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Legal technology patent filings up 484 percent

Changes in the way legal services are sought and delivered is driving an increase in new forms of legal technology.

Over the past five years, there has been a 484 percent increase in the number of applications filed worldwide for patents covering new legal services technology, according to an analysis from the legal business of Thomson Reuters.

Data from the World Intellectual Property Organization shows 579 applications for patents relating to new legal services technology were filed worldwide in 2016. That’s up from just 99 patent applications in 2012.

The figures reflect the rise of alternative legal services, such as virtual law firms, and the rapid expansion of the online legal industry. This trend is in large part being driven by businesses and individuals looking beyond traditional channels for legal advice.

The statistics also indicate a rise in the use of technology and outsourcing by traditional law firms in the UK, the U.S. and East Asia. This comes as firms aim to increase efficiency and implement low-cost operating models in an increasingly competitive market.

Patents filed in the U.S. accounted for the highest proportion of the total.

Top three legal technology countries by patents filed (2016)


% of total patents filed

1. United States 38%
2. China 34%
3. South Korea 15%

Source: World Intellectual Property Organization

“Technological innovation across the financial and professional services industries has grown rapidly over the last few years and the legal sector is investing to stay ahead of the curve,” said Charlotte Rushton, managing director of U.S. Large and Midsize Law Firms for Thomson Reuters.

“Most major law firms now operate on a global scale, managing deals and litigation across multiple jurisdictions and across borders, for which new technology is being specifically developed,” she said. “Traditional law firms are facing increased competition, so many are adopting cutting-edge technology to streamline processes and reduce operating costs, or are outsourcing to an external provider.”

“Systems such as matter management analytics allow law firms to coordinate live deals and business development programs throughout their global networks.

New business models for law firms are driving innovation

Regulatory changes have opened legal markets to new entrants with unconventional business models in many jurisdictions, including the UK, Australia and Washington in the U.S. The Legal Services Act in the UK allows alternative business structures, whereby lawyers and non-lawyers unite to form a business.

Many of these new business models are technology-driven, focused on moving the industry online in order to boost efficiency and make services more accessible.

“Law firms expanding into sectors such as management consultancy are being exposed to new practices and implementing technology changes as a result,” added Rushton.

Thomson Reuters adds that many traditional law firms are using advanced technology, or are outsourcing a wide range of work to legal process outsourcing providers (LPOs). Typical activities being outsourced include mergers & acquisition (M&A) due diligence, litigation support, document review, and administrative tasks.

Learn more

For more of our coverage of emerging legal technology, view our pieces Understanding and enabling LawTech and The new legal landscape facing large law firms.

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