Namita Shah is the co-founder of Presolv360 – a legal-tech platform (recognized by the Union Ministry of Law and Justice, Government of India) specializing in online commercial dispute resolution. Namita has also been recognized among the Top 60 of the ‘Women Transforming India, 2018’ an initiative by the Government of India. She is passionate about learning, teaching and mentoring, and has delivered several lectures and video series on various topics for the Indian government, MBA colleges, and corporate panels.
Legal sector in India is at the brink of a ‘digital revolution’!
The 19th century was marked to be famous for the industrial revolution. Similarly, the 21st century is often called the era of digital revolutions. This is especially considering the pace with which digital transformations are taking place in today’s times. It is unprecedented. The digital transformation era is primarily said to have to have four legs to it:
- Artificial intelligence; and
- Quantum computing
The impact of these transformations has been phenomenal in several sectors. Now, it is the legal sector that has been predicted to undergo a complete overhaul as a result of these. Therefore, it is crucial to analyse the impact that these trends will have on the legal sector in 2020.
Digital Transformation Trend 1: Blockchain Technology
The first and foremost change has been brought about by the development of blockchain technology. This technology allows the creation of master database of information that can be stored, accessed and edited. All of this, by a huge number of people at the same time. Since the operations are carried out by advanced technologies, the possibility of human errors is negated. Banks are predicted to be a major target consumer for blockchain technology.
Nonetheless, the significance that carry for the legal field cannot be undermined. The same can be leveraged to maintain an error-free database of the clients with information correspondence to their cases. Since only the lawyer/law firm entering the data shall have access to the private keys of this blockchain, the privacy of confidential information of the client can also be safely ensured. This is one of the biggest transformations in legal tech that the legal sector will witness.
Digital Transformation Trend 2: Cryptocurrency
National jurisdictions across the world have shown a divided response to cryptocurrency. While some have hailed the concept as a major breakthrough, other jurisdictions are apprehensive of its adverse effects. It is often viewed as a threat to their monopoly status. In turn, they have expressed caution against it. As far as the Indian legal position is considered in this matter, the Reserve bank of India has, starting way back in December 2013, until very recently in April 2018, issued several notifications expressing its opposition to the use of virtual currencies. The entities that are regulated by the RBI have been expressly prohibited from engaging in dealing with cryptocurrencies like Bitcoins, etc. On the other hand, dealers of Bitcoin have expressed their disapproval of this step by the State as something that is holding India back from matching the progress made by other jurisdictions.
One of the major concerns of States not in favour of cryptocurrencies is that since the transactions shall appear on a virtual platform, the task of determining geographical territory or jurisdiction will become next to impossible. As a result, there would be uncertainty regarding which country shall have the exclusive jurisdiction with respect to taxation of these transactions. This is further complicated by the restrictions against double taxation.
Digital Transformation Trend 3: Artificial Intelligence
The contours of Artificial Intelligence (AI) are still being explored on a daily basis. Its utility for various sectors is impressive. The legal sector, in particular, can be a major beneficiary if the potential of AI is tapped to its fullest extent. In fact, it is worth noting that Cyril Amarchand & Mangaldas, one of the leading teir-1 law firms operating in India, has already collaborated with a Canadian entity to employ the use of AI technology named “Kira”. The said technology, it is being said, will help the firm in mapping of clauses in a contract/legal document, as well as assist in due diligence of transactions. Considering that most Mergers & Acquisitions transactions are usually very lengthy and voluminous, thus requiring a lot of man-hours of work on them, use of AI will greatly reduce the tedious and taxing part of the task.
“Ross” is the name of the first AI software attorney that has been extensively been relied upon by law firms in the United States. Some AI technologies also help in predicting the outcomes of cases.
Digital Transformation Trend 4: Chatbots
This is yet another digital innovation which reduces client management efforts for lawyers. They can have insightful legal conversations with their prospective clients. Such chatbots are often used by many law firms. As soon as a prospective client logs on to the website of the firm, the chatbot shall greet them. They are accustomed to answer certain standard questions. These may be related to the law form or to the legal dispute. Through this virtual conversation, the client can get a fair idea as to whether it should continue with the firm as its lawyer or no. This decision may be based on factors like, whether the law firm specializes in the kind of legal disputes that the client is involved in, etc. Lexi and Lawdroid are examples of two such chatbots which are currently extensively in use.
