Practice Tips, by Dave Bilinsky, Practice Management Advisor
Technology and legal practice: the future is now
So here it is, flat out and simple … which do you trust your heart or your head?
See your heart will lead you where you want to be, but your head will lead you where you ought to be.
But which will lead you where you’re meant to be?…
Lyrics and music by NAS, recorded by K’LA
In August 2012, Robert Half Legal released their report, Future Law Office: Technology’s Transformation of the Legal Field (roberthalflegal.com/FreeResources). This report:
[E]xamines how technology has impacted the legal profession, including the practice of law, the management of law firms and corporate legal departments, and the relationships between legal counsel and their clients.
The full report makes for great reading, but here is a summary of some of their key findings.
With smartphones, tablet computers, wireless networks and cloud computing, telecommuting is on the rise.
The lawyer practising criminal law was always a bit of a telecommuter, but now technology has loosened the hold that the office traditionally had on him or her. Mobile technology has been enabling – allowing lawyers to take their work with them in ways never before possible. Of course, to take maximum advantage of these technologies, the law firm must have implemented a paperless approach to its client files. Once all systems and files are in digital form, it does not take much more effort to allow them be accessed securely via the internet. Microsoft, Apple and other developers have enabled secure remote access technology to be built into today’s operating systems. Smartphones and tablet computers are lightweight devices that can download apps to read, respond and in most cases edit, not only emails but attachments as well. You can do legal research, communicate, draft, respond, present and do virtually anything on a laptop, smartphone or iPad/tablet that you could do in the office. Of course, privacy, security and other issues must be considered, along with “What happens if you lose the device?” Fortunately, there is software that can remotely wipe any of these devices should they be lost or stolen.
The physical footprint of today’s law firm is shrinking, and some offices are even going entirely virtual.
Today lawyers are using virtual legal assistants, virtual secretaries, bookkeepers who work on your accounting system from their home offices, virtual IT people (who use remote access technologies to fix software issues) and the like. A law firm no longer needs to require a physical office to house all these people in one location. As a result, a sole practitioner or small law firm can cut overhead and reduce salary expenses, becoming a leaner and more limber business organization. Law firms are being formed in which associates work from home and blend in child care duties with their legal practices. This allows the law firm to tap into a previously underused labour market – namely, lawyers who have elected to stay home and care for their children. Telecommuting or practising from home allows them to stay in practice and still raise their families as they see fit. Technologies that allow law firms to build specialized legal collaborative websites that contain calendars, chats, notes, documents and the like are growing in number and sophistication.
Clients are demanding secure portals and collaborative spaces – revealing a critical need for secure technology-sharing environments.
Many articles today state that email is dead. Well, email, like Mark Twain, can say that its death is exaggerated. However, there is no denying that frustration with email as a secure and reliable communication method is at an all-time high. As a result of the insecurity around email and, in particular, the ease by which it can be “sniffed” (monitored externally), forwarded or misdirected, corporate counsel and clients alike are demanding secure client portals. The advantages are manifest. In “Collaborating in the cloud” (americanbar.org/publications/gpsolo_ereport/2012/june_2012/collaborating_cloud.html), Jack Newton of Clio, a cloud-based practice management system, sets out the benefits of leveraging online collaboration tools:
- Competitive Advantage. Google has replaced the Yellow Pages. Your clients are increasingly likely to find you online, and in many cases will prefer to interact with you online. Using cloud-based collaboration tools will set your practice apart from the competition and establish you as an innovator in your field.
- Time Savings. Communicating with clients online can often be more efficient and focused than in-person meetings, realizing substantial time savings.
- Cost Savings. Cloud-based collaboration can eliminate many of the costs and inefficiencies typical in many law offices—printing, courier, and mail costs—and can allow for the opportunity to work out of your home or a lower-cost office location.
- Real-time. In a world dominated by Facebook and Twitter, clients expect enhanced, real-time communication from their lawyers. Cloud-based collaboration offers you the capability to communicate more easily and directly with your clients.
- Security. Unlike unencrypted email communications, all communications through a properly secured cloud-based portal are secured using SSL encryption. This is the same type of encryption employed by banks and e-commerce sites to ensure secure, confidential transmission of sensitive data.
- Freedom. The freedom associated with a cloud-based collaboration system may be something you only truly appreciate once you’ve taken the plunge. You’ll realize you can get your work done anywhere and provide responsive, professional service to your clients on a schedule that works for you, regardless of your location. If an urgent situation with a client comes up while you’re on vacation, you’re only an Internet cafe away from being able to meet their needs. Cloud computing creates an opportunity to gain more control over your time, and often more freedom to enjoy time away from the job.”
Technology has levelled the playing field, enabling sole practitioners and small law firms to establish a large-firm-like presence online.
According to Dennis Kennedy, a legal technology consultant, solo and small firms have access to the same technology as larger firms. Indeed, TrialPad, an $89 application for the iPad (trialpad.com) places world-class trial presentation software in the hands of any trial lawyer. Prior to this application, similar software cost hundreds of dollars. There is software to allow solo or small firm lawyers to create online collaboration workspaces, such as PBWorks (pbworks.com), MyCase (mycaseinc.com) and Microsoft’s Sharepoint (sharepoint.microsoft.com) .
Similarly there are other applications that provide sophisticated software to solo practitioners and small firms and allow them to use these products to their and their client’s advantages.
e-Discovery remains both a growth area and a challenge.
There is another area where large firms face the same difficulties as small ones, and that is dealing with the challenge posed by e-discovery. Specialized consultancies have sprung up that assist in document coding, review and trial preparation. Perhaps larger firms are better able to afford these consultants, but certainly they are there and available for small firms and their clients. The ABA Journal (abajournal.com/news/article/judge_oks_plan_to_use_predictive_coding_to_curtail_e-discovery) reported as follows on a recent case in the USA:
A computer technique that can be used to drastically reduce the number of documents that must be reviewed by humans in litigation discovery has been OK’d by a Virginia judge despite opposition from the opposing party.
Partner Thomas Gricks III of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis argued the contested motion in April, contending that predictive coding is not only less expensive but more accurate, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Gricks, who chairs the firm’s e-discovery practice group, is defending Dulles Jet Center in the Loudoun County matter, which involves 10 plaintiff suits over the collapse of a set of jet hangars during a 2010 snowstorm.
Jones Day argued against the use of predictive coding, saying that human review does a better job.
The predictive coding goes beyond keyword searching of documents, applying an analytic searching model to identify documents that incorporate key concepts. The smaller pool of identified documents is then reviewed by a human legal team.
Certainly, Robert Half Legal’s report highlights the impact that technology is having on the legal profession. Given reports such as these, lawyers can reflect and make strategic decisions on where technology will lead them, for their benefit as well as their clients’.