By Charles A Volke, Executive Director, Robert Half Legal
At a recent conference, I met an attorney with nearly four decades of law experience. I took the opportunity to ask him about the most significant change in the legal profession he has witnessed since starting his career. “In a word, technology,” he responded. “Our reliance on new technologies has transformed virtually every aspect of how we practice law today, generating a paradigm shift within the industry.”
Just as technology has dramatically influenced the general business marketplace, it’s made its mark on the legal profession – impacting everything from the practice of law and the delivery of legal services to the management of law firms and corporate legal departments and communication between legal counsel and their clients.
“Widespread availability of mobile applications and cloud computing platforms has enabled more effective, efficient delivery of legal services”
Each day, we see evidence of how technology has reshaped the practice of law: Legal professionals have instant access to information, the ability to communicate and collaborate with anyone, anytime, anywhere across the globe. High-tech tools are being used to streamline legal organizations, automate many tasks, and yield significant organizational efficiencies.
Technology – Transforming the Legal Landscape
To remain competitive in today’s legal marketplace, legal organizations are modifying their strategies to leverage emerging technologies in virtually every corner of their practices. Based on research we conduct for Robert Half Legal’s annual Future Law Office project (http://www.futurelawoffice.com), six key trends underscore technology’s impact on the legal workplace:
1. Technology is changing the law office footprint:
With the growing use of smartphones, tablets and wireless networks, legal work can be accomplished outside the walls of the traditional office environment. The physical footprint of today’s legal office is shrinking, with many employees electing to work remotely. Widespread availability of mobile applications and cloud computing platforms has enabled more effective, efficient delivery of legal services. Many firms and solo practitioners are opting to operate on a virtual basis, offering clients in widespread geographies a broad range of legal counsel and services, without a bricks-and-motor establishment.
2. Web-based tools are improving client communication:
The ability for legal professionals to work virtually anytime and anywhere has given rise to client expectations for 24/7 access to information and case updates. With a heightened awareness of the critical privacy and confidentiality issues inherent in legal matters, secure online portals are being deployed to facilitate communication and information sharing, including the ability to send encrypted messages and attachments.
3. Law office technologies are yielding cost-savings and enhanced productivity:
Clients are demanding more value for legal services, driving law firms and legal departments to adopt technologies to streamline workflows and operational processes and enhance knowledge sharing. Automated litigation support tools, sophisticated presentation software, collaboration platforms, project management tracking and e-filing programs, and online research databases are just some of the many resources that are creating efficiencies.
4. Social media offers connections:
According to the American Bar Association, the number of lawyers and law firms that maintain a presence through social media sites is growing.1 Legal organizations increasingly use social media resources for recruitment, marketing, career development, case investigations, and to stay current with legal news and trends. However, many are exerting caution when it comes to social media usage due to privacy and confidentiality concerns. Eighty percent of lawyers2 we interviewed said their organization has an effective governance policy for employee use of social media platforms at work. Additionally, social media law is an emerging specialty that is expected to grow.
5. Tech issues driving expansion of legal teams:
With technology issues so pervasive in legal matters today, “traditional” legal teams are expanding, by necessity, to incorporate specialized expertise. In particular, growing accountability for data, privacy, and security issues is driving greater collaboration between legal professionals and IT, security and privacy teams. In a recent blog article, “Security Breach? Urgency for Law Firm Management to Assess Cyber Risks” (http://blog.roberthalflegal.com/ security-breach-urgency-for-law-firm-management-to-assess-cyber-risks), John Reed, senior executive director of Robert Half Technology, observed that the very tools that enable legal professionals to work more effectively, such as cloud computing and mobile devices, also are making law office networks more vulnerable to data breaches. “As law firms upgrade systems to become more efficient, they’re also strategically hiring data privacy officers and other specialists with strong backgrounds in document retention, security, and records management to safeguard confidential information,” Reed said.
6. Technology has dramatically changed the realm of discovery:
While technology has positively affected many aspects of the way we practice law today, we can’t ignore the challenges it creates. The discovery process is perhaps an area most profoundly affected. Just think about the amount of electronic information generated each day; and then consider the complexities that such huge volumes of data introduce to the legal discovery process. In an interview for the Future Law Office project, Frank Wu, global managing director of Robert Half Legal eDiscovery Services, stated that the proliferation of electronically stored information and the development of IT systems has created the era of “big, dark, and dusty” data. “These data sets are so large and complex, or neglected and accumulated, they become difficult to process using traditional tools and techniques,” Wu said. As a result, organizations seek innovative approaches to reduce data collection expenses and maximize accuracy and value in meeting eDiscovery demands. And, the challenges inherent in big data dictate a proactive approach–implementing effective data management and retention strategies, utilizing technology-assisted review tools and keeping current on resources that can facilitate eDiscovery are all essential. Collaboration with IT experts remains a critical component of this dynamic process.
While it’s impossible to envision the impact of future tech innovations, it’s safe to say that technology will continue to evolve at an accelerated pace and affect the practice of law. The challenge– and the opportunity–for legal and IT professionals are to stay ahead of the technology curve and leverage technology as a strategic asset to achieve competitive advantage.