Legal Tech aims to bring innovation in the legal field, with new technologies for lawyers and legal professionals. In this article, we make the case for the adoption of the open source model by the legal tech industry.
Legal tech advocates for the adoption of technology in the legal industry. However, given the potentially disruptive impact of technology on law, and the crucial role of law in our society, technological progress in the legal field has to be achieved keeping in mind the final goal: deliver justice in an effective way, keeping up with a demand of justice coming from a society evolving way faster than its legal system.
How to make sure that the much discussed technological revolution in the legal field will bring a substantial and positive change, not only for legal professions, but for citizens and society as well?
What is open source?
A software is said to be open source when its source code is public, available for everyone to read, study and improve it.
Some might ask: "Isn't it always possible?"
The answer is no: with proprietary software, or closed source software, the source code is kept secret; in this case, the consequence is that If the source code is not available, the user can't really know how the device running that software really works.
Open source is succesful
Open source dominates the technology world: simple yet sophisticated enough to reconcile technological progress and ethics, spreading knowledge while powering indeed successful businesses.
How to achieve that? How to make money developing software and then give away the source code?
A key factor in open source success can be found in its licenses, which we might talk about in a future article. For now, we can say that open source licenses balance the right of the developer with the public availability of the source code.
This enables the software developer to make profits while letting anyone else using the code for future projects, on condition that the software will be still open and available so that others can keep working on it.
That's what typically happens with GPL licences.
Why open source
Open source, or rather free software, how it's called by those who emphasize the ability of the model to promote digital freedoms, fuels technological progress and its most successful products.
Among open source's most successful creations there is Linux: an operating system that literally keeps the internet running, powering much of the servers around the globe.
The collaborative effort that led to Linux served as a blueprint for other open source projects that followed, showing what remarkable results can be achieved by disclosing the source code and letting other programmers work on it.
Another remarkable achievement for open source is Bitcoin: its source code is open and available to anyone willing to contribute to its development.
The goal of financial liberation pursued by Bitcoin could find no better environment.
It's worth noting that the much talked about blockchain, a popular subject of discussion for legal tech, as a single component of Bitcoin, owes its existence to open source too. Something to keep in mind for any future development of blockchain projects.
On data protection and privacy: a legal discipline is born from a new awareness of the importance of personal data in today's digital world. It is now clear that the implications of their management, or mismanagement, are enormous for our freedom and society.
However, without a technical premise on the need for the devices handling personal data to run open source software, chances are that the new discipline will be ineffective and limited to paper compliance.
Transparency is crucial, and so the possibility to look "under the hood" and check what devices really do with your data.
For example, a backdoor could be pre-installed in your device and trasmit unbeknown to you your data in spite of any existing regulation: something hard or impossible to be aware of if the source code is not released and available to audit.
Cybersecurity: open source software is open to scrutiny. Everyone with the necessary skills can study it: the code gets continuously tested and improved through a collaborative effort.
The open source experience shows that particularly in software development and maintenance, the exposure to threats and a hostile environment together with a shared effort to improve safety makes safer products, as opposed to an "illusion of safety" coming from secrecy and locked source code.
Sunlight is the best disinfectant.
Legal tech is an opportunity for the legal world to evolve:
the open source experience provides a model and a source of inspiration for the legal tech sector and the development of new technologies for legal professions.