Can governments help the legal tech sector to grow? The short answer is: yes, they can. A case in point is how the British Government and especially the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is helping about as much as it can at present to boost the legal tech sector in the UK.
An example of this was a special event held near Parliament earlier this week in London, organised by the MoJ, to showcase British legal tech talent and home-grown companies working in the legal tech sector here.
The key speaker was the Lord Chancellor, the Minister in charge of the MoJ, David Gauke, (pictured), which immediately tells you something: people in government, who have a million pressing things to handle, took time out to promote and support the growth of legal tech companies and encourage lawyers to use this technology.
Some of the key points Gauke made were that he wanted to create ‘an environment where law tech can thrive’, that he recognised clients were keen to embrace new ways of conducting some aspects of legal work, such as via automation, and that he and the Government in general were very keen to see the UK’s legal tech sector grow and in turn help the legal sector here retain its position on the world stage.
I.e. the MoJ is connecting with a direct link the growth and adoption of legal tech, to the success of the legal market, to being able to compete globally. And that is an important view.
Gauke noted the importance of the commercial courts in the UK, which handle many international matters and the fact that around 40% of all international arbitrations are under English law. The UK is also home to many of the largest law firms in the world.
Hence, QED, if the legal market falls behind on legal tech, if it cannot meet client needs on matters such as efficiency, then the legal sector falls behind, and that’s not just bad for lawyers and their clients, it’s bad for the economy as a whole.
‘Fostering innovation is a priority for the Government,’ he added and then noted several examples of innovation in the UK’s legal sector, from incubators, such as MDR Lab and Barclays Eagle Labs, to the many startups developing here, of which several were in the room that day.
It was also especially interesting to hear Gauke say that he wanted the UK to be a centre for the development of smart contracts and that he noted the work of the Accord Project in particular.
‘If smart contracts will one day be part of the fourth industrial revolution then I’d like to see them developed here and under English law,’ said Gauke.
The LTDP is another example of a Government-backed initiative to support legal tech, and is chaired by the current Law Society President, Christina Blacklaws, who noted that the panel and its several taskforces provide a great means for people to come together and keep working together to further legal tech development.
Blacklaws also stressed that Government and other institutional bodies can do two things very well that can help legal tech. First, they can act as a convener and bring people together. And secondly, they can help make sure that the right regulatory environment exists to help innovation and address any barriers that exist.
Jimmy Vestbirk, of Legal Geek fame, also gave a short speech about how vibrant the legal tech world is now, especially in the UK, with his annual conference growing at incredible speed as a reflection of this reality.
And of course, let’s not forget the Innovate UK funding recently of a raft of legal tech projects, involving tech companies, universities and leading law firms. This will help drive innovation that perhaps would not have happened otherwise.
All in all there is a lot of good coming from this. However, Artificial Lawyer did note one thing that perhaps needs to be looked at, which is to ensure that the UK is able to welcome and attract legal tech talent and investment from all over the world.
Artificial Lawyer can think of several great legal tech companies based in the UK that are packed with talent and investment from abroad. We don’t want to lose that, especially at this time of Brexit.
One of the reasons that the US has done so well with tech development in general in the past is that they have actively encouraged experts from around the planet to study, work, and build their tech companies in America.
Artificial Lawyer had a chance to raise this point with the Lord Chancellor and he replied that he indeed supported the need to attract talent to the UK that would help the legal tech sector here to thrive – which was good to hear.
Conclusion: can governments help the legal tech sector? Yes, they can. Whether it is providing funding for research, to convening groups of experts to work together and share knowledge, to making sure the right regulations are in place to be supportive, there is much that government can do. And this is very much welcomed.