Technology has impacted nearly every industry and the legal services industry is no exception.  The only difference is that the legal services industry has taken its time to feel this impact.  Why?  To put it simply, lawyers are risk averse.  They are required to be.  We pay them to avoid taking risks.  In this day and age, technology advances at an exponential rate with its capacities nearly doubling every two years.  Lawyers, unfortunately, must put in a high level of analysis and review before they can implement new products.  They don’t want to be a trailblazer to the point where they are making trouble for themselves and their clients, but they do need to embrace and tweak certain aspects of what is going on and then be ready to capitalize on those processes that become a little more mainstream or accepted.  Unfortunately, this creates an ever-growing stream of tension between legal services consumers who follow technology advances and the lawyers who only follow advances at a rate of about ½ every two years… a tension that grows at a rate of approximately 1 ½ times every two years.

So, what exactly is changing?  Almost everything.  Technology has made it easier and faster to access knowledge – legislation, case law, or internal firm knowledge.  Websites and knowledge management systems incorporate micro-categorization and hyperlinking of knowledge.  This has transformed the way the lawyer obtains and interacts with the core components of their work.  These technologies have become so ingrained in today’s law firm that many lawyers do not realize what a huge leap forward this is in legal knowledge management.  With the access of this knowledge now mobile, the true skills of the lawyer can come to the forefront.  Predictive coding (a process whereby a machine learns from watching human behavior and then applying what it learns – like how Amazon or google always seem to know what you are looking for before you start looking) is becoming a mainstream tactic.  Using this coding to the best advantage now also requires a lawyer to have skills in statistics, accounting, project management, and linguistics.

Additionally, lawyers can now acquire customers online, service them online, and do so more quickly and at a higher quality than a traditional lawyer.  These online services can allow an attorney the luxury of opening their laptop wherever they are and working on a file.  With a case management system that is based in the cloud – replacing the traditional in-house file server, they can see each team member who has accessed the file, when it was opened, and what was done.  However, law firms using these online networks, as well as cloud computing-based services to store data, must address new privacy concerns regarding the security of privileged information.  This has prompted many firms to allocate additional resources toward protecting their systems and safeguarding confidential data.

Technology is also influencing the type of work being assigned to outside counsel.  While litigation and e-discovery projects are typically outsourced, if internal teams have access to the same software programs and systems as their external legal counsel, general counsel might keep certain matters in-house to contain costs.  Along those same lines, sophisticated corporate clients are demanding technological competence, recognizing that a lack of proficiency adds time and expense to legal matters.  Some corporations are performing technology audits of their outside counsel to ensure they use available technology efficiently.  New alternative fee arrangements that are demanded by savvy corporate clients are also providing a stronger incentive for lawyers to be technologically efficient, because law firms make more money when their lawyers spend less time delivering high quality legal services.

For some smaller firms, technological advances have allowed them to take on cases they never would have in the past.  For example, they have the ability to hire contract workers to take on bigger cases.  For medical cases, they can temporarily hire a nurse paralegal or enlist the help of an information technology department to sort through 150,000 pages of documents on a DVD and put them in a searchable format.  Having the ability to connect with outside sources allows these smaller firms to ramp up to meet the needs of any particular case without taking on tremendous overhead costs.

However, with the exponential growth of all of these changes, even predictive coding will be outdated by 2020.  Those lawyers who are most successful will be those who adjust their business models to use the most updated tools while, at the same time, promoting and delivering the part of the legal service value proposition that machines are not able to provide.  This means that the lawyer will now be seen (and operate) more as a risk manager – someone who knows the intricacies of the information and the processes, and from that level guides the client through the legal knowledge maze to an appropriate set of solutions.

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