January 16, 2004

More Legal Tech Trends for 2004

The beginning of a new year naturally brings a number of predictions, or put more accurately, trend analysis. Ron Friedmann kicked things off with his savvy crystal ball, and Dennis Kennedy just posted his. As usual, these are excellent articles well worth the read.

To these interesting points, I'll add five of my own:

I believe a number of projects law firms will be working on this year won't be "new" per se, but in actuality are a natural extension from their prior efforts. Specifically:

1. Integration

Over the past five years, law firms have invested massive amounts of time and money to install and upgrade office suites, billing and accounting, e-mail, practice management (CMS, DMS, KMS, etc.), marketing, contact management, human resources, recruiting, and intranet and extranet systems, among others. The problem is that for the most part, the data is still located in silos throughout the organization. In many cases, human resources, marketing, accounting, and practice groups all have their various databases in separate applications. In terms of internal business intelligence and responding to RFP's, there are just too many hurdles in the way. In order to gain the necessary productivity, effectiveness, and timely responses to inquiries, firms are looking at ways to bridge these gaps.

2. E-mail & Attachment Management

Most businesses have a real love/hate relationship with e-mail. Spam, viruses, web bugs, malware, document retention, electronic discovery, attachment management, and content search and retrieval has become some of the largest challenges to both IT directors and lawyers alike. Then mix in the additional issues with instant messaging and instant file transfer. As Dennis Kennedy has aptly stated, spam and spam filtering has broken the trust upon which we've come to rely in communicating via e-mail.

Thus identifying and implementing effective solutions to these challenges will most likely be high on the project lists. The problem is that there is no one program, no silver bullet, that will magically address all of these issues. With that said, more documents are received electronically, and there are systems available which help automate the storage and indexing of e-mail attachments. Note the use of the word "help", as the human element is still critical. Therefore, look for firms to try to find an acceptable balance between automatic system controls (i.e., spam filtering), ease of use, and meeting both their staff's and clients' needs in filing and finding those electronic needles in ever-growing haystacks.

3. Proactive Client Partnering

There have been quite a number of recent articles explaining why law firms get fired by in-house counsel. Controlling costs, lack of responsiveness, and failure to adapt to their clients' evolving needs are among the top reasons. Firms who want to retain their clients for the long haul are learning the value of proactively meeting with them to best determine what they want and what they need. There's been a lot of buzz regarding how portals can bridge this gap. However, the smart firms will be the ones who take the time to get to know their clients' business, and work backwards to mold their services (professional, technological, etc.) to fit those needs like a glove. A portfolio approach in this regard will serve firms quite well. Lastly, they need to bake these new processes into their staff's daily routine so they are not perceived as "extra work".

4. Electronic Discovery & Litigation Support

This topic was already mentioned in other "trends" articles, and for good reason -- this is hot technology. Lawyers in firms of all sizes are being dragged into electronic discovery whether they like it or not. Nearly gone are the days of the gentleman's agreement, "I won't ask for yours if you don't ask for mine." Ever-increasing percentages of electronic documents and data never make it to paper. New cases are refining the factors used for determining scope and cost-shifting. Thus it's probably only a matter of time until lack of due diligence in electronic discovery-related matters will have consequences with many sharp teeth.

In addition, there has been an explosion of new service provider entrants in this area. Lawyers don't have time to meet with them all. So the savvy law firms are compiling a list of "preferred providers", ones they've pre-screened or have tested previously. Recalling the previously "Hot" ASP market from several years ago has taught us this lesson: Trickling down, this will result in shakeout and consolidation in the ED market over the next several years. Indeed, there is already noticeable instability in this market niche. I have observed much mobility of key people between ED vendors -- people I've spoken with at one provider only 6-12 months ago are now with a competitor. Some ED businesses are already being acquired by larger companies. Expect all of these activities to continue during 2004 and beyond as the marketplace continues to self-adjust.

5. Mobile Technology

Let's face it: The more one uses technology, the more one generally becomes dependent upon it. Thus having access to the right information at the right time at the right location is key. Remote access isn't enough anymore. Professionals need mobile access to their calendars, address/cell phone books, e-mail, document attachments, research, notes, databases (both online and internal), and much more from a growing number of locations. Thus look for firms to take more of a portfolio approach to their mobile technology systems and offerings, rather than having just one or two pat solutions. A combination of desktop-like remote access, webified program extensions, wireless (Wi-Fi, broadband cellular, Blackberries, Palms, combo devices like the Treo 600, etc.) are already being offered at firms. Therefore, look for savvy firms to approach these not as discrete technologies, but as part of a broader plan to further integrate and yet untether their attorneys.

Well, there you have it -- my take on where things are headed for 2004. While challenging, most of these are not "rocket science", but rather are just the next evolutionary steps for those willing to move forward.

Topic(s):   Electronic Discovery  |  Law Practice Management  |  Legal Technology
Posted by Jeff Beard