June 06, 2011

Disruptive Legal Technologies, Part 1

Tonya Johnson

In his book, The End of Lawyers? Rethinking the Nature of Legal Services, Richard E. Susskind, internationally recognized legal commentator on the intersection of law and technology, proposed a number of technologies that would have a disruptive effect upon the practice of law.

In part one of a two-part series to be completed in the next issue; we review four of Susskind’s disruptive legal technologies as quantified byThe 2010 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report.

Automated document assembly – Susskind qualifies document assembly as a disruptive legal technology because widespread use can greatly reduce the time that lawyers expend on document drafting and production. The billable hour notwithstanding, this automation and its resulting efficiencies may reduce the amount lawyers might be able to charge for drafting activities.

Thirty-four percent of respondents to the Law Office Technology volume(Volume 2) of the survey indicate some use of document assembly software. That percentage remains unchanged from the 2009 survey, but it is 4 percent higher than the 2008 survey. Among users, 41 percent of respondents are from large firms, in contrast to 28 percent of respondents from firms of 10-49 attorneys.

Relentless connectivity – Susskind uses the term “relentless connectivity” to describe how the use of hand-held devices with wireless broadband access, powerful video, high processing speed and nearly endless storage capacity will create expectations among clients for 24/7 lawyer availability.

The initial results of The 2010 ABA Legal Technology Survey Reportindicate that this day has arrived. These wireless devices, referred to in the survey as “smart phones,” refer to Blackberry- or iPhone- type devices that provide advanced computing and connectivity ability, in addition to the ability to make and receive phone calls.

More than three-fourths (76 percent) of respondents to the Law Office Technology volume (Volume 2) of the survey report personally using smart phones. Such usage is up from 64 percent last year, 61 percent in the 2008 survey and 38 percent in the 2007 survey.

Respondents to the Litigation and Courtroom Technology volume.  (Volume 3) of the survey most often report using their smart phones in the courtroom to check for new e-mail (64 percent, compared with 52 percent in the 2009 survey), followed by send e-mail (60 percent, compared with 49 percent in the 2009 survey), and use of calendaring functionality (46 percent, compared with 39 percent in the 2009 survey).

The electronic legal marketplace – Susskind envisioned the offering of legal services online.

Today, the legal marketplace on the Internet is limited. When asked whether they have a virtual law office or virtual law practice—where they do not typically meet with clients in person, and primarily interact with clients using Internet-based software and other electronic communications software—only 14 percent of survey respondents responded affirmatively.

Respondents who are of counsel and solo respondents are the most likely to report that they have a virtual law office or virtual law practice (27 percent and 19 percent respectively), according to Volume 4 of the report,Web and Communication Technology.

Online legal guidance – Susskind discusses the use of systems that provide legal diagnoses, generate legal documents, assist in legal audits and provide legal updates.

In the survey’s Web and Communication Technology volume (Volume 4), respondents were asked whether certain types of online legal services are offered on their firms’ websites.

Eighteen percent of respondents report that their firms provide self-help legal information on their websites (compared with 13 percent in the 2009 survey and 11 percent in the 2008 survey). Twelve percent of respondents report that online document preparation is offered on their firms’ websites (compared with 4 percent in the 2009 and 5 percent in the 2008). Ten percent of respondents in both the 2010 and 2009 surveys report that their firms offer client intake questionnaires on their firms’ websites.

In the final part of this series, we will look at the final results of the 2010 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report and the disruptive legal technologies of e-Learning, closed legal communities, workflow and project management systems, and online dispute resolution.

The 2010 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report is an annual project of the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center. The report comes in PDF format in six separate volumes: Technology Basics (Volume 1), Law Office Technology (Volume 2), Litigation and Courtroom Technology (Volume 3) and Web and Communication Technology (Volume 4). These volumes are currently available for purchase and immediate download. The final two volumes, Online Research (Volume 5) and Mobile Lawyers (Volume 6), will be available in July.

This article first appeared in YourABA e-newsletter, a monthly publication distributed via email to all ABA members.  Learn more about the benefits of belonging to the American Bar Association.

Tonya Johnson