Technology has advanced rapidly in the past few years and professor Tanel Kerikmäe, head of TalTech’s Department of Law, claims that the triumph of technology and artificial intelligence can’t be stopped. He claims we are living in an age where contemporary peculiarities have to be taken into account by the legal profession as well.
Kerikmäe explains in the interview how data-based administrative and economic models change the behaviours, expectations and needs of people, businesses and states. Kerikmäe notes that the legal professionals who are successful and survive are those that understand that investments into digital education and technology are a prerequisite for staying competitive.
“The old-school lawyer is not yet on their deathbed, but they are already slightly ill, becoming more and more isolated from the comprehensive processes involving the data economy and technology that are happening in the world and in our country,” Kerikmäe says. “I recommend openness and an interdisciplinary approach as resolutions.”
The advancement of technology (including AI) and digitalisation have been rapid. What are the most important developments that this will cause in the legal field?
The triumph of technology and artificial intelligence can’t be stopped, and we live in an age where contemporary peculiarities have to be taken into account by the legal profession as well. Data-based administrative and economic models will change the behaviours, expectations and needs of people, businesses and states.
Obviously, clients will need personal approaches. “One size fits all” approaches are no longer applicable and a multi-layered legal situation that might not be regulated enough must be taken into account. The role of the legal profession in society will be different. A proactive approach, as well as an understanding of the use of data and the rights of the users of digital technology will become paramount, to the extent that they become the engine of today’s economy. The legal profession will have to abandon the impression that they can make do in only the traditional framework of law and will have to be more active in listening and offering not just norm-based, but proactive solutions that take into account the changing environment and a situation where all legal questions have no final answers.
TalTech’s Department of Law and its associate LegalLab are dealing with such challenges. For example, in cooperation with the National University of Singapore, we are writing a manual for Meta on how countries could use e-services in the metaverse. Legal education will also change and perhaps at first the whole legal profession will polarise, as those who lack sufficiently innovative clients will not conform to the modern perspective. The legal profession has received a new challenge in developing and implementing legal technologies, with legal services becoming more complex. Currently, the leading legal tech rankings are topped by businesses and start-ups using artificial intelligence to offer services related to cyber security, medicine, communication, automation of contracts, formation of expert teams, damages claims, intellectual property, consumer protection, privacy, finance, and other fields.
Is the advancement of AI and digitalisation more of an advantage than a disadvantage for legal firms?
I believe that inevitable change in the legal profession will be caused by the modernisation of the market, society, and clients. In the long-term, the legal professionals who are successful and survive are those that can adapt and understand that investments in digital education and technology are a prerequisite for staying competitive. Firms using digital technologies will be more attractive and will offer faster and cheaper services. Why? Because data analysis will improve, in particular the analysis of interaction between norms and the analysis of cases. Routine activities will also be automated (time planning, creating bills, communication with clients and necessary institutions, and understanding of the usability of usable data). A potential client will receive a rapid response and an offer of cooperation after first contact.
It is presumed that the global legal technology market will be worth 900 billion by 2025. This sum needs to be essentially subtracted from the so-called traditional legal services turnover. The modern client wants an adapted and open-minded advisor, not an archconservative from yesteryear. TalTech’s Department of Law collaborates with engineers, medics, communication specialists, international consultation firms and economic experts. “For example, I’ve been included as the head of the legal taskforce in a large-scale nanotechnology project in a European Union country to map ethical and legal risks,” brings out Kerikmäe.
Do legal services need redesigning because of contemporary changes?
They definitely do. This conclusion was also reached in a recent Supreme Court proceedings conference panel prepared under the auspices of TalTech. The challenges of implementing innovation in the legal field are similar to other democratic countries, i.e. protection of privacy, fear of technology, including fear of implementing artificial intelligence.
One new aspect is the exponential growth of legal norms. On the EU level, Estonia already has to follow mandatory or soon-to-be mandatory digital regulations, i.e. hundreds and hundreds of pages of text containing updated terminology and legal policies. A developing field, legal design, which uses symbols and pictograms to make sure the message is conveyed as best as possible to the recipient of the norm, helps against this.
Lennart Meri was already frustrated with “lawyers’ cant” at a time when there was significantly less regulation. TalTech’s Department of Law is considering a collaboration with the government to translate this “cant” for the layperson using legal design. This would result in better cooperation between government and citizen, but also a better tool for legal professionals who want to be clear in what they’re saying.
What sort of problems does the world and Estonia in particular face right now with the rapid advancement of technology and digitalisation?
Every change includes risks. I certainly disagree with not even attempting to regulate technologies and hoping for the market to set the rules. On the other hand, that approach does have some merit, as we won’t be able to foresee each and every problem.
As we all know, China and Europe have different understandings of the role of the state in using data and technology and this could lead to growing economic and political polarisation. The usage of quantum computers (that process data around a million times faster) is also not affordable to every country in the world, which might increase inequality.
Compared with European countries, Estonia could be more successful. For example, the 2022 Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) puts us in a relatively low 9th place in digital development. We need a digitally skilled labour force (incl. in the legal field). We have a low place in connectivity, as Estonia is 15th among EU countries when it comes to integrating digital technology and business activities.
I believe that to better integrate the rule of law and the digital era we must improve how we communicate our e-government to the people. The funding of needs-based innovation and the process of finalising and implementing artificial intelligence service usage also need to improve. Estonia also likely has an issue with the small data volume, which could be solved by secure data exchange with partner countries with whom the process has already been started.
How does technological advancement (including AI) impact the future of the legal system that we are heading towards?
The role of human beings does not disappear from the administration of justice and legal work, but it is amplified with the help of technologies. Instead of robot judges, I see many important trends that lead to a more uniform understanding of the goals of legal norms, save time and money and automate the discovery of solutions in non-complex cases. We are moving towards a more human-centred, involved and personalised legal service.
Due to the standardisation of technologies and the solidifying of uniform principles, the importance and eventually the volume of regulations adopted by national level legislators will decrease. The problematic and somewhat unpredictable security situation will lead countries into forming alliances and cooperating in the digital world.
Legal services may become more regional in many sectors and the constraints of legal technology opportunities are still only being explored. Estonia has an opportunity to be forward-looking in this area as well and several legal firms have already invested in legal technology.
FutureLaw, the largest legal technology and innovation conference in the Nordics (read more about it in the article HERE), which will take place in Tallinn from 16 to 17 May 2024, will bring together many intelligent legal experts. What do you consider to be the most exciting topics and most interesting speakers in this conference?
This large event, taking place as a collaboration between Legid, ELTA and TalTech’s Department of Law, will provide the audience with important thought leaders, practitioners, visionaries and successful legal technologists from America, Germany, Poland, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, the Baltic states and other countries.
The chairman of our Supreme Court and the heads of the bar associations of several countries are also among the speakers. There are many exciting speakers, and we choose them very carefully to keep the level of speakers consistently high and to have several areas and real success stories represented. For example, we have Damien Riehl, who is a successful lawyer and legal technologist, as well as a musician. Or Uwais Iqbal who has published groundbreaking ideas on artificial intelligence and the legal profession.
Younger experts are also participating, with the student panel being led by Aleksi Kajander, TalTech doctoral student and junior research fellow.
FutureLaw is a fast-paced and innovation-affirming conference that can be compared to such notable events as Legal Informatics and Legal Design. We are a meeting and collaboration platform in the field of legal innovation.