Richard Kemp is regarded as one of the world’s leading IT lawyers. He has been at the apex of law and technology since the 1980s and, with his colleagues at Kemp IT Law, continues to advise legal businesses and technology companies on the selection, procurement and use of IT.
Spiranti caught up with Richard to discuss the impact IT has on a changing legal market.
Richard is not your average lawyer. The son of an army boffin who worked on the British army’s first computer, he designed and built with his father a time recording programme in 1980s database software dBase that remained in use for over a decade.
It is perhaps no surprise that his legal career has focused on IT and technology since he qualified as a solicitor, putting him in the unrivalled position at the apex of law, legal business management and technology for four decades.
“The legal services market in the UK is huge, accounting for some two per cent of GDP,” says Richard. “Sitting alongside law firms there are the in-house lawyers, the Bar and the growing number of alternative providers, including the accountancy firms.”
“Technology is like a ripple in this pond – from a small splash it spreads quickly across all parts of the industry. And the intensity of activity has been building, particularly over the past five or so years as the tide of acceptability grows.”
Richard says you could think of the legal technology market as at a rather frothy point of hype, with a lot of ideas bubbling around with less actual action. But that is changing.
“There have been very few truly revolutionary moments in the legal tech market over the past 40 years, with the biggest perhaps being the advent of email and document attachment,” says Richard. “We may not see such a major shift anytime soon, but when it comes it could come quickly.”
“Technology now is more likely to lead to evolutionary change rather than outright revolution. And that evolutionary change is likely to occur in a non-linear fashion – true machine learning, for example, could well happen in a garage in Silicon Valley as from a law firm.”
It is also interesting to note that law firms have seen spectacular grow in both revenue and the number of lawyers they employ over the past 30-40 years despite the advent of new technology. Just as technology in the 1980s did not replace lawyers, today’s tech boom is also unlikely to do so. It will, however, change the way lawyers work.
“The downwards march of commoditisation will change the way law is managed and delivered,” says Richard. “Law firms are having to embrace commoditisation but still need to bring on the lawyers and partners of tomorrow. Firms are grappling with this now, in the same way the Big Four accountancy firms had to a decade or so ago.”
Mid-tier law firms face different challenges and some commentators have questioned whether they can survive in a market where the cost of investment in technology in so high.
“In the main, mid-tier firms are increasingly well managed with strong client relationships,” says Richard. “These firms do not need to be at the bleeding edge of technology innovations but can and are looking to various software- and platform- as-service solutions to better manage the work they do. Practice management systems, for example, could be seen as the true heroes of technology in law firms and central to the way they operate.”
“The arguments over security of cloud-based software have moved on, with services from the likes of Google, Microsoft and Amazon offering greater levels of security than in practice you’d often get from the static server sitting in a law firm’s IT room.”
Part of the legal industry’s slower take-up of technology is the culture and expectation of perfection.
“Tech businesses typically throw four or five ideas into the pot with the expectation that maybe just one or two will work,” explains Richard. “That rarely happens in a law firm. That cultural expectation of perfection is a hard habit to break but is slowly changing. The rise of alternative legal suppliers is helping to break down those barriers as clients see different pricing models evolve.”
Yet technology may struggle to unlikely to deliver the economies of scale in the legal market, certainly at the upper end, as is often seen in other industry sectors.
“Lawyers’ experience and ability to get things done will still be very much in demand,” says Richard, “and that is good news for the legal industry. And as every deal or dispute has two sides, there will continue to be that scramble for new ways to deliver legal services and gain competitive advantage with lawyers remaining at the heart.”
Richard Kemp, Partner
Kemp IT Law
020 3011 1670
Article by Matt Baldwin
Tel: 01233 503200 / 07930 439739