Traditionally, if one was interested in adding value to a business by providing legal advice one would generally pursue a career as a lawyer. However, by incorporating technology into the legal delivery process firms have been exposed to the additional value legal technology can provide to a client compared to a lawyer alone.
Owing to the potential legal technology holds to further enhance the legal advice a client receives, firms have become inclined to dedicate a team of in-house innovators to develop technological solutions in response to the issues faced during legal service delivery. As a result, a demand for a team of innovators known as ‘legal engineers’ has emerged within the legal sector. For those interested in technology and adding value to a client, this demand presents an opportunity to pursue a career outside of the traditional lawyer route.
This raises two important questions: (i) What is a legal engineer? and (ii) Why are legal engineers necessary in today’s legal sector ?
What is a legal engineer?
Previously, influential scholar and author Richard Susskind predicted the advent of a specific group of roles within the legal sector. One of these roles included the ‘legal engineer’. However, Susskind’s initial interpretation of a ‘legal engineer’ demarcated the ‘legal engineer’ by a single prescriptive function. As a result, two species of legal engineers were produced. Namely, the 'legal information engineer’ and the ‘legal knowledge engineer’.
According to Susskind, a ‘legal knowledge engineer’ is the individual who represents the law in expert systems whereas a ‘legal information engineer’ is the individual who structures and organises the content for online legal services. However, legal engineers have dually proven Susskind’s function-based distinction absent and ‘legal engineering’ itself is much broader in scope than stipulated functions.
For instance, legal engineer Simon from Pinsent Masons uses expert systems such as data analytics to represent legal documents with legal questions whilst also structuring and organising content for Pinsent Masons’ clients online via configuring document assembly tool solutions. Thus, as per Susskind’s interpretation of ‘legal engineering’ Simon is performing both roles of a ‘legal knowledge engineer’ and a ‘legal information engineer’ respectively.
Whilst Susskind’s roles may be performed by legal engineers today they are not definitive of ‘legal engineering’. For example, Simon also states his legal engineering role involves additional responsibilities such as configuring technology solutions for clients and stakeholder interactions. Furthermore, Simon even claims the ultimate purpose of his role is to deliver services to clients with ‘greater accuracy and efficiency’ by removing the administrative tasks from lawyers. As a result, lawyers can spend a greater proportion of their time improving the quality of legal advice a client receives.
Certain law firms have recognised fulfilling this purpose necessitates innovating current administrative processes involved in legal service delivery. Hence, firms such as Dechert and Addleshaw Goddard have even referred to the ‘legal engineer’ as an ‘innovation manager’.
Therefore, the term ‘legal engineer’ is not construed by specific functions, but rather a principle. The definition of a ‘legal engineer’ is principled by ameliorating the stages of delivering a client their legal service and product by optimising the lawyer’s advisory role. Thus, if you follow this principle you could consider yourself a legal engineer!
‘So are ‘legal engineers’ ‘legal technologists’ ?’
Akin to the legal engineer, the legal technologist also improves the stages involved in the legal service and product delivery process. For instance, according to Ashurst and the Scottish Law Society legal technologists aim to remove administrative and repetitive tasks from lawyers, so they can spend a greater proportion of their time increasing the quality of legal advice they deliver to clients.
By inherent advisory function, lawyers are directly involved in delivering the client their legal service and product. Thus, the procedural improvements legal engineers and legal technologists implement to enhance a lawyer’s advisory function directly affect the quality of legal advice delivered to paying clients. Hence, legal engineers and legal technologists address the procedural business needs of a law firm.
In contrast to the legal engineer, addressing the operational business needs of a law firm is generally exclusive to the role of a legal technologist. For instance, the legal technologists of Ashurst improve the firm’s workflows by consistently searching for technological innovations with the potential to benefit a client. Furthermore, according to the Scottish Law Society legal technologists ameliorate firm practices by ensuring the data held within an organisation is protected and knowledge management techniques are improved.
Why are legal engineers necessitated by the current legal sector ?
Particularly during current times client expectations are unequivocally material to a law firm’s profitability. With several companies redressing the pandemic as a ‘force majeure’, investors were uncertain as to whether companies would fulfil their contractual obligations. As a result, cautious investor clients are more likely to expect law firms to deliver more accurate legal products and services compared to those delivered pre-pandemic. As the interbank interest rate transition becomes increasingly imminent, one may question how firms shall manage and meet these greater expectations of clients whilst amending the interbank interest rate of millions of contracts.
From 2021 it is expected SONIA shall replace LIBOR as the new benchmark interest rate used in global financial markets. As a result, law firms shall inevitably review millions of contracts from legacy deals whilst continuing to provide legal services and products to prospective and existing clients. However, by assigning a team of legal engineers to develop contract management and analysis tools these contract review processes could be exponentially expedited so the expectations of clients are still met.
During the pandemic, many companies used COVID-19 as an opportunity to exercise their force majeure clauses and escape ‘bad bargain’ transactions. The abrupt default on contractual obligations has resulted in losses for unprepared companies, which has left investors very cautious.
From a law firm’s perspective, this means their existing and prospective investor clients are very likely to expect more accurate business solutions as opposed to solely legal expertise. Meeting these client expectations necessitates implementing mechanisms that reduce any potential errors made during the process of delivering legal services and products to clients. The efficacy of these mechanisms are only as good as the dedicated and innovative team that specialises in building them – this is a calling for the ‘legal engineer’.
Author: Amirah Limbada
Edited: Panteleimon Athanasiou
 ‘Lawyer to Trademark ‘Legal Engineer’, But Who Invented the Term?’ ( Artificial Lawyer , 7 December 2017 ) https://www.artificiallawyer.com/2017/12/07/lawyer-to-trademark-legal-engineer-but-who-invented-the-term/> accessed 19 July 2020
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 'Lawyer to Trademark 'Legal Engineer', But Who Invented the Term' (n 1)
 ‘Who are Legal Engineers and how do they help our clients ?’ (Pinsent Masons , 23 October 2019) < https://graduate.pinsentmasons.com/legal-engineers/> accessed 19 July 2020
 Freeland (n 2)
 ‘Accredited Legal Technologist’ ( Law Society of Scotland ) < https://www.lawscot.org.uk/members/career-growth/specialisms/areas-of-specialism/accredited-legal-technologist/>accessed 7 August 2020 ; ‘Legal Technologist QA- Ashurst ADVANCE’ (Ashurst Advance , 12 Feb 2019)< https://www.ashurst.com/en/news-and-insights/legal-updates/ashurst-advance-legal-technologist-qa/> accessed 19 July 2020
 Freeland (n 2)
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 Electra Japonas , ‘Coronavirus and triggering a force majeure: What are my options?’ ( LexisNexis , 2 April 2020) <https://www.lexisnexis.co.uk/blog/future-of-law/coronavirus-and-triggering-a-force-majeure-what-are-my-options> accessed 2 April 2020
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