How Legal Technology will Improve Justice for All

In Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Jack Cade described the Utopian world he would establish when he became king. A world in which all people are equal, there is no poverty and ‘there shall be no money’, A world, his sidekick Dick the Butcher pointed out, that could only exist if they got rid of all lawyers.

Mark Beer

There is much debate about the meaning of this scene. Lawyers preen themselves that it paints them in a positive light, as defenders against authoritarianism. Non-lawyers see it differently: That if you want true, systemic change, don’t involve lawyers. 

And the evidence seems to bear out the non-lawyers’ view

Technology has transformed almost every facet of life, with one stubborn exception – the law. Today, more people have access to the internet than access to justice. This justice chasm, the gap between people’s legal needs, and what lawyers and courts can deliver, is widening worldwide, and this will accelerate as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Indeed, in a recent study undertaken by the Hague Institute for Innovation of Law, 84 percent of people surveyed around the world who had been kept awake at night by a serious legal problem, hadn’t seen a lawyer, and 95 percent hadn’t used the State institution established to help them: The Courts.

And it could happen to you. Each of us will, on average, face a serious legal issue every seven years. Meaning, in any year, 1 billion people around the world are suffering in silence. Not seeing lawyers, or using Courts.

Why – because lawyers and the Courts are seen as cumbersome, expensive, and out-of-touch.

Is this the case with other facets of modern life?

Take medicine. Would a surgeon, transported from 1820 to the modern-day, have any comprehension of the workings of a contemporary operating theatre? Monitors, ventilators, lasers, computers….

But imagine a judge or a lawyer, transported from 1820, and put in a courtroom. Perhaps the electric lightbulbs might be unfamiliar; something Edison only invented in January 1879? Maybe the plug sockets, not invented until 1904? But otherwise, they’d feel right at home, with the elevated bench, the dark wood panels, and the trestle tables.

And so how can such a fundamental human right as justice and the law, stagnate for so many for so long? Why have we seen so little development, and what can be done to right this wrong?

The answer is a technology and, more specifically, Legal Technology.

And why now?

People use to say that the law is too complex for any computer to understand. Many would agree that much that lawyers produce is unintelligible, save to lawyers. But the tide is turning.

Processing power has moved into the stratosphere, with Google’s Sycamore quantum chip able to process, in 200 seconds, what would take a traditional supercomputer 10,000 years. And with that enormous increase in processing power comes the ability for Artificial Intelligence to outsmart the greatest in Human Intelligence. With AlphaZero’s defeat of Stockfish 9 at chess, we saw that pure AI could take on and beat generations of human knowledge about chess. But what about the law?

Much the same story. In an experiment between human lawyers vs AI, reviewing legal documents, not only was the AI more accurate than humans, identifying 94 percent of the legal issues against the human’s creditable 85 percent, but what took the humans on average 92 minutes, took the AI only 26 seconds. For a profession that bills its clients on time spent, I know which I’d rather have reviewing my contracts.

And in terms of resolving problems for people, and giving some certainty to an otherwise terrifying and opaque process, the technology does better again, able to predict the outcomes of certain cases with 79 percent accuracy, and outperforming human judges by up to 41 percent in bail decisions – keeping bad people in jail and letting good people out on bail.

Which is why LawTech is the new FinTech – the new frontier to transform the law. With over $12.5 billion invested in LawTech since 2014, its growth is exponential and mirrors the rise of Fintech from the 2000s. It’s worth noting that in the five years between 2014 and 2019 over $420 billion was invested in FinTech projects, so LawTech has a long way to rise.

And so, in one corner of the ring, we have the perfect confluence of processing power, technologists, and investment, and in the other we have an aged, inefficient, and antiquated system creaking with dust. It’s not difficult to predict the outcome!

Now is the time for that change: For legal technology to raise and empower the community. For people and businesses to be protected and able to access the law, and resolve their problems, from their phones and tablets, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and at low or no cost. 

But where will that change be catalyzed? Although the legal technology sector has been growing exponentially since 2014, no country, no city, and no economic zone has yet become the global hub: To be recognized as the leader in LegalTech. And this is Kazakhstan’s moment. It’s a chance to be the world’s leader in LawTech.

With the Astana International Financial Center’s focus on Legal Technology and the recent establishment of an Advisory Council comprising some of the world’s LawTech thought leaders, there is an opportunity to bring the global focal point for legal technology to Kazakhstan. And to continue the pioneering and innovative legacy of the AIFC in a way that offers online, real-time access to legal advice and the technological tools they need to resolve their legal problems. One that delivers a fairer future in which technology fills today’s justice chasm. Where the citizen receives legal advice at no or low cost. Where AI-based predictive tools can both help people solve their problems, and help them avoid problems in the first place. Where AI-based judges help to clear backlogs and delays. Developing a citizen-centric, technology-powered legal system that empowers the people: Delivering fast, efficient and fair justice to all in society.

And as the AIFC is the first international financial center in the world to focus on this, so Kazakhstan can lead the world in delivering a fairer world, in which all have access to, and the protection of the law.

So perhaps, using legal technology, Jack Cade’s Utopia can be delivered; and the lives of every citizen can be improved; and justice, fairness, and the law can be accessed by all. The question is, will legal technology fulfill Dick the Butcher’s advocation? The jury is still out.

The author is Mark Beer OBE. Beer is recognized as one of the world’s foremost commentators on LawTech and the transformation of legal systems. Beer chairs the AIFC’s LawTech Advisory Council and has co-founded Seven Pillars Law in Kazakhstan.

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