The SRA recently published its Technology and Innovation in Legal Services report. One key feature was improving user trust in legal technology. It's much more important that you'd think.
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Frustrating? Missing that human touch? We’ve all called up businesses and had to wade our way through laborious, scripted treacle like the above.
Interactive voice response (IVR) technology is remarkable but, to be frank, many customers don’t take to it. They don’t trust that it will get them to where they want to be.
And it is this feature—trust—that is so often overlooked in legaltech.
On 27 July, Mari Sako and Richard Parnham at the University of Oxford published their long-anticipated report on Technology and Innovation in Legal Services. The paper, commissioned by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), referred to, among other things, the ‘need to enhance trust and confidence in the use of legal technology’.
One way to enhance trust, they suggest, would be to create a register of providers for some types of legal services and legal technology. But this is not without its challenges. Fundamentally, how would legal technology be defined? Where would the line be drawn? What would be the criteria for holding a place on the list? Would some suppliers have a vested interest in setting the criteria high so as to preclude competition? Would it disincentivise innovation?
Another, more ‘dynamic and responsive’ approach, the authors note, would be to concentrate on product governance. Such an approach, pioneered by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), would require ‘product and service providers to implement a set of internal processes that govern the development, testing and marketing of products which ensure that consumer benefits are realised’. The report’s authors assert, ‘product governance provides a more dynamic and flexible regulatory approach than traditional regulation’. To regulate or not to regulate, that is (as always) the question. Ultimately, we think formal regulation might make sense for legaltech products which have wider societal impacts, but query whether this would be appropriate for other legaltech products, the development of which could be unnecessarily stifled?
As for the SRA, in its response to the report it says it ‘will explore alternative ways to improve user trust in legal technology’ such as the approach taken by the FCA. As for the endorsing or accrediting certain legaltech suppliers or products, the SRA’s response appears to be more lukewarm. It says it’s unclear whether it would work; there have been ‘no significant demands for’ it; and nor ‘was it raised by firms in the research’. Even so, the regulator will consider it as part of SRA Innovate’s new proof-of-concept service.
Whatever approach is taken, we think smart regulation can bolster trust in legaltech, but ultimately we need to be mindful of the risk of such regulation applying to regulated entities only—and thus putting them at a competitive disadvantage. Should there be, for example, a minimum level of criteria that apply to all, whether regulated or unregulated?
And where does this leave us now?
In the absence of any specific regulation, as outlined above, we think there are many things we need to concentrate on now to build trust and embed it in what we do:
- legal design: there’s a growing understanding that consumer-centric design principles can help our clients better connect with the legaltech products and services they use. Margaret Hagan, Director of the Legal Design Lab at Stanford University, says lawyers need to have a ‘deep day-to-day empathy’ for our clients when creating technology. In other words, our clients may not be sat in front of us when using legaltech, but that’s no reason to think they shouldn’t be truly at the forefront of our minds when designing it. A strong client focus in legaltech helps to build relationships and, of course, trust. We had this top of mind when designing our matter tracking system for IHLs, matters+.
- Legaltech skills: digital skills in the legal sector are no longer a ‘nice to have’ but a ‘must have’ in so much of what lawyers do. As the report shows, Shoosmiths came within the top three nationally for the percent of total job postings requiring lawtech skills. But there is still much that we need to do—we all need to do as a profession. We can only see the requirement for such skills increasing.
- EQ skills: hand in hand with legaltech skills are people skills. Sometimes, these are also called ‘soft skills’, a term which, we think, downgrades their vital role and means they may not be taken as seriously as they need to be. The future is about people and tech, not people or tech. Without these vital people skills, legal design can founder and legaltech skills can end up existing in a vacuum.
The Law Society has also recently published its Lawtech and Ethics Principles in which it stresses the importance of embedding trust. In particular, referencing Principle 2 of the SRA Principles, it says, ‘trust is critical for both legal services and digital transformation to be effective. For Lawtech this means ensuring transparency of information on functionality, limitations, risks and benefits is accessible and communicated in plain English.’
Put simply, trust is the glue of life: it’s the binding agent that brings people together for a common purpose. It’s the human touch that means life doesn’t have to be a frustrating phone call with awkward IVR technology (‘if they can’t get this tech right, I’m not sure they’ll get my case right!’).
For us, and the SRA, trust is as key to legaltech as it is to our non-digital world.
What do you think? Are there any other ways we can centre trust in what we do? We’d love to hear from you so do get in touch with your thoughts.