May 25, 2017 Articles

Legal Technology Can Keep You a Step Ahead

By Darby Green

Legal technology isn’t just a vague concept to be embraced or ignored at the whim of individual attorneys anymore. Startups and established publishers alike have expanded their offerings over the past decade, and the rapid evolution has gained the attention of the ABA and state bars. Whether you are a junior associate, a seasoned partner, or somewhere in between, the power of these tools can serve as both an equalizer and a distinctive advantage for your practice.

Technology Demands Competence
The growth and ubiquity of legal technology—from smartphones and online legal research to cloud computing and more recent forays into analytics and data crunching services—show little signs of slowing. Rather, the pace of innovation is accelerating. In recognition of this sea change, professional organizations like the ABA have taken active steps to embrace new technology. Specifically, the ABA House of Delegates voted in 2012 to amend Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.1 comment 8 (Maintaining Competence) as follows: “To maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology, engage in continuing study and education and comply with all continuing legal education requirements to which the lawyer is subject” (amended language in italics). And the states are coming along for the ride. As of April 2017, 27 states have affirmatively incorporated the amended language from comment 8 into their rules of professional conduct. It is only a matter of time before all state bars require their attorneys to exhibit literacy in legal technology.

Using Technology to Win Business
In addition to the ethical support that the Model Rules and individual state rules provide for the incorporation of legal technology into daily practice, the potential for increased revenue is another driver of wide-scale adoption. Economic pressures have given rise to growing in-house legal departments and, in turn, increased competition for legal work by outside counsel. It has become crucial for law firm attorneys to incorporate business development and client retention activities into their practices.

Technology can help lawyers accomplish these goals. For example, litigators can monitor targeted newsfeeds to anticipate new developments involving specific legal topics as well as their clients. In fact, a 2017 joint research survey from the Legal Marketing Association and Bloomberg Law, “Aligning Legal Marketing and Business Development Resources for Law Firm Growth,” found that tracking news is the top business intelligence activity in which law firms are engaged, with 87 percent of participants reporting that they track news with an eye toward winning new business.

The survey also found that 76 percent of participants seek to understand their clients by tracking company information. Technology can help you identify an organization’s legal team and general counsel, learn which law firms it hires for specific types of litigation, and find out what types of legal issues it is currently facing. These techniques are also applicable when identifying potential new clients. For example, you can review a company’s executive team to find networking targets, you can study corporate hierarchy to issue-spot future areas of litigation, and you can focus on the intersection between public companies’ stock prices and news to evaluate their financial health and stability.

Robust docket monitoring and searching capabilities are also sources of intelligence for litigators. For example, you can monitor your clients as a “party” in a docket product, set an alert, and learn about breaking litigation within minutes of a new complaint’s being filed. Some products allow you to search across dockets using criteria including, for example, ticker, nature of suit, bankruptcy assets, and keywords. This allows you to better narrow your focus to discrete prospects or legal issues.

Developing a Litigation Strategy
Once a complaint is filed, technology can help litigators source favorable pleadings, evaluate opposing counsel, and educate themselves about particular judges.

Docket products can do double duty as a business development tool and a legal research database. You can search across millions of domestic and international dockets to locate briefs that align with your lawsuit. For example, search by a judge’s name, case type, and relevant search terms, and you get actual motions, memoranda, and orders that can help you plan and draft your own filings.

Judicial analytics can also assist in developing a litigation strategy by predicting the likelihood of certain outcomes. By running a search for a specific judge, case type, and motion type, you can view how the judge ruled in prior cases with similar legal issues. You can also use predictive analytics to approximate how long a judge might take to rule on a motion, or how long an entire litigation might take, and then extrapolate the coinciding costs. You can also benchmark your firm against peers by highlighting which particular law firms have argued before a given judge and identifying what clients your peer firms have represented.

Legal Technology as Equalizer
One of the undeniable advantages of legal technology is that it is equally available and equally effective for every end user. Women attorneys have the same opportunities to engage with new technology as their male counterparts. By becoming early adopters of new tools and platforms, women litigators can position themselves at the forefront of a legal profession that is already eager to embrace such technologies. But more importantly, legal technology can help you gain a deeper understanding of the law, become a smarter, more strategic advocate, and generate greater revenue—that is, be a better lawyer.

Copyright © 2018, American Bar Association. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association, the Section of Litigation, this committee, or the employer(s) of the author(s).