Digital Transformation Trend 5: Cloud
The concept of cloud, unlike the previously named digital transformations which are still at their nascent stages, has gained considerable popularity. Even devices which have Microsoft software installed in their systems can use this digital technology. MS One Drive and Google Drive are two of the most prominent examples. These allow the users to store huge amounts of data. At the same time, they allow a large group of people to edit and access the data simultaneously. This is extremely useful when a team of lawyers is working on a particular draft. The draft can be shared via Google Drive to the entire team. Thereafter, the comments/suggestions or changes introduced by one person is visible to the entire team in real time. This allows the work to be done with a lot more efficiency in lesser time.
Digital Transformation Trend 6: Voice-To-Text
A major aspect of the legal profession involves taking down notes and other relevant information. For example, when a junior lawyer is briefing his/her senior, or when the judge is dictating the judgments to the stenographer or when the testimony of a witness is being taken down for the purpose of records. However, manual typing on the basis of bare hearing may be both, time-consuming as well as tiresome. It also has the possibility for typographical errors. Instead, there are softwares that allow voice to text conversion. Some of the advanced softwares can not only recognize a variety of accents, but they also claim to be otherwise error-free.
Employment of such technologies can reduce the burden on the State exchequer to a huge extent as there would no longer be the need to employ court clerks and stenographers. Even private parties will benefit from this. Speechnotes and VoiseFinger are two such examples.
Digital Transformation Trend 7: Virtual Assistance
Most written pleadings that are filed in a particular kind of matter in a particular court seem to have a common template. For example, The High Court Rules of the High Court of Bombay, read along with the general rules of criminal procedure provide a uniform pattern of filing of anticipatory bail petitions. The same applies for other kinds of commonly used petitions and applications. Innovators have therefore invented softwares that provide to the lawyers, the basic template for that particular pleading and the all that the lawyer has to do is to enter the specific details pertaining to the parties in every new case. Use of such softwares can save a lawyer time as well as efforts.
Similarly, developments like videoconferencing allow a client to consult a geographically distant lawyer virtually. There are also virtual law-firms who have no brick and mortar existence, however function completely via the online platform. Similarly, the testimony of witnesses residing outside the territorial jurisdictions of the court is taken via videoconferencing. The Code of Criminal Procedure also allows filing of e-FIRs. Complaints related to cyber-bullying and consumer grievances can also be successfully lodged online. The legal sector in India is definitely transforming.
Digital Transformation Trend 8: Online Dispute Resolution
Gone are the days when we had the patience to wait in long queues to buy groceries and wait for our token number to appear in banks to deposit cheques. Today, all we need is a smartphone and groceries and money are not even a click away. Then, why should one wait for years and years for his case to come before a judge and get not more than a minute of the judge’s time to decide his fate. Is that what the people work so hard for? To ultimately lose it all in a battle in courts? Is there another way? A better way? Yes – it is called ‘Online Dispute Resolution’, or ‘ODR’.
The United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) ODR Working Group defines ODR as “… a mechanism for resolving disputes facilitated through the use of electronic communications and other information and communication technology.” To put it simply, ODR is the conduction of dispute resolution using Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanisms, namely arbitration, mediation, conciliation, and negotiation, in a virtual environment. The benefits of ODR are manifold. As compared to traditional dispute resolution mechanism and forums, and even conducting dispute resolution via Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanisms offline, ODR is quick, cost-effective, convenient, and accessible. It provides disputing parties the freedom to resolve their dispute however they want, and that too from the comfort of their homes and offices.
Integrating technology with dispute resolution was considered aspirational at best but the pandemic has highlighted the importance of technology-led systems especially in the midst of a contactless society. Fostering the powerful idea of ODR will be a revolutionary step that is sure to unlock the potential of a partnership between law and technology. It has the propensity to work alongside the incumbent setup and deliver quick, affordable, and enforceable outcomes, while the choice to resolve online resting entirely with disputing parties.
These eight digital transformation trends are sure to give a push to the legal-tech sector in India. With the advent of technology, digital innovations are fast replacing the humans. Though it may save time, effort, resources (paper) and money, the downside is that employments are now at stake. Therefore, a balance must be sought.