Lawyers and consumers wary of lawtech, research reveals

New research jointly commissioned by the Legal Services Board (LSB) and the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) explores the attitudes of the public and solicitors towards using technology to deliver legal services.

It showed that the public is generally willing to use technology that is well-established and familiar to them such as video consultations (66%), and e-signatures (68%). There is less willingness to use unfamiliar forms of technology, like smart contracts (45%) and AI-driven tools like chatbots (39%).

Solicitors’ pattern of responses to the different technologies mirrored consumers’ views, although there is a greater willingness to use video consultations (83%) and e-signatures (75%) and an even stronger reluctance to use smart contracts (36%) and chatbots (26%).

Both the public and legal professionals see wider social benefits in legal technology. Most legal professionals feel strongly that technology can improve legal services for clients, even if they themselves are less confident in it. They believe that technology brings greater efficiency and productivity and makes legal services more accessible to a wider audience.

Concerns raised by both groups about legal technology include vulnerability to criminal activity (cyber-attacks, hacking, fraud), exclusion of those who might not be able to easily access or use legal technology, and lack of human touch. There are also concerns about the quality of the advice and decisions, and accountability and redress if things go wrong.

Matthew Hill, Chief Executive of the Legal Services Board, said:

“The research confirms that consumers have a greater appetite to use technology than the legal profession tends to assume. We mustn’t allow misconceptions to hold back progress. Technology has the potential to improve the way legal services are delivered and benefit the public and professionals. It can help to reduce costs, increase efficiency and productivity, and ultimately increase access to justice.

Effective regulation is an essential part of building trust and confidence in technology. Regulators can help do this by making clear how the standards, quality checks and systems of redress that currently apply to in-person legal services also apply to technology-enabled legal services.”

Paul Philip, Chief Executive of the SRA, said:

“People increasingly expect to be able to access services at a touch of a button – a trend accelerated by the pandemic. It has the potential to make life easier, while also making services more affordable. So it is not a surprise these results show there is a strong appetite for getting legal help through technology.

It won’t be the right solution for everyone, particularly those who can’t easily use a smartphone or tap into wifi. We will continue our work to support innovation and technology that could help the public access legal help, while also remaining mindful of managing the risks in this area.”

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