Background - 01.04.2019 - 00:00 

2019 START Summit: Legal Tech

What’s the story about the term "legal tech" and what opportunities and risks are associated with it? At the 2019 START Summit, student reporter Sascha Duric spoke to Florian Gunz Niedermann from the law firm of Walder Wyss.

1 April 2019. This year’s START Summit was all about artificial intelligence, blockchain, virtual reality and the internet of things. Digitalisation is also affecting the law, albeit with a slight delay. The buzzword "Legal Tech" denotes the use of digital technologies in the working processes of law firms. The fact that these technologies will subject the working world of legal experts and lawyers to radical change has been generally acknowledged by now.

Everyone is talking about "Legal Tech", but what exactly is the story behind the term?

As a matter of fact, "Legal Tech" is a sweeping term. At its core, we conceive of it as the automation of processes such as "smart contracts". Also, we can use artificial intelligence in due diligence audits, for instance, to identify early risks through the use of algorithms.

Where do you see the opportunities and risks in this respect?

Only the opportunities are obvious. With the use of "Legal Tech", we’re able to boost efficiency and thus produce more efficient, more favourably priced and more competitive products. However, automation is bound to be connected with the standardisation and harmonisation of processes. Nonetheless, there will always be a demand for individual due diligence/AI solutions, for example, in order to minimise individual client-specific risks. At present, the current tools on the market haven’t sufficiently matured for them to be able cover all clauses of a contract, for instance, which generates risks. We must be aware of the fact that the optimisation of the products will take time and that the algorithms will work more and more accurately in the future.

The fear of full automation is omnipresent among legal experts and lawyers. Do you share these reservations?

Generally, we shouldn’t be afraid of this development. Of course there will be areas which will no longer be needed in the way in which they exist now, but then this isn’t a negative development. The work of legal experts and lawyers will never be fully automated but complemented by "Legal Tech" according to requirements. But in areas with predominantly repetitive tasks, in particular, lawyers should consider the use of technological progress if they want to remain competitive.

The use of artificial intelligence in the field of law calls for new skills. Do you think that the classic university education is still up-do-date?

I regard university education as perfectly up-to-date since students acquire a great deal of expert knowledge at university. Of course it’s of advantage if students attend supplementary courses in the field of "Legal Tech", but I regard a clear specialisation and professionalisation in the field of law and as a tech engineer as crucial.

This year, too, your law firm is one of a small number of Swiss law firms that are present at the START Summit. What’s the reason for this?

We’re traditionally one of the few law firms which participates in the START Summit and similar conferences. We invest considerable personnel and time resources and regard our attendance as a kind of long-term investment. Start-ups in need of legal services act in a very flexible way and require their law firms to have expertise and experience in the field of start-ups. Such conferences should always be a gain for both parties and not merely a law firm’s "branding without content" exercise.

Sascha Duric is studying law at the Master’s Level at the University of St.Gallen.

Image: Adobe Stock /thodonal

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