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LAW PRACTICE MANAGEMENT: Transforming a Law Practice with Technology

By Nick Gaffney

The practice of law has changed dramatically since the days of desktop phones, filing cabinets, and yellow legal pads. Today’s lawyers rely on laptops, tablets, cell phones, and other mobile devices and often work from virtual or cloud-based desktops. The majority of their clients’ documents are stored on hard drives or in the cloud, while layers of difficult-to-access “metadata” contain hidden information that could influence lawyers’ decisions.

Fortunately, technological innovations have kept pace with the changing times. These technologies perform a wide variety of essential and innovative functions, allowing lawyers to provide faster and more accurate legal advice, saving them time and money, and leveling the playing field between small and midsize firms and their larger counterparts.

New technologies. Many new legal technologies are building on essential process tools such as e-discovery to incorporate other data intelligence services and revolutionize the manner in which firms handle data. Antigone Peyton, founder of McLean, Virginia–based firm Cloudigy Law, says she grew tired of relying on third-party vendors to oversee document discovery and management processes for her intellectual property and technology firm. In 2012 she began shopping around for alternatives and was pleased to find a platform that would provide her with greater access and control—and allow her to search and manage data faster and with greater confidence.

“It takes the middleman out of the process, which has made it more efficient, less time-consuming, and less prone to error,” Peyton says. “You don’t have to trust that the vendor is loading all the data or has dealt with any data error issues, and you can get access to the data within minutes or hours.”

Peyton says that changing over has reduced the firm’s costs significantly, saving time by enabling lawyers and their clients to input data directly and then access it easily on their mobile devices. In addition, these companies’ cost structures, unlike those of many vendors, don’t usually require payment for every action associated with the data. “We’re offering a lower-cost solution that’s more streamlined for our clients and saves time,” Peyton says.

Peyton uses San Francisco–based Logikcull, which merges e-discovery with internal investigations, due diligence, mergers and acquisitions, and Freedom of Information Act response into one simple service. Clients drag and drop their data into their systems, and the platform automates more than 3,000 processing steps, organizing the data and providing a search engine for easy discovery. CEO and co-founder Andy Wilson says the platform is ideal for the high-velocity, low-volume cases that account for some 90 percent of law firm matters.

Law firms are increasingly turning to platforms that can analyze and present data in a manner that inspires confidence and makes it accessible. “It’s all about the data today. Who has the most data, who’s doing the most with it, and whose analytics are best,” says Andy Jurczyk, chief information officer at Chicago-based Seyfarth Shaw LLP.

Since the firm began using a search, analytics, and visualization platform more than a year ago, it has seen vast improvements in its ability to effectively mine data. Part of what helped sell the technology, Jurczyk says, was when a partner called up specifics on a certain judge with whom he was familiar and was impressed to find that the information presented matched his own knowledge of that judge’s ruling and peculiarities. “Usually lawyers go around and ask if anyone knows a judge and can provide insight,” Jurczyk says. “With this new platform, we can get closer to confidence in our position given a certain case.”

San Francisco–based Ravel Law was formed in 2012 and has since grown to include one-third of the AmLaw 20 and dozens of firms throughout the AmLaw 500, CEO and co-founder Daniel Lewis says. The analytics platform allows lawyers to quickly search huge amounts of legal data, pulling up information on judges, accessing case law, revealing patterns, and analyzing trends. The company is also working with Harvard Law School to digitize its U.S. case law library—the largest such database outside of the Library of Congress—making the documents accessible through its platform as well as available to the public online.

The more information, the better. Josh Rievman, a partner at Cohen Tauber Spievack & Wagner PC in New York, attests that new technology embraced by a prior firm has effectively served lawyers from document discovery through the end of trial by handling budgeting, legal holds, review and strategy, and more. “It changed our litigation practice in three complementary ways,” he says. “First, like most technological innovations, the superior tools and user interface leveled the playing field between small and large firms. Second, these same innovations allowed us to partner more effectively with in-house counsel. Additionally, when we made suggestions to the software development team, they listened and incorporated the new features into subsequent releases.”

The product, Liquid Lit Manager (LLM), created by Austin, Texas–based Liquid Litigation Management Inc., had specialized features that Rievman soon found essential. These included BinderBuilder, which enables users to compile documents into a single PDF that can be printed, shared, or filed with a court electronically, and Timelines, which allows users to track logistical activity and associate people, organizations, and events chronologically. “The tools I used before LLM, both in-house and through other vendors, were clunky and sometimes counterintuitive,” Rievman says. “These allowed us to more efficiently and more expertly prepare for deposition and trial, and this is what counts for litigators.”

Cas Campaigne, president and CEO of Liquid Litigation Management, says the company’s clients include both law firms and corporations and that its platform has been particularly successful in helping smaller firms to gain a competitive edge.

Niche markets. While legal technology is clearly helpful when mining massive amounts of data or managing sprawling legal projects, it can also revolutionize small practices in document-heavy niche markets. Candice Marple, who launched her bankruptcy law practice, Marple LLC, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, last year, says she was about to purchase computer software when she heard about a web-based option on the Lawyerist Podcast.

The innovative bankruptcy application employs a TurboTax–like navigation system, allowing attorneys to glide through bankruptcy documents in a linear way. It can be accessed from any computer or tablet, and the pay-per-filing price structure is particularly appealing to small firms and solo attorneys such as Marple.

“Since I don’t have any staff, I draft all of the petitions and schedules myself, and the platform makes that quick and easy,” Marple says. “It is extremely user-friendly. I can easily input my clients’ information, then check the draft documents to make sure the information is populated where I intended it to be. I also love that it e-files the petition and schedules for me. I literally don’t need to do anything except hit a button.”

Meeting the challenge. As lawyers increasingly embrace these new technologies, making their practices more streamlined, effective, and efficient, reliance on cloud-based solutions will continue to grow. Common elements of successful technologies include transparent processes and strong analytics that promote confidence in the data, secure platforms, user-friendly interfaces, a willingness to listen to lawyer feedback and incorporate new features, and a pricing structure that encourages rather than limits usage. As these technologies become ever more advanced and available, law firms and lawyers will continue to evolve, transforming their practices to keep pace with the rapidly changing digital world.

ABA LAW PRACTICE DIVISION

This article is an abridged and edited version of one that originally appeared on page 38 of Law Practice, July/August 2017 (43:4).

For more information or to obtain a copy of the periodical in which the full article appears, please call the ABA Service Center at 800/285-2221.

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Nick Gaffney is a managing partner at Zumado Public Relations in San Francisco.