Technological evolution has the merit of having favoured, and at times perhaps even forced, the blending of the legal and IT worlds. The marriage of these two realities has given rise to various "Tech Tools" capable of simplifying and making more efficient the work performed and the services offered by legal professionals.
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Table of contents
• Preliminary remarks
• Tech Tools: OCR Technologies
• Tech Tools: Chatbots and Virtual Legal Assistants
• Concluding remarks
Tech tools for lawyers: a closer look at OCR, chatbots and virtual legal assistants
Nowadays, in order to digitise one's own business and to provide increasingly innovative and tailor-made legal services, there are many technological solutions that can be adopted. Besides, although the numbers, especially in Southern Europe (e.g. in Italy), are still limited, the market is studded with innovations ranging from document automation to virtual realities.
Leaving aside the hype that characterises new technologies, let's try to understand how they work and their advantages, focusing in particular on what we could define as the new trends that are easy to implement.
Tech Tools: OCR Technologies
OCR stands for optical character recognition and is a technology that allows paper or digital documents (e.g. PDF files, JPEG images) to be converted mechanically or electronically into editable and searchable files. In fact, the software processes 'raw' files or documents by discerning what it detects as a character (letters and numbers), converting them from an image into text.
As things stand at present, when the lawyer needs a document in digital format, he scans it. However, the scanner does not convert the paper document into a text file but into an image. Consequently, the text will undoubtedly be faithfully reproduced in the image, but it will not be possible to select, modify, copy/paste and will not allow keyword searches within it.
What improves with the adoption of OCR software? First of all, the use of OCR technologies allows us to select and edit the text of the document we are interested in. For example, let's imagine that we need to reproduce the essential structure of a contract: without OCR, the only way to do this would be to rewrite the text in full, whereas using OCR technology, a simple copy and paste operation would be sufficient, followed by the insertion of the modifications that the specific case requires.
Furthermore, OCR allows text indexing, i.e. searching by keywords. Imagine having a text of many pages and having to search for a specific clause; without the possibility of a word search, the lawyer will be forced to read the entire document in search of the part that interests him. Again, imagine searching for a document in a filing system / database. Without the possibility of filtering all the documents contained therein using keywords, the search would take a lot of time and effort, with the additional risk that some content would not be found.
Thus, the use of this technology can simplify and streamline the work in a law firm by reducing costs in terms of both resources and time.
Tech Tools: Chatbots and Virtual Legal Assistants
Before embarking on a discussion of the advantages of using such tech tools, a brief definition is in order. Chatbots are software which simulate a real chat, the system is based on algorithms which are able to analyse the terms used by the user and give an answer to his needs. It should be noted, however, that this tool only responds to precise and rigidly identified inputs, and on the contrary, is not able to understand and analyse the real needs of the user. In other terms, chatbots are not capable of understanding the “natural language” used by a human user.
On the other hand, Virtual Legal Assistants (VLAs) are more evolved software capable of understanding the natural language used by the user and therefore able to establish a relationship with the latter.
For the sake of clarity, think of chatbots as the bots used by Telegram or e-commerce sites, and VLAs as tools similar to Siri, Alexa or Cortana. In any case, regardless of the differences between chatbots and VLAs in terms of cognitive capacity and novelty, the advantages they bring to individual activities are the same. Let's take a look at them together.
First and foremost, chatbots and VLAs are available at all hours of the day, seven days a week, even when the business contact may not be present or is otherwise engaged. Chatbots and VLAs can answer preliminary questions, provide information, and even make appointments if necessary. In a reality where contacts with clients are always growing while the lawyer's time remains the same, these tools are a real operational and managerial asset.
Secondly, they are tools that help make websites easier to consult and read. As a matter of fact, law firms produce a lot of content in the course of their work. This content is often collected in blogs, articles, newsletters, posts and videos, but unfortunately is not always read or found by website visitors. Chatbots and Virtual Legal Assistants guide users in their search for the most suitable content for their needs, making website consultation easier and faster.
In the final analysis, therefore, these new technologies make the work in a law firm much more efficient and easier, especially when it comes to repetitive tasks, but they cannot substitute the added value of the individual, at least not for the time being.