Technology disruptions are advancing across all industry sectors, and the legal profession is no exception. Are lawyers being assisted or replaced?

“Legal innovation has lagged compared with other industries.” So says Mark A. Cohen in his 1,300-word opinion piece about the convergence of law and tech penned for (‘Legal Innovation’ Is Not An Oxymoron — It’s Farther Along Than You Think). In the article, Cohen sheds light on a wave of artificial intelligence (AI) and legal tech services providing innovation in a heavily precedent based sector.

A lawyer who writes on changes in the legal ecosystem and the melding of legal, technological and business process expertise in legal delivery, Cohen posits that there is a real shift from the “once static vertical” model of legal services to services aligned to the “client standard operating procedure”. In other words, legal disruptors — like so many disruptors of the tech age — reflect a technology and pace driven society, sensitive to pricing and time efficiency.

There is a bubbling dynamic change at hand in the legal world, and perhaps those wedded to the traditional model will before long find themselves left behind.

Big Law on the decline

Since the 2008 financial crisis, demand for the service of Big Law has gradually decreased as corporations engage in new forms delivery of legal services. John S. Dzienkowski writes in The Future of Big Law: Alternative Legal Service Providers to Corporate Clients (Fordham Law Review) that corporations have come to spread work across several firms and/or employed in-house counsel, rather than utilise a single Big Law firm, to create competition and control costs. Furthermore, corporations are increasingly reliant upon multidisciplinary practice firms providing tax, finance and accountancy services as a one-stop delivery for business transactions.

What we find is that the corporate landscape has changed and many traditional law firms lack the innovation or investment resources to cater to the corporate market. And what’s more, a Big Law partnership model discourages long-term investment of capital in innovation, as a generational economic gap between old and young partners may prevent financial reinvestment in a firm’s future. Therefore, innovation is taking form outside of the traditional legal services delivery model, and not necessarily through the practise of law.

Primarily, in his piece, Cohen notes the paradigmatic industry shift takes place in the lower-end of the market. Online legal technology companies, such as Legal Zoom, Rocket Lawyer and Axiom Law allow legal services to be cherry picked at a fraction of traditional fees. Services range from generated templates to fixed fee access to lawyers via online chat or telephone to full-service packages in which an assembly of lawyers and legal professionals are insourced for a project at a fixed rate.

In some instances, service providers, such as Axiom Law, act similarly to a management consultancy firm, providing large corporations with an outsourced team of management consultants, lawyers and technology to serve large-scale projects, such as high volume contracts drafting or compliance programmes. In this manner, the service is designed to represent the client in best legal manner whilst minimising costs and retaining quality output.

In the digital age, services are dictated by the customer

Online legal service value is often determined by the customer, not the provider, which a predominant reason for its’ market growth. Equally, many AI solutions are offered as another alternative delivery option, to replace work often performed by junior associates and paralegals. For example, Luminance is an AI software powered to read and understand complex legal documents (billed as ‘artificial intelligence for legal due diligence). A report by Law Technology states that Luminance was developed with lawyers, M&A experts and mathematicians to process data sets within half the time of humans. The software automatically reads and understands hundreds of pages of detailed and complex legal documentation. Furthermore, it can project due diligence data into an overall comprehensive review.

With such advances, are we looking at the end of the legal profession?

Cohen states that, in sum, an integration of both technology and human delivery options adapted to the client’s needs is inevitable:

“The value of a matter drives the election of resources most appropriate to meeting the client’s objective. The disruptive legal delivery model will be one that provides a scalable array of solution tools—human and technological; legal and business; embedded and agile—that produce efficient, cost-effective, and risk-appropriate resolutions to client challenges. That’s precisely what top lawyers have historically delivered, and it will be the winning formula going forward—minus the incumbent partnership structure.”

At Horizons, our outlook mirrors Cohen’s. Technology advances are legal aids to services, though, without human expertise, the resolution becomes a robotic one-size fits all—mass-produced legal services

Post edited by Li Huajing, Horizons China contributing writer and editor to The Square. If you would like more information about tech in the legal profession or other corporate advisory related items, email us at, and we’ll have a Horizons professional contact you.  

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