Technology and innovation

5 legal trends from 2021

Each month The College of Law’s Centre for Legal Innovation (CLI) shines a spotlight on the innovative work of legal thought leaders – Legalpreneurs.

These articles tell their story, offer useful insights into our changing industry landscape – and challenge us to think and do things differently.

Based on feedback on our Legalpreneur Spotlight series, we’ve compiled five important and impactful legal trends so far this year.

5 legal trends in 2021…so far!

1. The legal world has transformed

Across all our Legalpreneurs’ spotlights, one thing is clear: the way we work and the services we deliver have changed.

We are now well beyond the legal innovation and tech tipping points.

We’ve entered a new digital legal marketplace. One that promises to move forward faster than ever before – with or without its current providers.

Business operations have become more convenient and more efficient, thanks to new technologies and innovative processes. These forces have also expanded the stakeholders in the legal ecosystem, bringing in new people – and new ways of thinking.

And as allied highly skilled workers (such as data analysts and legal technologists) join legal firms, new revenue streams are opening up.

As processes become more effective and efficient, different standards of service are being set – which translates into a significant uptick in client expectations.

These changes have also brought new and different opportunities for new lawyers entering the workforce. A welcomed arrival for today’s legal employee, who wants more from their firm – including flexible work arrangements, work with purpose and a bigger opportunity to contribute.

New entrants and junior lawyers expect technology to be an integral part of how they work as well as a catalyst for different legal services, products and innovative ways for their delivery. These changes are, therefore, horizontal and vertical, internal and external – clients and lawyers alike have had a taste of what’s possible – and there’s no going back or resetting to zero!

2. AI and data are major enablers of this transformation

As Jim Chiang, founder and CEO of My Legal Einstein (MLE), explains in his Spotlight, artificial intelligence (AI) is dramatically increasing the speed at which lawyers operate and, MLE’s AI platform is a great example.

It reduces the typical inefficiencies that come with negotiating contracts by “breaking the contract down according to the topic, making it easy for specific team members to jump straight to the part most relevant to them.”

Meanwhile, Nikki Shaver, MD of Innovation and Knowledge (Global) at Paul Hastings and co-founder with husband Chris Ford of the LegaltechHub, highlights how AI and data are streamlining legal decision making. AI extracts data from documents and contracts which lawyers can use to predict likely outcomes of business decisions.

AI enables changes that would have been impossible in previous decades, in two significant ways. Firstly, it removes much of a lawyer’s joyless routinised work. Secondly, it provides data that supports better, faster, and cheaper decision making – for both internal processes and for clients and their matters too.

3. Transformation is widespread

Innovation and legal tech are enabling change in virtually every facet of the legal ecosystem.

And they’re helping change mindsets too.

The mindset shift has put clients at the centre of legal service and product delivery. And it’s encouraged lawyers to think more holistically when offering solutions.

Law firms of all sizes – whether nimble start-ups or big law – are looking for ways to bring innovation and tech into their operations. That’s true for in-house legal departments too.

All legal practices are facing the same challenges – but they are not all responding to them with the same speed or agility. And few are anticipating where the next change will come from.

There’s a gap starting to emerge between those firms who have embraced change and those who have not.


The ‘have nots’ will be increasingly and adversely impacted by slower response rates, higher costs for their services/products, and lower quality of their work. That will also negatively impact their ability to attract and retain clients and employees. The same is again true for in-house legal departments and their value proposition within their organisations.

As Connie Brenton, Vice President, Law, Technology and Operations at NetApp Inc. points out, “We, as a profession, cannot simply keep throwing bodies at legal issues. We have to learn to work differently.”

Inaugural Chair of ACC Legal Technology and Innovation Committee, Senior Legal Counsel at Chevron AustraliaSchellie-Jayne Pricemakes it clear that in-house legal departments are stepping up to the plate as industry change agents.

“You need to understand the technology so you can advise on it. And you should expect your external firms to use new technologies – so you need to be asking them about the technologies they use.

“To really figure out what’s possible, you need to experiment. Unfortunately, this is something that many lawyers struggle with since it naturally involves many frustrations – and failures – along the way. But failure is a necessary part of innovation. It isn’t a dead end. It’s simply part of the journey,” Schellie-Jayne says.

4. Adaptability, upskilling and people are paramount

Right now, tech, AI, and data have created a new and different foundation for legal services/products. They’re spawning new services and products that require different capabilities for their delivery.

In this new dynamic market, agility and continuous improvement are paramount.

The new legal workforce is not a solo pursuit (if it ever was) – it’s multidisciplinary, multigenerational, multicultural and multitalented. It’s a workforce of life-long learners who want career paths and opportunities for advancement.

This is a workforce that is no longer defined by being in the office 9am-5pm, but rather being able to work collaboratively – anywhere at any time.

For example, for a lawyer, the depth and breadth of these capabilities stretch well beyond the typical, traditional law school curriculum. As Ian Nelson co-founder of digital legal learning company Hotshot stresses, “A law degree teaches you the theory that will form the basis of your future work. But it doesn’t typically equip you with critical practical skills.”

And it also requires a different type of learning, “It’s on-demand, interactive and can be adapted rapidly to meet immediate needs. Bringing this type of learning into the legal field – which is what we’re doing with Hotshot – is a game changer,” Ian says.


5.Tech is making justice more accessible… for everyone

The pandemic meant the legal industry had to embrace tech quickly. Initially, this was an imperative for business continuity but now, it’s helped redefine “business as usual” everywhere, including the community legal services sector.

As noted by Board Chair Luke Geary, Managing Lawyer Amy Burton and Associate Lawyer Lauren Stubbs from Everyday Justice, tech is playing an increasingly important role in changing the not-for profit law firm sector and it has also helped the broader community legal services sector respond to the increased demand for services as a consequence of the pandemic.

And, it also had an important unintended impact: it broke down the physical barrier of access to justice – it brought the law to all people – rather than people to the law.

It’s been a positive change that needs to remain a priority.

Want to learn more?

If you would like to learn more about the changes happening in the legal ecosystem and contribute to the discourse, then please join our free global learning community, the Legalpreneurs Lab, and sign up for our bi-monthly Newsletter.

You’ll hear about big industry trends, why they matter to you, how you can integrate them into your legal practice – and who you can connect with to chat about all of this.

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