Legal technology

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Legal technology, also known as Legal Tech,[1][2] refers to the use of technology and software to provide legal services and support the legal industry. Legal Tech companies are often startups founded with the purpose of disrupting the traditionally conservative legal market.[3]

Different approaches and technologies have been used for legal tasks. Traditional software architecture and web technologies have been used for tasks like providing access to case law.[4] Machine learning approaches have been used to help find documents for due diligence or discovery.[5]: 1329  Work on making contracts more easy to use involve aspects of user experience design.[6]: 69 


Legal technology traditionally referred to the application of technology and software to help individual lawyers, law firms, medium and large scale businesses with practice management, document automation, document storage, billing, accounting and electronic discovery.[2][7]: 83  Since 2011, Legal Tech has evolved to be associated more with technology startups disrupting the practice of law by giving people access to online software that reduces or in some cases eliminates the need to consult a lawyer, or by connecting people with lawyers more efficiently through online marketplaces and lawyer-matching websites.[1]

There have been various attempts to classify projects and firms within the legal tech sector a prominent database of these services is the Stanford Law School CodeX project. One distinction is between tools that help lawyers perform their work, and those that help consumers themselves interpret and interact with the law.[7]: 83 

Benefits and Risks[edit]

The diffusion of technology and law modifies legal technology to having the potential to break the law, and it can become a way in which to speak about exploitation of the legal system, as this is an emerging field.[8]


From the 1970s through to the 1990s there were several academic attempts to formalize legal reasoning, a knowledge representation task.[5]: 1327  The International Conference of Artificial Intelligence and Law (ICAIL) has been held since 1987[5]: 1327  The first commercially available legal AI system was an expert system released in 1988 by the University of Oxford to tell users if a new piece of legislation, the latent damage act applied to them.[9]: 132  Since 2000, there have been more attempts to make legal tasks easier using machine learning approaches rather than knowledge representation.[5]: 1328  In the mid 2000s so-called predictive coding became possible for use in the discovery process of litigation. These predictive coding tools helped lawyers predict which documents were relevant or irrelevant for the litigation, after having been trained on a subset of documents.[5]: 1329 

In 1975 in the US, the Federal Judicial Center started the COURTRAN project for the electronic recording of court records. This was initially used for criminal cases, but later was adapted for managing civil cases. COURTRAN was replaced by the Integrated Case Management System in the mid 1980s.[10] The Legal Legal Information Institute was set up in 1992, at Cornell University with the aim of making law more accessible, [11] and began providing access to US supreme court decisions.[12] Development of the PACER to nationwide access to court records, began in 1990 and by the mid 1990s, 180 federal courts were offering fee based access to court records via dial-up internet access.[13]: 860  The E-Government Act of 2002 limited the fees to only the extent necessary.[13]: 863  The Open Courts Act of 2020 set out a plan to make PACER free to use by 2025.[14]


Use of tools to aid with legal research is now very common within the legal field. Commercial companies such as Practical Law Company, LexisNexis, Reuters offer services where a lawyer can pay to search case law, contracts, and practice guidelines. In some countries, case law can be accessed for free using the internet: In Australia, Australasian Legal Information Institute, AustLII, provide free to read access to some court decisions;[15] in the UK, British and Irish Legal Information Institute (BAILII) provide a similar service, originally being starting as a trial of the AustLII in 2000.;[7]: 103 [16] the Case Law Access Project provides access to much US case law.[17]

There have been attempts to improve the design of contracts, which have traditionally been seen as documents by lawyers for lawyers. Suggested improvements to the design of contracts have considered how contracts could convey more information visually, more directly address business needs, and improve relationships between the parties of a contract.[6]: 69  Scholars have suggested the use of so-called self-executing contracts, where the terms of the contract are automatically updated by a computer using predefined rules. A further step would be the generation of a machine-readable representation of the contract that could be used in other automated processes such as contract lifecycle management.[6]: 74 

The judiciary have expressed interest in the potential for electronics filing to increase reduce costs and increase efficiency[18]: 18  and online alternative dispute resolution as a means to reduce costs to claimants increasing access to justice.[19][18]: 19  Technological approaches are being used to provide guidance for sentencing and pretrial detention in some courts, including machine-learning based solutions (which have been criticized for potential racial bias issues).[20]: 10 [21]


Artificial intelligence, machine learning and natural language processing are being applied to machine learning tasks particularly those related to search, such as due diligence and discovery in litigation cases.[7]: 133 

Knowledge graphs are being applied to assist in the creation, management, and analysis of smart contracts.

