LSB and SRA research reveals client appetite for LegalTech
While familiar technologies were embraced, scepticism remained about newer tech
Research jointly commissioned by the Legal Services Board (LSB) and the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has revealed that while clients are generally comfortable with the use of well-established technology, such as video consultations and e-signatures, there is less willingness to embrace newer LegalTech, such as smart contracts and chatbots.
The research, entitled ‘Social acceptability of technology in legal services’, explored willingness among the public and legal professionals to use LegalTech. The research also aimed to understand the extent to which people believe technology in legal services is acceptable for wider society, and what limits or drives acceptability.
More than two-thirds of the members of the public surveyed were generally willing to use well-established and familiar technology, such as video consultations (66 per cent) and e-signatures (68 per cent). However, fewer people were willing to use newer technologies like smart contracts (45 per cent) and AI-driven tools like chatbots (39 per cent).
Perhaps surprisingly, the responses from solicitors broadly mirrored those of their potential clients, though there was a greater willingness to use video consultations (83 per cent) and e-signatures (75 per cent). However, there was an even stronger reluctance to use smart contracts (36 per cent) and chatbots (26 per cent).
It was found both the public and legal professionals see wider social benefits in LegalTech; most legal professionals feel strongly it can improve legal services for clients, even if they themselves are less confident in it. The research also revealed they believed technology brings greater efficiency and productivity and makes legal services more accessible to a wider audience.
Concerns were raised by both groups about vulnerability to criminal activity (such as cyber-attacks, hacking and fraud), exclusion of those who might not be able to easily access or use LegalTech, and a lack of the ‘human touch’. There were also concerns about the quality of the advice and decisions, and accountability and redress if things go wrong.
Matthew Hill, chief executive of the LSB, 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”.
Philip acknowledged: “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”.