at Alibaba Group, as society has begun to enjoy the convenience brought by Internet technology, lawyers must now begin to adopt technology and system platforms to make changes in their standard practice. By doing so, they can improve efficiency, and more importantly, create better solutions and social value.

However, he added that there are still several challenges facing the legal profession in the era of science and technology: 

Firstly, some of the traditional lawyers’ thinking is still old, where they believe that they are experts with unique insights, and that science and technology are not core requirements of being good lawyers.

Secondly, education provided by law schools is also very traditional and not in line with the needs of the ever-changing business models of the Internet era.

Thirdly, the idea of science and technology in the legal world is still very new, and many products in this industry are still quite immature. While there is a huge demand from the market, market penetration is relatively low.

Finally, most legal work has not yet been digitalised, and the technology platforms are decentralised. Unification, sharing and the implementation of cloud technology have not been achieved in most cases.

How is technology changing legal services?

In the past, Alibaba has conducted a special challenge within the company and found out that it takes eight professional lawyers a week to complete the review of 600 online contracts, while AI took only one second to complete the assignment with a 100 percent accuracy. 

Experts from Alibaba pointed out that the average time for a manual review of an online contract is about 30 minutes. The experts also noted that the standards of the reviews are not uniform enough. 

In comparison, engineers from the Enterprise Data Intelligence Department of Alibaba’s Information Platform have developed a smart contract diagnosis system, which has an average accuracy rate of more than 94 percent, the equivalent to saving 130 people days of work per year.

In November 2019, the People's Court of Shangyu District, handed down the verdict in China’s first criminal case involving blockchain certificates. It was a fraud case involving less than 10,000 yuan. While the amount of money involved was small, the number of victims was large, and they were scattered across the country. A total of 176 crimes were involved in the case. 

It has been reported that if relevant evidence was recorded in the form of traditional CD-ROMs and circulated between public prosecution and law, it might lead to data loss caused by CD damage or data tampering in CD.

Shangyu District Judicial Machine, a joint blockchain team, encrypted the data with blockchain technology, and ensured the authenticity of the evidence by comparing the hash values in the later stage.

Outside of Alibaba and Ant Financial, other companies are also using a variety of legal and technological tools. Baidu, for example, is using AI to handle complaints and is exporting blockchain products to Internet courts. Wolters Kluwer has developed an automated web-page scanning tool to help companies cope with the new advertising law, which has greatly improved the efficiency of legal work.

Where is the pain point of lawyers' technical needs?

Steven Wang, vice president and general manager of Greater China at Thomson Reuters, summed up the vision of the legal world at the technical level: 

  • Intelligence: The use of database and AI technology can predict and analyse changes in laws and regulations.
  • Automation: This will not replace real people with technology. Instead, it let people focus on doing high value-added work, especially at this time when Chinese enterprises are beginning to internationalise. At this time of age, legal costs rise rapidly, and there is a real urgent need for lawyers to deal with issues in different aspects.
  • Visualization: Incorporating visuals to make the processes more straightforward.
  • Providing platforms: Technological changes in the enterprise legal world can only be made through the construction of a professional legal operations team.

Will lawyers be replaced by machines?

Lu Hongbing, vice president of the All-China Lawyers Association, mentioned in an article in the Science magazine that intelligent robots could eliminate as many as 356 occupations. Among the list of occupations that are likely to be eliminated, lawyers and judges ranked 38th together. In July of the year the article was published, a chat robot named "the world's first robot lawyer" was officially launched to help ordinary people write formal complaints. 

Nowadays, the idea that scientific and technological innovation has empowered legal services has become a consensus.

China’s Supreme People's Procuratorate is laying out its “intelligent procuratorial work”, while the people's courts are building “smart courts.”

Legal science and technology are also expected to empower lawyers and change the business models of law firms.

Mick Sheehy, chairman and founder of CLOC, partner at NewLaw PwC, believes that legal departments often do not know what they can do to provide more value to their firms. At present, legal technology is more about improving efficiency, while in the future it will be more about finding more ways for legal people to create value and provide more insight into the business. 

Is legal technology only related to the legal industry?

Yu Siying, partner and vice-president of Alibaba Group, said that as a practitioner and pioneer of legal technology, Alibaba hopes that technology will make legal services more inclusive, and that it will create new legal service capabilities, better solutions and produce more social value.

Ye Jun, General Manager of Alibaba's Enterprise Intelligence division, provided an example: Every year, Alibaba’s legal department faces a large number of contract signings and examinations. During this year's Double 11 Festival, Alibaba provided technical assistance to merchants in reviewing contracts related to the festival and achieved high-speed approval through the use of OCR + AI + electronic signature technologies. "The knowledge and abilities of the law are the greatest value brought to us by science and technology," he said.

After the discussion, a consensus seemed to have been reached: Technology will never replace a real lawyer, but one that makes good use of legal technology will surpass those who are not good at using those tools in the future.

 

To contact the editorial team, please email ALBEditor@thomsonreuters.com.