Rule-based expert system have been used for the purposes knowledge representation and querying legal knowledge, one such example being TurboTax.[5]: 1317  These approaches are studied in Legal informatics.

Industry context[edit]

The legal industry is widely seen to be conservative and traditional, with Law Technology Today noting that "in 50 years, the customer experience at most law firms has barely changed".[3] Reasons for this include the fact law firms face weaker cost-cutting incentives than other professions (since they pass disbursements directly to their client) and are seen to be risk averse (as a minor technological error could have significant financial consequences for a client).[3]

However, the growth of the hiring by businesses of in-house counsel and their increasing sophistication, together with the development of email, has led to clients placing increasing cost and time pressure on their lawyers.[3] In addition, there are increasing incentives for lawyers to become technologically competent, with the American Bar Association voting in August 2012 to amend the Model Rules of Professional Conduct to require lawyers to keep abreast of "the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology",[22][23] and in late 2019, the Federation of Law Societies of Canada adopted a similar amendment to the Model Code of Professional Conduct.[24] The saturation of the market is leading many lawyers to look for cutting-edge ways to compete.[1] The exponential growth in the volume of documents (mostly email) that must be reviewed for litigation cases has greatly accelerated the adoption of technology used in eDiscovery, with elements of machine language and artificial intelligence being incorporated and cloud-based services being adopted by law firms.[25]

Stanford Law School has started CodeX, the Center for Legal Informatics, an interdisciplinary research center, which also incubates companies started by law students and computer scientists. Some companies that have come out of the program include Lex Machina and[2][26]

Legal tech investment hit a record in 2019 at $1.2 billion.[27]

Societal issues[edit]

Many critics have voiced concerns about the risk of bias in the decisions made by models trained using machine learning approaches such as sentencing decisions, arguing that a model could learn the bias in existing decisions.[5]: 1335  Others have voiced concerns about the explainable of the decisions made by machine learning models arguing that such models can be a black box. There are concerns about the possibility that models could be viewed as objective and infalliable when they are not.[5]: 1336 

There is interest in the use of legal technology to increase access to justice. Programs have attempted to use legal technology to improve access to justice by improving processes, automating access to legal information and advice, and improving user interaction.[28]

Key areas[edit]

Traditional areas of Legal Tech include:

More recent areas of growth in Legal Tech focus on:

  • Providing tools or a marketplace to connect clients with lawyers
  • Client Relationship Management (CRM) tools
  • Providing tools for consumers and businesses to complete legal matters by themselves, obviating the need for a lawyer
  • Data and contract analytics
  • Law practice optimization
  • Use of legally binding digital signature, which helps verify the digital identity of each signer, maintains the chain of custody for the documents and can provide audit trails
  • Automation of legal writing or other substantive aspects of legal practice
  • Machine readable contracts[29]
  • Platforms for succession planning i.e. Will writing, via online applications
  • Providing tools to assist with immigration document preparation in lieu of hiring a lawyer.[30][31]


