A repeated theme in our columns is how technology can be used to future proof your practice. For this column we asked several preeminent technology experts who work with lawyers and law firms of all sizes and who are all past chairs of ABA TECHSHOW—the premier legal technology conference— for their recommendations on the legal technologies lawyers should be implementing today to future proof their practices.
For firms of all sizes, Jim Calloway, director of the Management Assistance Program at the Oklahoma Bar Association and ABA TECHSHOW 2005 chair, emphatically recommends a focus on process automations and automated document assembly. While these are very important for all types of law firms, Calloway points out they can be particularly impactful at smaller law firms, as they can assist in freeing up lawyer time. He gives some examples you should consider:
If you are spending time saving screenshots of text messages into the client file, look for a practice management solution that sends and properly files text messages or look at enterprise texting solutions. Allowing clients to schedule appointments online and providing them a client portal that they can access 24/7 to review all important documents in their matter are just two of the ways to empower clients to receive improved services while reducing the time expended personally by the lawyer. While there’s nothing wrong with billing a client for a phone call confirming their next date or action, the client who knows where to securely log in and conveniently find the information and documents for his matter will be a more satisfied client, and a lawyer will have more available time to do more challenging legal work.
Paul Unger, partner at Affinity Legal Consulting and ABA TECHSHOW 2011 chair, observes that two of the biggest problems facing law firms and legal departments are cybersecurity and information management, and that firms must get a handle on both—sooner rather than later. And he makes the important point that these are as much process and people problems as they are technology problems:
It’s incredible how decentralized our documents and data are today because of poor process and people refusing to change. Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely not advocating paper, and paper was not without major problems and shortfalls, but at least client documents were more centralized and in chronological order. Lawyers now save documents all over the place—inboxes, C-drives, desktops, network drives, Dropbox and who knows where else. Cloud-based document management solutions (like NetDocuments, Worldox Cloud, iManage Cloud, etc.) and other cloud-based platforms (e.g., Microsoft 365 or specialized law practice management programs like Clio, Zola Suite, PracticeMaster, etc.) will go a long way to help organizations meet their data security ethical obligations, regulations and client demands.
Unfortunately, in Unger’s experience, most organizations aren’t thinking proactively about this, but instead they are waiting until it becomes a problem. Follow Unger’s advice to sort out where your documents are being stored—and why—so your clients’ documents and your firm are better protected from hackers, ransomware and other harmful outcomes.
Sharon Nelson, president of Sensei Enterprises, Inc. and ABA TECHSHOW 2006 chair, shares Unger’s focus on cybersecurity:
Most law firms are still operating with old-fashioned cybersecurity. Once upon a time, we had a clear network perimeter defined and knew we needed to protect all law firm data, users and devices inside the perimeter. Now we have employees working from home regularly, data in the cloud and vendors who have integrations with our networks and technology.
Her advice for future proofing your firm is to protect your clients and your firm with a move to zero trust architecture (ZTA). “Large law firms are moving there now, and all law firms need to begin adopting ZTA, which is not a product you can buy but an architecture you must build.” On January 26, 2022, a federal executive order was released “requiring agencies to meet specific cybersecurity standards and objectives by the end of fiscal year (FY) 2024.” The federal government is thus moving rapidly toward ZTA, and this will ultimately become a “reasonable standard of care” that all law firms must meet in order to comply with the “reasonable” standards of Model Rules 1.1 and 1.6 (Competence and Confidentiality).
Lincoln Mead, technology project manager at Canon Business Process Services and ABA TECHSHOW 2019 co-chair, focused on an issue that would have been a large national or international firm issue in the not-too-distant past. With the advent of the internet, in today’s world a solo practitioner or smaller firm is equally likely to have a client on the other side of the world as a large firm in New York City or London. For counsel in law firms and corporate settings, Mead is seeing data governance and privacy issues arising more often:
Watching outside counsel and dealing with opposing counsel at global law firms on a range of data governance and privacy issues, I think law firms will continue to labor under compliance and audit requirements that will require a technical solution to track, audit and manage. At a broad brush, dealing with GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation], CCPA [California Consumer Privacy Act], then the various federal regulations or tech standards for certain classes of information will be a focus that can be managed by tools such as Hyperproof or CrossComply.
Rounding out our future proofing perspectives is Tom Mighell, vice president of delivery services at Contoural and chair of ABA TECHSHOW 2008, who strongly encourages firms to ramp up their collaboration tools and skills:
The pandemic forced lawyers to find new ways to work with their colleagues and clients while being apart from each other, whether by Zoom or Teams meetings, virtual hearings and trials, or expanded use of digital signatures and virtual notaries. Collaboration technologies are critical to lawyers working successfully with their clients and each other today and into the future. Providing these tools for clients and staff demonstrates your commitment to working effectively with others no matter where they are located, which will serve you well in a future increasingly distributed in how we work together.
The comments of our experts highlight three key areas lawyers should focus on to remain successful in the practice of law. It should be no surprise that cybersecurity is one of those three areas. Many of us take basic Zoom meetings for granted, yet ignore the power of more advanced features and functionality. We all need to expand our virtual collaboration skills and knowledge across all the tools we use. The third key area—automation—is one that brings the biggest benefit to most firms and that more of us must explore and adopt. In our next column we will share our experts’ advice on the keys to making successful technology transformations.