Legal Tech: Some Initial Perspectives from Germany

by Shubha Ghosh, Crandall Melvin Professor of Law and Director, IP and Tech Commercialization Law Program and Syracuse Intellectual Property Law Institute

As in the US, law firms, businesses, and bar associations are grappling with issues of legal tech. My preliminary conversations over the past week with attorneys and academics in Hamburg, Germany, particularly at Bucerius Law School, reveals a vibrant debate over the design of legal practice, the unauthorized practice of law, and the bundling of legal services with technology. The Center for Legal Professions and the Center for Transnational IP, Media, and Technology Law and Policy at Bucerius are active hot spots for research and activism on these ongoing issues.

Recent developments in the US demonstrate the role of legal tech in document and case management. Wilson Sonsini’s announcement last month about a shift in its document software is one example. Axiom, a San Francisco based company that bridges in house and law firm representation, illustrates how new business forms address new ways for providing flexible legal services to business clients.

In Germany, the use of software applications to address compensation issues have challenged conventions on the delivery of legal services. Flight Right, software based services designed to protect consumers who are harmed by flight cancellations, has raised questions about the unauthorized practice of law. Software based services designed to compensate workers and renters who have been overcharged also have had bar associations at the federal and state levels concerned. Various working groups have made proposals for reforms to allow for more flexible provisions of legal services. I am studying these various proposals now and will comment on them in future posts.

In the meantime, innovative legal firms like Schnittker Möllman in Hamburg are leaders in integrating these new software and proto-AI approaches to legal services with traditional models of legal practice. One lesson from both the US and Germany is while legal software might empower clients, there is still a need to bundle the software with legal services. Trained attorneys help to make the applications more effective, a point that some may challenge but, in my assessment, will remain true. How such bundling occurs, however, is a matter of the market for and regulation of legal services.

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