With technology transforming the way business operates, law offices are not exempt from the need to stay abreast of new developments. Neither should they, because each step takes us closer to the law office of the future – one in which the playing fields are more level than they have ever been before.
Now, as a result of technology trends in the legal industry, small law firms can compete on an equal basis with the bigger firms and deliver results that carry the same degree of professionalism. Achieving this requires a detailed analysis of your current systems and your company’s needs with the available technology.
In a 2012 study on Technology’s Transformation of the Legal Field by Robert Half and Associates, researchers identified several major technology trends among legal professionals:
- Increased investment in technology
- A shift towards cloud-based computing
- More flexibility of working hours and locations, commensurate with a global clientele
- Reliance on technology specialists for complex work such as eDiscovery
- Emphasis on social media policies, understanding, legal and ethical requirements
Technology trends in the legal industry are also driving changes in the relationship between in-house corporate legal professionals and outside firms, with tasks that can be managed easily using tools now being handled internally. “Bespoke” legal work such as litigation, labour and employment law are more likely to be outsources.
This is borne out by the findings of Altman Weil’s 2012 Survey on Law Firms in Transition, which shows that 81 percent of law firms expect to see the number of outside lawyers used by corporations for legal work such as contracts decrease or remain the same this year.
Transitioning to a Virtual Practice
Legal spending on IT is expected to spike during the next two years, with software standing out as the biggest player in 79 percent of firms surveyed. Not only does this vastly reduce costs associated with work space locations, data storage, workflow management and administration,
it’s the big plus that enables the smaller firms to compete with larger firms on an even footing!
Your client no longer needs to know if you work out of a tiny downtown storage locker. Some of the largest firms in North America are currently re-evaluating their space requirements and embracing the idea of the virtual office.
With the legal and ethical requirements for client data confidentiality, the security of cloud-based service providers has recently been under scrutiny. While many legal firms are transitioning to the virtual office scenario to save on costs, the security concerns have to date caused most firms to keep their technology in-house. Interestingly, the American Bar Association (ABA) Commission on Ethics 20/20 has determined that provided the vendor has good access control, redundancy measures and disaster recovery processes in place, cloud storage is ethically acceptable.
In fact, the ABA said that “a legitimate argument can be made that files stored on the vendor’s servers are more secure than those located on a typical attorney’s PC, as the vendors often employ elaborate security measures and multiple redundant backups in their data centers.” This is a promising ruling that gives technology trends in the legal industry the final, elusive approval that’s needed to really forge ahead. Time will tell, however, whether this will result in a stronger trend towards cloud-based services.
The options afforded by trends in technology have already given legal professionals much greater flexibility, with
- 79 percent making use of web-based video and audio conferencing tools
- Upwards of 50 percent are comfortable with eFiling systems, offsite document storage and collaborative or information-sharing sites
- A hefty 92 % regularly use smartphones, laptops and tablets for work while traveling
All this makes it possible for law clerks and paralegals to enjoy the freedom of no longer being desk-bound.
With the masses of data available these days that need to be catalogued, referenced and cited during litigation in particular, technology is proving to be a real solution to the discovery challenge. In addition, eDiscovery enables the analysis of information through electronic means, not just the listing and recitation.
With offsite storage and indexing programs, outsourcing eDiscovery to specialists to handle the mining of data for relevant content has relieved many law firms of the cost of numerous law clerks/paralegals, while retaining access for general counsel. This way, companies can pick and choose what to keep and what to outsource, and enjoy the benefits of both options.
And then, of course, there’s social networking. Not only is it proving to be a potential gold mine as a specialty area of law all on its own, but legal professionals need to be competent in the use of the various social platforms for business purposes, along with other technology trends in the legal industry. Social media sites offer direct marketing to clients at vastly reduced costs than traditional marketing, and no law office can afford to ignore its potential.
Technology is changing the face of our world, and law firms that need to get lean to survive will only do so if they are at the forefront of the race. If your firm is still doing business the way it was a few years back, perhaps it’s time you get an independent review of your practice areas.
The best way remain competitive, is to find out what technology, systems and processes other law firms are using and investigate how you can update your firm/company.
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