  1. ^ a b c Rubin, Basha (6 December 2014). "Legal Tech Startups Have A Short History And A Bright Future". TechCrunch. Retrieved 1 May 2015.
  2. ^ a b c Hibnick, Eva (7 September 2014). "What is Legal Tech?". The Law Insider. Retrieved 1 May 2015.
  3. ^ a b c d Goodman, Bob (16 December 2014). "Four Areas of Legal Ripe for Disruption by Smart Startups". Law Technology Today. Retrieved 1 May 2015.
  4. ^ "AustLII - User Tools: Sino Free Text Search Engine". Retrieved 2021-09-26.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Surden, Harry (2019-06-28). "Artificial Intelligence and Law: An Overview". Rochester, NY. SSRN 3411869. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  6. ^ a b c Legal tech, smart contracts and Blockchain. Marcelo Corrales, Mark Fenwick, Helena Haapio. Singapore. 2019. ISBN 978-981-13-6086-2. OCLC 1084757003.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  7. ^ a b c d The legaltech book : the legal technology handbook for investors, entrepreneurs and FinTech visionaries. Susanne Chishti. Chichester, West Sussex, United Kingdom. 2020. ISBN 978-1-119-70806-3. OCLC 1154093755.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  8. ^ Buchanan, Rachel (27 February 2017). "The role of technology in the future of legal professions". University of Oxford Faculty of Law.
  9. ^ "The Future of the Professions 1 - ProQuest". Retrieved 2021-09-25.
  10. ^ Owen, Forrester J (1995). "History of the Federal Judiciary's Automation Program, The L. Ralph Mecham & Federal Courts Administration: A Decade of Innovation and Progress". American University Law Review.
  11. ^ "LII:Overview". Retrieved 2010-03-04.
  12. ^ St. Amant, Kirk (2007). Handbook of Research on Open Source Software: Technological, Economic, and Social Perspectives. IGI Global. p. 375. ISBN 978-1-59140-999-1.
  13. ^ a b Martin, Peter W. (2008). "Online Access to Court Records - From Documents to Data, Particulars to Patterns". Villanova Law Review. 53: 855.
  14. ^ Lee, Timothy B. (2020-12-10). "US House passes bill to tear down judiciary's paywall". Ars Technica. Retrieved 2021-09-26.
  15. ^ "Australasian Legal Information Institute". Retrieved 2021-09-22.
  16. ^ "BAILII Timeline (04 June 2020)". Retrieved 2021-09-22.
  17. ^ "About | Caselaw Access Project". Retrieved 2021-09-22.
  18. ^ a b Neuberger, President of The Supreme Court (2016). "Closing Keynote Address" (PDF). British Irish Commercial Bar Association Law Forum Technology and the Law.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  19. ^ Online Dispute Resolution Advisory Group. ONLINE DISPUTE RESOLUTION FOR LOW VALUE CIVIL CLAIMS. Civil Justice Council.
  20. ^ Kehl, D.; Kessler, Samuel Ari (2017). "Algorithms in the Criminal Justice System: Assessing the Use of Risk Assessments in Sentencing". S2CID 217366408. Retrieved 2021-09-23. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  21. ^ Thomas, C.; Nunez, A. (2022). "Automating Judicial Discretion: How Algorithmic Risk Assessments in Pretrial Adjudications Violate Equal Protection Rights on the Basis of Race". Law & Inequality. 40 (2): 371–407. doi:10.24926/25730037.649.
  22. ^ "Client-Lawyer Relationship, Rule 1.1 Competence - Comment". American Bar Association. Retrieved 1 May 2015.
  23. ^ Ambrogi, Robert. "The Cloud Has Landed: 10 Legal Tech Innovations and What They Mean". Wisconsin Lawyer. Retrieved 1 May 2015.
  24. ^ "Interactive Model Code of Professional Conduct".
  25. ^ James N Dertouzos, Nicholas M Pace and Robert H Anderson, The Legal And Economic Implications Of Electronic Discovery (Rand Institute for Civil Justice, 2008) 3; Pavan Mediratta, "Using Legal Data Analytics To Gain A Competitive Advantage", LAW.COM (Webpage, 2017) <>.
  26. ^ Stanford Law School (2016-11-27). "CodeX - Programs and Centers - Stanford Law School". Archived from the original on 2015-07-18. Retrieved 2016-12-10.
  27. ^ "At $1.2 Billion, 2019 Is A Record Year for Legal Tech Investments -- And It's Only September". LawSites. 2019-09-16. Retrieved 2021-01-10.
  28. ^ "Technology, Access to Justice and the Rule of Law" (PDF). The Law Society.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  29. ^ "Legal Schema and beyond - Legislate". Retrieved 2022-02-03.
  30. ^ Hobbs, Stephen. "Simplifying idea | Colorado Springs Gazette, News". Retrieved 2016-12-10.
  31. ^ Ho, Catherine. "FileRight Aims to Help with Immigration". Archived from the original on 2017-01-25. Retrieved 2016-10-18.