Helena Hallgarn is one of the pioneers in legal tech in Scandinavia. She founded Virtual Intelligence VQ 2010 together with her colleague Ann Björk, after working in law firms for 16 years (at Mannheimer Swartling, Vinge and Gernandt & Danielsson. At Virtual Intelligence VQ she has been able to combine her legal knowledge with IT skills to develop innovative IT tools for the legal sector. Their most well-established tool VQ Legal has, for example, truly changed the way company registration matters are being managed and is being used by nine of the ten biggest law firms in Sweden and many more. She is also Ambassador of ELTA (European Legal Tech Association) in Sweden and co-founder of the legal think-tank Changing Legal and the Legal Standards Monitor.
Working with legal tech since the 1990s, it has been exciting to see the growing enthusiasm for legal tech in recent years. Legal tech enthusiasts can be found everywhere, from conferences and webinars to new roles in legal companies and law firms investing in tech tools and incubators.
However, as the legal tech industry has evolved, so too has the approach to it. We have moved from a focus on making lawyers use legal tech to a phase where tech can replace some of the tasks traditionally done by lawyers. Now, it seems we are moving into the third generation of legal tech, where the focus is shifting to the outcome, the customer and the legal issues that need to be solved.
In order to fully embrace this third phase and develop valuable and easy-to-use solutions, we in the legal community need to professionalize the approach to legal tech, deepen our knowledge and collaborate further in order to leverage advanced technology to support new, innovative solutions.
One of the challenges facing the legal tech industry is a lack of understanding of the different skills and competencies needed to successfully implement technology solutions. Many legal tech events and conferences try to cover a very wide range of topics, from different technologies to software implementation to IT law, which can make it difficult for professionals to understand what to focus on. There is a great difference between describing digitalization ideas and implementing solutions that truly supports a change in the management of a specific legal task.
This lack of understanding of the different skills sets might be one factor that has resulted in so many failed projects. Law firms have invested in projects that don’t actually change the way legal work is done, and legal tech solutions have not been implemented to fit into the natural daily work for lawyers. General counsels are also struggling in their mission to digitalize their legal work. According to a survey, 77% of their IT projects fail.
Could it be the approach to tech and tech competence that is the problem? Lawyers in general are considered as highly competent people who generates great income. Therefore, we have had the old traditional view dividing the people of a law firm as “lawyers and non-lawyers” based on who are profitable and gaining income and those who are only support personnel. This was also a problem that was stressed in the Litera report “The Changing Lawyer” 2022: “One of the single biggest barriers to integration is the term ‘non-lawyer’”.
We don’t have a very long tradition of appreciating other competences beyond legal expertise within the legal sector. For example, management skills have traditionally been overlooked within law firms, with senior partners often tasked with managing the firm in addition to their normal legal practice. This is also true for technology skills, with lawyers sometimes initiating tech projects without a deep understanding of the technology and the issues involved.
Therefore, to move towards the third generation of legal tech, where the focus is on solving legal issues and improving the customer experience, it’s important to professionalize our approach to legal tech and to better understand the different competencies needed in different phases of a digitalization project.
One common misconception is that all lawyers should learn more about technology in order to change the legal sector. But there is a difference between learning to use a tool and learning how to build new, better tools. Lawyers should learn to use available tools as efficiently as possible to best support their clients, but they don’t necessarily need to have a deep understanding of how those tools were built or how the underlying technology works.
Instead of expecting all lawyers to become experts in legal tech, we should define different areas and different professionals within the field. With a focus on more technology-oriented knowledge, I believe it is possible to identify at least three different tracks of skills for lawyers: legal tech strategists, legal tech lawyers, and legal tech project managers.
Legal tech strategist are high-level professionals who can initiate change and inspire organizations to start projects. They should have general knowledge about digitalization and management, as well as strong communication skills. Legal tech lawyers, on the other hand, should be more practically involved in legal tech projects, working closely with the business to ensure that solutions are tailored to their needs. They should have general IT understanding and the ability to build a business case for new solutions. They could also be responsible for the implementation phase of projects, showcasing new solutions to the business and optimizing legal processes. It is in this role much more technology knowledge is needed and there ought to be several alternative roles in this field, with a possibility to specialize on some specific type of technology platform, further knowledge on legal processer or better knowledge on how to build efficient business cases within the legal area. The role as a “Legal Knowledge Engineer”, that was presented several years ago by Richard Susskind in his well-known books about the future legal profession, is another role available for a legal tech lawyer. That could be a lawyer focusing on building efficient document packages on a document assembly solution, to really include legal logic build and create documents adapted for the specific matter.
Finally, a legal tech project manager should have project management skills and the ability to collaborate with both lawyers and IT professionals to deliver successful projects.
With the realization of the need for more specialized competence in legal tech project, and the need to involve “non-lawyers” with deep technology skills, there will probably arise a better understanding of the need for collaboration to be able to manage such projects. In order to develop valuable and user-friendly solutions in legal tech, we need to foster a collaborative atmosphere that brings together different competencies.
This way we can also initiate solutions that truly focuses on the outcome, on the customer and the legal issues that need to be solved, i.e. the third generation of legal tech.