While legal tech centres such as London, Toronto and New York are well known, the reality is that many other markets are also developing vibrant legal tech scenes of their own.
Artificial Lawyer is going to try and highlight some of these in the weeks ahead, with a tour via guest post of some of the world’s rising legal tech communities.
The debut guest article about his home jurisdiction of Holland is written by Niek van de Pasch, a tech fan and lawyer at Dutch law firm, Van der Putt.
We are a tightly knit country, with over a thousand people per square mile. Our national Bar has around 17,000 members. That means we have a little under one lawyer for every thousand Dutch people.
While the Netherlands rightly positions itself as a knowledge economy and is renowned for its IT development, many in our guild of lawyers seem oblivious to the disruptive forces of the new wave of advanced legal tech, such as AI and automation.
Even so, The Dutch Bar Association, for example, has its own ‘Innovation Platform’. In a series of quarterly meetings, lawyers and subject matter experts share ideas about the future of our profession. The most recent panel discussions were dubbed ‘Robot Lawyers’ and ‘Ethics 2.0’. A sign of the times, and a positive one at that.
And for the second year in a row, we’ve had the Dutch Legal Tech Start-up Awards. Its founding fathers are law firm Kennedy van der Laan’s innovation director Jeroen Zweers and independent legal services designer Jelle van Veenen. These legal tech pioneers also offer a meet-up, think tank and academy for their Dutch Legal Tech community.
At the same time Dutch legal tech start-ups are popping up left and right now, very much due to the hospitable climate these guys helped to create. Some of these include:
- Self-proclaimed ‘future of legal automation’ Juriblox which offers a SaaS platform to build legal documents piece by piece.
- Honouring its pay-off line ‘Don’t Guess’, Clocktimizer analyzes time sheet narratives, sets fixed fees, monitors budgets and visualises client reports.
- Question-and-answer module VraagHugo (‘Ask Hugo’) is a step-by-step, DIY contract generator.
- Legal document-capturing tool Gregor Samsa allows lawyers to search, index and categorise large quantities of contracts.
- And from the outside in, litigation analysis company Premonition Analytics recently added Dutch courts and lawyers to its range of services.
These are just a few examples of how advanced legal tech is entering the profession in the Netherlands. However, there is to date no written obligation for Dutch lawyers to keep abreast of ‘the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology’, as the American Bar Association has asked of its members.
But, as coincidence would have it, a special committee of the Dutch Bar is in the middle of reviewing our rules of conduct. Their report is due sometime next year and it will be interesting to see if technology formally makes its way into our professional ethics.
The committee has been asked to look at conduct rules as a whole and it is possible they may also consider the rules on non-lawyer ownership of law firms. Non-lawyer ownership could increase R&D investment in law firms here, while fee-splitting could enhance online legal service platforms. It remains to be seen whether the eight committee members dare to take on such groundbreaking moves.
Although all the above is good news, we still urgently need more legal tech education in our law schools, professional training programs and continuing legal education.
The freshly minted Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation of the Leiden University boldly leads the way. With a playful nod to Silicon Valley this institution markets itself as @LeidenLawValley. Its information platform, science and practice think tank, innovation labs, legal tech start-up support and in-house counsel connections create a multidisciplinary hatchery for legal technology developments. Hopefully more like this will follow.
All in all, the realisation that legal AI and automation will change an awful lot about legal practice has yet to fully sink in here in Holland.
Some lawyers scan clickbait headlines and scoff at futurists prophesying the rise of legal robots. Most don’t even see those blog titles. Not because they naively bury their heads in the sand, but because clients have their undivided attention.
This state of affairs is understandable in the short term, but is dangerous in the long run: for law firms and clients alike. Yet much could change in such a tightly interconnected nation as Holland.
Each decision maker in the legal field is no more than an hour’s drive from every other one here. Moreover, our country is home to the world’s ‘smartest square kilometer‘, which is the Brainport Region in Eindhoven, according to New York think tank Intelligent Community Forum.
We also pride ourselves on the fact that The Hague was described as the legal capital of the world, by former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Boutros Boutros-Ghali. The Hague Institute for Innovation of Law (HiiL) brings this ambition into the 21st century with its mission to become an exemplary social enterprise that makes justice universally accessible. Meanwhile most case law and legislation is freely available and easily searchable online in the Netherlands.
In which case, we can say: the groundwork is done, the infrastructure is ready. All we have to build now is an educational and regulatory framework to support technological innovation of legal services. I mean seriously, how hard can that be?
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