Future Law Tech-lash?

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Reading around as I do, I frequently start drilling down on a subject related to responsible tech. Ethics and responsibilities are readily detected and flagged as highly relevant in areas such as Robotics and InvestTech for example.

However, when I speak to legal service providers about their journeys in LegalTech innovation, the mention of ethics, values or policies frequently meets with either disengagement or even outright dismissal as not relevant to business innovation, but firmly anchored instead in Tech4Good, or Access to Justice separate from what the Business of Law is concerned with. In my view, this is a mistake, not only from a value driven perspective, but also when considering the likely impact that such failure to focus will have on the bottom line, eventually.

After her Dimbleby Lecture in 2015, Martha Lane-Fox (of dot.com fame) founded doteveryone with a vision of society shaping its digital world and navigate the moral and ethical issues it presents. As part of its Better Business workstream, doteveryone identifies the need to reach a point where “responsible technology becomes the new normal”, achieved by considering the impact of new technology on society while building it.

This is relatively clear when it whacks you in the face, such as when you are building autonomous weapons, or designing automated processes for access to healthcare. However, your digital duty of care might be more obscure when your law firm is just setting out to improve existing admin processes for example, or analysing and repackaging the data on which you are sitting in an added value, resalable manner? All you think of is GDPR and professional regulation, right?

I hope not, as you are missing a trick that will ensure that your innovation and development does not expose your business to future reputational damage, or incompatibility with regulation that might just be much closer than you think. Following the 2016 crisis of public confidence in big tech, and sea change in the perception of the large tech companies including Facebook, Google and Apple, regulation of tech is now inevitable, similar to the regulatory upheaval that resulted from the 2008 banking crisis. This is argued perusasively by Pete Marcus in his recent article on LinkedIn. Tech regulation is on the political agenda of most developed nations including that of the EU.

In the legal services sector, I would advocate that one of the main objectives, even when you are an actor in the Business of Law rather than the Administration of Justice, is to deliver justice (remember all these years ago, why you chose to study Law …). As an Officer of the Supreme Court (let’s not distinguish here between solicitors and barristers, please…) , a lawyer is required to uphold the Rule of Law and all that entails. Algorithms for example in the Criminal Justice System have come under significant scrutiny already. Another example is the LawTech Delivery Panel‘s UK Jurisdiction Task Force, one of six instituted by the panel, coordinating the preparation of an authoritative legal statement on the status of cryptoassets and smart contracts under English private law. The intention of its current consultation is that a legal statement to be prepared will either demonstrate that English private law already provides sufficiently certain foundations, or highlight particular areas of uncertainty that may need to be clarified.

So, how would a legal services provider focus on LegalTech development that will stand the test of time, reflect current and future good practice, and be compatible with potential future legislation around responsble tech? The answer surely is that ethics and values, however difficult to define and pin down, need to become part of the design process from the beginning (and must not be labelled at as esotheric, bolt-ons, obstacles, irrelevant). Tech-Transformed is a tool kit that might come in handy when designing your new automated service, or your new ground-breaking legal product. The system incorporates flavour of the year, Design Thinking, and sets out means of incorporating practical steps into your design process in order to reflect your values, and ethics, into your end result.

Developing processes along these lines should be on the agenda of legal services providers’ innovation teams to avoid being caught up in any future legal tech-lash.

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