Two-thirds of Americans now own a smartphone. A quick glance at any millennial or member of Generation Z clearly reveals the Borg-like assimilation these cohorts have readily accepted. We are all part of this app-dominated culture and affected by how it is shaping the marketplace. New apps and software tailored to every business type are quickly becoming essential parts of our work lives. Lawyers need to be cognizant of how technological trends are changing the way law firms are run. Firms that do not keep up will set themselves up for failure. The brave new world lawyers face will see the supremacy of artificial intelligence, a shift to virtual and cloud-based firms, and an increased role for e-discovery professionals and analytics.
Technology that was once the stuff of Hollywood dreams and fodder for tawdry science fiction plots is becoming a reality. Self-driving cars and virtual reality are just the start. Artificial intelligence (AI) is evolving at a quick pace, and it has the potential to revolutionize the way law is practiced. The specter of robotic automation has haunted blue collar workers for years now. White collar workers such as lawyers have been content to think that automation could never affect them, but IBM recently released the first artificially intelligent lawyer, ROSS. Instead of panicking about the impending robot takeover, however, law firms should embrace AI software. AI will be a major boon to firms who adopt its use quickly—some firms are already using IBM’s service. AI technology can reduce the time lawyers spend on the day-to-day menial tasks of running a firm, such as mining through documents during legal research. Lawyers could soon have tools that will examine the judicial tendencies of judges to predict the likelihood of rulings or even examine the strategies of an opposing counsel to tailor a perfect defense.
Adopting this technology will mean that the traditional law firm will have to move to the cloud. Businesses around the world are already moving their data into the cloud, and the same is true for legal firms. Cloud-based law practice management systems have a low up-front cost, are simple to set up, and make it easy to access client information remotely and securely. Even greater efficiency can be realized by abandoning a brick-and-mortar office entirely. Moving to a virtual law office allows for more flexible work hours and a better balance between work and a personal life. Solos and small firms should be especially eager to move to the cloud and eventually set up their firm from a beach chair with a cool drink in one hand and their phone in the other.
The potential for a better tan aside, cloud-based software is already allowing for greater collaboration between litigation teams. Smartphones have made connecting and collaborating with others through Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, etc., second nature to most people, regardless of their age. These simple collaborative apps could not have come soon enough as we are witnessing the unprecedented dynamic of four or more generations of Americans working together. As older people choose to hold off on retirement, the virtual firm will also be multi-generational, and the cloud will be the new agora in which Baby Boomers and Generations X, Y, and Z do business. Cloud-based tools will make it quick and convenient to review case documents, plan strategy from virtually anywhere, and reduce redundancies while preparing for litigation. The virtual firm can also broaden opportunities to network, recruit, advertise, and even find and investigate witnesses.
While all this virtual data is making some aspects of legal work more convenient, it is also creating the need for new tech- and data-savvy niche professionals to manage it. Every case naturally creates a huge amount of data, and technology has only increased the quantity of electronically stored information (ESI) that needs to be collected and sifted. The massive amount of ESI available in e-mails, through social media, on personal websites and blogs, etc., has made litigation much more complex and is partially responsible for the staggering increases in the cost of litigation.
Soon, the filing cabinet will have gone way of the dodo, and manually reviewing every relevant piece of legal information for a case will be a relic of the past. Lawyers will have to become familiar with analytic search engines and other tools that scan a multitude of data points for trends. Data-savvy lawyers with easy access to all this new information could use it to turn a case in their favor. As a result, a new staple of the legal firm will be e-discovery professionals. Their skills in using technology to gather and examine ESI for discovery and litigation will make them an invaluable part of the legal team. These professionals will fit a niche role within a firm, saving lawyers’ time and clients’ money. The resulting judgments will likely be better informed as well, decreasing the need for appeals and further reducing overall legal costs.
Exciting changes are already underway in the day-to-day operations of law firms. Simply put, these trends will shape the legal marketplace for years to come. Firms cannot rely on old habits or outdated ways of thinking and expect to remain competitive. Future articles in this series will look more closely at particular aspects of the coming changes in legal technology and will offer advice on how solos and small firm lawyers can adapt to these changes to ensure that their firms grow and succeed.
PracticePanther is a sponsor of the ABA Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division. Neither the ABA nor ABA entities endorse non-ABA products or services. This column should not be construed as an endorsement.