This post was written by Attorney Scott Blumenshine of Blumenshine Law Group.
Technology has already had a major impact on many different industries and sectors. Despite this, there is one area where it has, until recently, been challenging to meaningfully apply technological advantage directly to ways of working: the legal industry. But things are changing. Technological disruption of the legal landscape is on its way, and preparation is key to managing this transformation successfully while simultaneously deriving the benefits of new and revolutionary digital solutions.
Here are 5 things that every law firm employee should know about technology:
1. Advancing Technology is Transforming the Legal Landscape
There are two distinct ways that modern technology is revolutionizing the legal industry. Firstly, there’s the rapidly advancing IT infrastructure that’s completely changing the way law firms work. Whether it’s more durable hardware or portable mobile devices like smartphones or tablets, or whether it’s comprehensive software packages that provide a simple, all-in-one interface that allows for the instantaneous syncing of multiple functions, there are now more ways for law firms and their employees to operate digitally than ever before. Many law firms are beginning to look into these digital options.
Secondly, advancing tech is having a notable impact on the types of contracts, the types of cases, and the areas of law that legal firms are finding themselves dealing with during this era of bold entrepreneurship and futuristic design. Consider the legal issues, questioned by the Blumenshine group, when in March 2018 a self-driving Uber vehicle fatally injured a woman in Tempe, Arizona. Or even the ethical legalities of the Japanese robot, ‘Sophie’; an automated job interviewer that pushed the boundaries between groundbreaking AI and lie detection. These legal concerns were practically non-existent before technological dominance.
2. Law Firms are Spending More on IT Than Ever Before
The In-House Counsel’s Legal Tech 2018 Buyers Guide by artificial intelligence firm LawGeex suggests that legal organizations on the whole are experiencing a new influx of funding and investment and, as a result, many are opting to increase their IT budgets. In fact, law technology budgets are increasing at a 25% faster rate than overall business budget growth. This is enabling law firms to make use of new technologies and enjoy the benefits that a digital transformation can bring, such as better efficiency and cost reductions. These technologies could also enable law firms to take new opportunities as they arise.
While there are many beneficial technologies that can be utilized within the legal sector, there are 3 that are widely considered to be standout options. First is cloud computing, a form of ‘virtual’ data storage and hosting which enables legal professionals to access valuable data from anywhere, at any time, using any device. Next up is artificial intelligence, or AI, which could lead to a future of machine-readable and machine comprehensible contracts. And lastly, blockchain. While blockchain is most commonly associated with cryptocurrency, it holds the potential to revolutionize security and accuracy in law.
3. Technology can Massively Boost Workplace Efficiency
The 3 specific technologies listed above can all go a long way towards boosting workplace efficiency…. without increasing headcount. Cloud computing, for example, enables real-time collaboration, not only between employees, but also between employees and their clients which can play a significant role in strengthening relationships. AI, on the other hand, is a key facilitator of automation. While we’ve already touched on the idea of machine comprehensible contracts, many other legal and office-based tasks can be automated; document keyword search; client acquisition; updates and correspondence; payments.
Blockchain technology, however, perhaps holds the most potential for law firms. A dedicated, digital ledger which cannot be adjusted manually, there are many advantages to be drawn from such a technology. It is widely anticipated that blockchain will launch a new wave of ‘smart’ contracts, simplify land registry and deed management, improve the accuracy of intellectual property rights, and make it easier, quicker, and more secure to both maintain and transfer public records as and when required. All transactions can be accurately recorded on the blockchain; a database which is 100% tamperproof.
4. Adoption Rates for Technology are Notoriously low in law
Despite the advantages that can be derived from technology, adoption rates within the legal sector are very low. The problem, of course, is that law is traditionally a document-based industry, and reports suggest that 87% of legal professionals still rely heavily upon good old pen and paper to complete their tasks. While this is a tried and tested way of working, the main problem with paper documents is that they’re static; they can’t be changed during a meeting, they can’t be adapted on the spot, and documents cannot be instantly swapped to ensure the most relevant information is at the fingertips.
Experts are calling for a technological makeover for the law industry, transforming what is currently seen as a ‘wasteful and clunky’ way of working. While adoption rates of new technologies are low in the legal industry, some firms are starting to utilize digital options, placing them in a prime position to be able to deliver faster, operate more accurately, and stay ahead of the curve. Microsoft Windows Product Marketing Director Robert Epstein claims that a failure to embrace technology affects ‘ability to compete’, and says that it is ‘quite remarkable’ that legal professionals are still relying on pen and paper.
5. Evolving Client Demand can be met Through Tech
Client demands are changing faster than law firms are evolving, which is creating a notable gap between what a client wants, and what a client receives. Consider, for example, that in the 2017 Clio Legal Trends Report, 19% of millennials stated a preference for email communications rather than corresponding over the phone; 18% want online payment options such as Paypal; 30% want online document sharing. Some of the main reasons for clients selecting a law firm include the organization’s ability to respond quickly to emails; to be open to corresponding via text message; to have a good website and strong web presence.
In a survey conducted by the Law Society, more than half of all legal professionals agreed that technological innovation was essential for meeting client demand and taking new opportunities. The good news is that a number of notable law firms are beginning to make the change. In 2016, Microsoft announced that UK-based Howell Jones had invested in Microsoft Surface Pro 4 devices that would be rolled out across their management teams. These devices would allow them to collaborate and communicate with their clients in real time and deliver information faster and in more flexible ways.
The Future of Law Tech
A publication by the American Bar predicts that available computing power is likely to double — at least twice, but possibly three times — by 2020, resulting in greater uptake of technology by legal professionals. The publication estimates that decisions engines, e-discovery tools, and research tools will soon be among some of the most heavily utilized technologies in the legal world. However, there are still obstacles that have the potential to slow progress, such as risk. Especially when technologies are new to market, risk is inherent. Cloud computing, for example, is still plagued by the security concerns of off-site storage. It is understood that risk concerns will need to be addressed before law firms can fully embrace all available technologies. For now, however, there is certainly plenty to be getting started with!
About the Author: Scott Blumenshine’s expertise is based on years of experience representing people in personal injury and underinsured and uninsured motorist claims, arguing the facts and law in court, writing on the subject and presenting materials at continuing education seminars. Scott has been practicing law in Chicago for over 30 years and is currently a managing partner at the Blumenshine Law Group. You can learn more at www.blumenshinelawgroup.com.