The digitization of certain aspects of the legal industry is a hot topic these days. From the relatively prosaic introduction of e-filing of legal documents at the turn of the century to the creation of ‘self-executing’ smart contracts within blockchains to the potential use of ‘3D imaging, panoramic videography, robotics and virtual reality‘ to transport juries to crime scenes, it is becoming imperative that the legal industry stay on top of the latest developments in technology to retain a competitive edge. I say legal industry because this is not only relevant to lawyers and law firms operating in an increasingly competitive business environment but also to national legal systems, hoping that parties will select their courts as their forum of choice in commercial contracts.
While this inevitably presents certain challenges, it provides a number of fresh opportunities, especially for emerging markets. Some that immediately come to mind in the Bangladeshi context:
- Reducing procedural deficiencies using existing technology: This has already started to take place to a limited extent. Along with an assortment of e-filing and e-registration options provided by government websites, social media is being actively used by certain departments. Facebook and android apps are used by the tax authorities to crowd source reports (via screen shots) of businesses that do not charge VAT or misrepresent their charge of the tax by printing a false VAT number on receipts. The Dhaka police have developed an app that facilities contact with them. Messenger and an active Facebook page is used by the executive magistrates of Bangladesh’s main airport to expedite the processing of passenger complaints and reports of criminal activity. Social media is also increasingly being used by the legal community to disseminate information on key legal topics (Think Legal Bangladesh) and answer questions from the public. There is potential for this to grow. The Supreme Court already offers an SMS service to receive information about the details of a case and its website provides information on bail confirmations and soft copies of cause lists but perhaps in the not-too-distant future we will see substituted summons via WhatsApp – as is already taking place in Singapore and Australia.
- Outsourcing Legal Support Services: This effectively means offshoring the review of documents, legal research and even the drafting of certain pleadings to countries which charge low fees as an attempt to defray costs. The ability of transferring large quantities of data and documents using fast and secure online connections allows this to take place. It is a phenomenon that is already taking place in a big way in India but hasn’t percolated to Bangladesh. While concerns about client confidentiality and security remain, if these issues are accounted for and a high quality service is provided, this could provide an opportunity for Bangladeshi start-ups and the growing legal community.
- Designing of Artificial Intelligence (AI) software for the Legal Industry: This is perhaps the most exciting development currently taking. Along with the virtual reality robots mentioned above, could artificial intelligence be used to help judges to quickly identify violations of the law? One recent study of European Court of Human Rights cases has shown that AI can already predict the outcome of a factually complex human rights case with 79% accuracy. It can also be used to search for concepts rather than just keywords. ROSS (not the character from Friends) is an ‘AI lawyer’ that can conduct fairly sophisticated legal research in a fraction of the time that it would take a human lawyer. Even more impressively, it can provide an opinion on how relevant it is to a given case and has an ability to ‘learn’ as more information is processed by it.
What else might the future hold for the e-legal industry?