Technology has become ubiquitous in every industry and the legal sector is no exception. Over the past two decades, there was a tremendous change in legal services delivery. Few years ago, it was unimaginable that courts will run virtually. Or that one could create a contract without pen and paper. However, with the increasing adoption and use of disruptive technologies by legal professionals. It is clear that legal tech is here to stay.
Legal technology first emerged around 2000, with websites offering a digital searchable library of case laws and legislations. As time progressed, legal technology evolved and expanded into more complex legal domains. Such as contract management and automation, document automation, e-billing software, and legal analytics. In recent years, technology make revolutionizing changes in the way legal education reach students.
In 2017, the Supreme Court embarked digitization initiative, which involved digitizing over one crore and five lakh pages of civil appeals. Additionally, the government launched an Integrated Case Management System (ICMS) aimed at digitizing services being provided to the Indian judiciary.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also highlighted the crucial role technology plays in ensuring that legal services are accessible and efficient. The adoption of e-signatures, online contracts, virtual courts, and online meetings. And e-billing software solutions have enabled legal services to continue seamlessly, even during these challenging times.
This article chronicles the evolution of technology in the legal sector since 2000. And how it has disrupted the legal industry. The advent of technology revolutionizing the way legal services eaches people, making them more efficient, accessible, and cost-effective. From digitization initiatives to the use of artificial intelligence, blockchain technology, and online learning platforms, legal tech has transformed the legal landscape. It paves the way for more innovation and growth in the years to come.
At the Turn of the Millennium
Back in 2000, legal research was only in books and paper-based resources. However, the dot-com boom in 2000 paved the way for the launch of various websites and portals across industries and verticals. Amidst this technological revolution, Manupatra pioneered online legal research in India by launching its online database. This platform helped lawyers to access case laws from various courts in India, central and state legislations, government notifications, etc. On a single online platform with just a click of a mouse. As a result, travel time to libraries, late hours in chambers. And the arduous task of sifting through thousands of pages to find relevant case laws or precedents was eliminated.
The dedicated legal research databases were equipped with search interfaces that enabled lawyers to search for relevant documents and information with ease, using keywords, relevant search terms, year of judgment, and even the name of the judge who delivered the decision. The customisation of search options was a luxury unknown to lawyers at the beginning of the millennium. Such ease in conducting legal research made them realise the potential of technology in their field. The Information Technology Act, 2000 gave a further impetus to e-signatures, which opened up the pathway for digitisation of documents. This initial phase marked the beginning of a technological revolution in the legal sector and opened up new possibilities for transformation into a technology-driven industry.
Tech Making its Mark on Legal
Between 2005 and 2010, legal technology made its first significant impact on the Indian legal sector. Legal tech companies, such as Manupatra, had already established themselves by this point. And had garnered widespread acceptance for their online legal research platform. This success paved the way for legal tech products to enter the untapped legal industry market.
During this period, other players recognized the potential of providing more nuanced tools for legal research. It included access to books and journals. International legal publishing companies also expressed interest and eventually entered the Indian market. While Google Scholar was launched in 2004, it took a few years for it to gain acceptance as a valid tool for legal research in India. This platform provided free access to limited pages of books and articles from international journals. Which was a boon for lawyers who could not afford expensive law books and publications. As a result of these developments, online legal news verticals such as Legally India and Bar and Bench emerged.
Lawyers of this era began to rely more heavily on legal tech tools for their research and news feeds. Which was a significant departure from their senior counterparts who relied solely on traditional research methods. This period marked the beginning of a shift in mindset. Here lawyers began to understand that technology is not here to replace them, but rather to assist them.
Beyond the Realm of Legal Research
During the period of 2010-2015, legal-tech solutions expanded beyond just legal research and began to diversify into various areas. Online ed-tech platforms emerged to provide practical skills to law students, while other online platforms connected consumers directly with lawyers, making legal services more accessible. This marked the boom phase for legal-tech solutions in India, with unheard-of technological solutions using AI, NLP, Smart Search and other cutting-edge legal technology tools.
With technology taking care of routine operations, lawyers had more time to concentrate on complex legal issues. AI/ML based features like Analytics, Visualization, Nested Search, and Citing Details on Click were introduced by Manupatra, and over time these features became indispensable for fast and relevant legal research. Legal jobs also went online, with both vertical and horizontal players focusing on the legal industry, and online legal recruitment firms emerged to connect job aspirants with potential employers in the industry. This phase of evolution of legal-tech solutions demonstrated that not only legal research but a number of legal services could be enabled or made more efficient using legal-tech.
Legal Tech: Here for Good
In the past 8 years, legal-tech startups have proliferated, particularly due to the pandemic. Legal technology solutions are revolutionizing legal services, including e-signature and contract automation. Emerging legal-tech solutions such as compliance and practice management tools are gaining traction. Manupatra has launched SaaS products such as Manucomply, Manucontract and myKase, which offer compliance management, contract lifecycle management and law practice management respectively. Online solutions are enabling lawyers to track legal updates and compliance calendars, as well as manage billing, payments, clients, and attendance with ease. Drafting and executing contracts has also become a piece of cake now.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) solutions have emerged and have the potential to revolutionize the legal industry, including e-discovery, document review, and contract management. Virtual court proceedings during the pandemic have highlighted the importance of legal-tech, with the judiciary recognizing the need for e-courts and neutral citations. Legal-tech incubators such as Prarambh and Agami are encouraging innovation in the legal field. And disruptive legaltech entrepreneurs are incentivized with awards. Legal-tech is the future, as evidenced by the surge of start-ups in the past few years. Technology is continuously exploring new areas to assist lawyers, complementing human resources and playing a significant role in expanding and making legal services more accessible.
The acceptance of technology as a complement to traditional work is clear, and with legal professionals readily embracing tech solutions, legal-tech is becoming the norm rather than the exception.