Post-pandemic reality: How COVID-19 raised the relevance of legal technology

Technology is needed to prove its merits for law and the legal profession, and the COVID-19 pandemic helped it in giving ample proof.
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Law and the legal profession have always had the prophetic guidance aura to it, and that is being questioned. It is a practice where even the age-old colonial processes of wigs and cloaks are continuing. With this sort of traditional picture, the intermingling of technology was a far-fetched idea.

But, change is the only constant. Technology needed to prove its merits for the legal aspect, and the pandemic helped it in giving ample proof.

Before approaching the topic directly we need to recognise the reason behind the hesitation in the adoption of technology. Legal profession involves data and confidentiality of it supremely important. And with the ever widening cybercrime scene, the hesitation can be easy to understand.

Another aspect that has so far prevented (probably) the inclusion is also that the personal touch and discussions and court sessions could be done over the internet has been quite unthinkable, until recently. We all have seen the lawyer and jury equally learning the e-court sessions.

They had the same learning curve as everyone, but theirs could’ve been more difficult given that the intermingling of legal and tech has been sparse.

Does it mean that the books which becomes the focal element of a lawyers’ chamber be a mere décor item in the near future?

Quite unlikely. In India, legal tech has barely begun. The use of AI and ML, and other technologically advanced tools to address the need of all the legal stakeholders is yet to take some time.

What we can see for now is that legal tech is an evolving sector, but the gap between the number of layers required and the number of practising lawyers (approximately 13 lakh) needs to be filled, and we have already begun to look for a future where along with financial inclusion, we are able to establish judicial inclusion also in our administrative and judicial portrayal of the nation.

The need for more inclusion of technology would also help in reducing the approximately three crores of pending cases to be addressed. This is imperative because we as a nation cannot afford to use the idiomatic expression of ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ as we aim to become a global name to reckon with.

There is another perspective which makes technology important in the legal profession. As of now, the sources available for law students and practitioners are largely in the form of manually recorded archives and literature. Whereas we know that the evolution of legal practices needs to run parallel with the national and social developments.

The students and lawyers need to have access to the wide collection of case studies. It will be easier for them to access libraries and with the challenges and newness that comes with cases, they will have better solutions and approaches. This was purely from the academic and practice aspect.

The challenge we have identified is the lack of evidence. It is time that e-evidence is substantiated and solidified. If we look at the financial and lending sector alone as a case study, it will be easier to understand the opinion being expressed.

This sector has an important component, the legal notice. If a borrower is sent a legal notice and the recipient has either changed address, contact numbers, etc., it may not be easy to trace the person. Also, apart from the receipt signed for the postal services may not be proof enough to know that the notice was delivered.

This leads to a stumbling block in the procedure. If these notices could be sent digitally (along with the physical version), it could be easier for a technology team with the courts or firms to know that the notices were received. This could add up to a substantial e-evidence.

The fear of being replaced by technology also has no grounds. The legal profession has a large humane angle to it.

Just like teaching, technology has aided learning, but not replaced the role of a teacher, similarly, a lawyer has an empathetic touch and a human connect with the client. This is irreplaceable.

Just like chatbots help banks quickly resolve generic queries, legal tech speeds up the help. For instance, using technology, the lawyers and courts can increase their outreach to the less empowered demographics and sections.

Technology could be vitally helpful in keeping track of each case’s proceeding and prevent the schedules from going off track. The lawyers are better accessible to their clients and the discussions could be smoother, without either party having to take out time for physical meetings which is not cost and time efficient.

The e-courts also help with the cost and time efficiency, along with the Online Dispute Resolution. The mutual settlements of dispute can be helpful in reducing the judicial burden as the long pending cases can be brought online and the process can be expedited.

There are many more reasons that support the technology and legal union, but the realization that we needed the pandemic to embrace the reality and accept it as widely as it is being done now is what we should dislike in unison.

We could have woken up to the adoption even before the lockdowns and the social distancing pushing us to accept the change. We can have more proofs in future, given that the pandemic looks far from over. Hence, the post pandemic reality is yet to be ascertained.

But, with the Law Commission of India supporting the integration of technology with the legal practices, and we can only hope that as the security and privacy measures are being honed, the aforementioned union helps us see a social transformation where justice seekers are not afraid of the time taking and (often) harassing procedures and that ultimately, justice prevails.

Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)