Susong is optimistic of Legal’s adoption of technology. Although it’s been lagging, the execution of new technologies is growing, especially in more progressive firms. He points out that mobility, simplicity, efficiency, transparency and overall client satisfaction are the drivers to this attitude transformation. There are technologies now available that will provide users the simple, integrated solutions they need. It’s easier than ever to embrace these new technologies, and start applying their benefits to your bottom line and your clients’ satisfaction.
Legal’s adoption of technology appears to be (finally) sorting itself out.
It’s been said, debated and written again and again, with no apparent end in sight: The legal industry lags behind the curve in adopting and utilizing new technology. And to be sure, there are statistics that support this incessant hiding of the deceased horse. Often, when a law firm wants to improve in a particular department, for example, marketing, they usually employ a firm that offers attorney marketing services to take over those responsibilities and introduce new and improved tactics. This way, they have industry professionals working on their campaigns whilst they can focus on what’s important to them, the law. So, it’s surprising that law firms haven’t done the same when it comes to technology.
The 2014 ILTA and InsideLegal Technology Purchasing Surveys revealed, disturbingly to many, that law firms had not significantly changed IT spending or strategy since 2010. The previous year, the same survey showed just 11 percent of firms using a next-generation endpoint security solution, 41 percent of firms not using any software solution for managing ethical conflicts, and 27 percent running a version of Word that was seven or more years old.
The conservative, precedent-based nature of the industry, attorney Luddite-ism, the billable hour’s disincentive toward efficiency, lawyers’ cultural resistance to change, and an inability to attract top IT talent are just a few of standard explanations. In spite of all this, there is clearly a concerted effort being made to change this perceived reality. The vendor landscape has become massive while diligent CTOs, CIOs and IT directors continue to evaluate and implement new technologies in their firms whenever possible. According to Frank Gilman, chief information officer at Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, the sheer volume of add-ins and integrations account, at least in part, for the apparent sluggishness.
“If you look at the last decade or so, the mass of firms tend to upgrade to a new version of Windows and Office every couple iterations,” Gilman says in an interview with Legaltech News. “The problem is the myriad apps that we run against Microsoft. These are the tools that all the different practice groups rely on and have been tweaked over the years for different people’s needs. We have to wait for each one to be compliant with the version of Office or Windows.”
Any serious racer will tell you, at the top levels, it’s all about shaving off one second here and another second there. Over the miles, those seconds add up. By that logic, or the reverse of it, it’s not hard to understand how the industry has fallen a bit behind over the years.
When asked to comment, Joshua Lenon, lawyer in residence at Clio, which provides Web-based practice management for solo lawyers and small law firms, offered Legaltech News his insight as to how we ended up here.
“There are user interfaces out there right now, being used at law firms, which would not look out of place in the 80’s,” explains Lenon. “I think the tipping point was when Blackberry became popular. Suddenly, all the law firms had to have it. It actually pushed the idea of modern architecture and workflow into law firms. Not that lawyers didn’t know how to use email, but they were just as likely to have their secretary print out an email, they would red line it, give it back to the secretary and the secretary would type it up, filing a paper copy. Blackberry became the first piece of modern technology widely adopted by law firms that wasn’t bought out by the one of the big two publishers (LexisNexis/Thomson Reuters Westlaw). We saw a response in the form of a growing field of legal technology providers.”
As Microsoft attempts to make the move to a subscription-based service for both Windows and Office, ostensibly removing the option for firms to lag behind on upgrades, Norm Thomas, senior vice president of corporate development at Litera and former market development director for Microsoft’s enterprise legal and professional services division, believes a consolidation will take place.
“I think the emphasis on providing mobile capability and the emphasis on securely moving more workloads out to the cloud, particularly for cost saving, are going to converge. They both support each other,” Thomas told Legaltech News during an interview. “We also need to be aware of what attorneys are doing when they aren’t being attorneys and then find ways to accommodate those technologies in a compliant way. The real premium is going to be reducing the number of vendors who are compatible with the WebDAV (World Wide Web Distributed Authoring and Versioning) model. It eliminates the contention between vendor applications, one of the big sticking points whenever there is an upgrade.”
According to Thomas, this shift will also alleviate the disparity between the overwhelming popularity of Apple devices-namely iPads and iPhones-and Microsoft’s continued software dominance in the industry. “The move to Office 365, both on premise and in the cloud, makes the actual device, whether Windows, Apple or otherwise, becomes less and less important,” he says “It’s all being accessed through browsers and platform agnostic environments.”
Picking Your Partners
In agreement with Thomas on the importance of fostering a relationship with attorneys and staff to become technology partners, Teresa Plunkett, director of information technology at Brooks, Pierce, McLendon, Humphrey & Leonard, has spent the last year “shoring up” stronger security and mobility initiatives for the firm. “We try to have a mixture of software being brought to the attorneys by our IT teams and the software that they bring to our attention,” said Plunkett. “We want to understand their practice and do everything we can to support it. All the while, it’s our job to keep in mind; this has to be secure, we have to back it up, and it has to be a fit for our disaster recovery plan.”
What does this all mean for the daily users of legal technology over the next year? Frank Gilman sees an opportunity to finally realize full-function mobility. “Up until now, people have been generally mobile,” Gilman says. “They do a lot of stuff while they are away, but then they sit down somewhere and connect or come back into the office and upload. They are mobile but not fully-featured, securely mobile. This is going to change.”
Gilman adds, “A lot of the major legal vertical companies are really starting to develop and bring to market more comprehensive tools. The smaller companies that are coming out with unique solutions are being acquired quickly, and those products are being integrated on a larger scale. They have the resources and are therefore becoming platform suppliers, instead of just software or service providers.”
With simple, seamlessly integrated solutions at their fingertips from any device, we’re likely to see legal professionals increasingly utilize technology that has been widely encouraged but often overlooked. This could include practice and case management tools, automated document assembly solutions (like those from https://www.digitalwarroom.com/products/ediscovery-software), simultaneous document collaboration portals, advanced legal billing and task management software, among others. When it comes to document sharing and collaboration in business – especially in law – security is key and having a client portal like that of filecenterdms can help to ensure this and provide an alternative to ShareFile.
Widespread use of these technologies, and others like them, will ease growing concerns over shrinking legal budgets and the demand for efficiency and transparency between inside and outside counsel. “Clients want insight into what their outside firms are doing and how they are working,” Ben Weinberger, chief strategy officer at Phoenix Business Solutions, said in a conversation with Legaltech News. “They have to have the most efficient tools that provide the right metrics and measure them in a meaningful way that can be actionable, you can try Active Directory Monitoring to achieve this or this other tool that gathers data and reports, or one more suited for this other system you are using. It can be hard to decide sometimes.”
The legal technology market appears to be sorting itself out, as markets tend to do. The delicate balance between making information privileged and making it accessible is a beautiful contradiction to watch unfold. Moving away from full-blown client applications that are simply adjusted to work on mobile hasn’t been easy. It is easy, however, to see how that successful transformation is going to pay dividends in the form of better, more efficient service to your clients.
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