Legal technology has completely transformed the practice of law over the last decade. Just picture what it was like to work in the legal field in 2012 — the law office was an entirely different place.
Technology advances at an increasing pace, and the pandemic has only served to accelerate many of the digital innovations that were already changing the legal field.
While the legal industry has long been resistant to change, this last decade has been a period where that resistance to tech appears to be subsiding.
The following are some of the top innovations in legal tech over the past 10 years.
#1. Cloud solutions
In the last ten years, legal professionals have embraced cloud-based tech solutions more than ever before. There has been a large shift in industry acceptance, where the use of cloud-based software went from being seen as radical to almost inevitable.
From document management to practice management, communication, collaboration, and more, operating in the cloud has become commonplace.
This shift can be seen in the large number of legal tech applications that have been launched as cloud-based programs instead of on-premises solutions.
There used to be greater levels of concern about the security and ethics implications of the cloud for legal work. Now, cloud-based software and platforms are generally viewed as even more secure than traditional on-premises software — not to mention significantly more efficient and better for remote work.
Virtual collaboration is one of the greatest advantages of working in the cloud. In a time when more legal professionals are working remotely, online collaboration is essential.
Cloud-based software provides a central portal to maintain files and communications, and many software options can track deadlines and tasks. Most or all of the tech tools your firm uses probably store data in the cloud.
Another impactful legal tech development has been the rise of digital automation.
The practice of law has long been filled with numerous time-consuming and repetitive tasks which make the lives of legal professionals even more difficult. Paralegals and legal secretaries were often bogged down in simple, clerical work.
With automation in place, much of this drudgery can be done more efficiently and with far less human input.
Document automation is one main area where a common activity has been streamlined.
Automation systems allow attorneys and other legal staff to turn various boilerplate documents into fillable forms. Client intake forms, standard wills, non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), sales contracts, and more — all of these can be created far more efficiently with automated document processes.
Automation has also been extended to other basic administrative work and corporate transaction work.
Another great example is integrated eFiling with InfoTrack. Since InfoTrack allows you to file directly from your matter, the information can be pre-populated directly from the case file. This saves time and reduces rejections since inaccurate information is a leading rejection reason every year.
Increased use of automation has changed the role of legal secretaries and empowered paralegals to do more with their time. This fundamentally changes how law firms operate, and that makes automation one of the top innovations of the last decade.
#3. Remote work
The rise of remote work has only accelerated with the pandemic, and the shift to virtual law firms has not slowed down even as the pandemic subsides.
The practice of law is no longer tethered to a physical office.
This is especially true with the increased use of smartphones, which allows a whole host of activities to be performed wherever a legal professional happens to be. Whether you work from the office or not, your job goes with you whenever you have your phone in your pocket.
We have already touched on the use of virtual collaborations and cloud-based software for the purpose of increased efficiency. But in addition, these advances enable remote work for legal professionals to an extent not previously possible.
With remote access to files and communication platforms, as well as the ability to work together online, members of a legal practice can be located anywhere without impacting productivity.
The rapid adoption of videoconferencing during the pandemic is another trend unlikely to fade any time soon. In fact, it has become the preferred method of communication for many legal clients. This means that attorneys can also participate in these conferences from home offices if they choose.
Yet another boon for remote workers has been the increased use of virtual hearings.
Most courts adopted virtual hearings during the pandemic, and many have kept them in place to deal with court backlogs. For attorneys, court appearances become another legal activity that can be done from home.
Less reliance on physical offices has an important side benefit: lower costs. Small law firms and solo attorneys are more competitive than ever because they can afford to run their business with low overhead, and since the entire legal system is now accessible remotely, there are few downsides to running a virtual practice.
#4. Practice management software
Practice management software was first launched as a cloud-based service in 2008, and it has proliferated throughout the legal industry in the last decade.
Many of these platforms can handle a wide range of legal activities: time tracking, billing, calendaring, workflow management, electronic court filings — the list goes on and on.
In fact, practice management software is so widespread and popular that it is likely to only increase in effectiveness and the number of features offered.
Managing firm operations through a practice management software is drastically more efficient than doing everything manually. Normal legal tasks take a fraction of the time, and for larger firms, it’s almost unimaginable to try to manage collaboration without some type of case management or document management system.
Using a practice management tool significantly increases the caseload that it’s possible for a single law office to handle.
At the time of this writing, there are still some law offices that haven’t yet adopted a practice management software for their firm. However, we predict that within the next 10 years, operating without a practice management system will be as unthinkable as running a practice without an email address.
#5. Artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence (AI) refers to the use of digital technology to learn patterns and complete tasks based on those patterns without human intervention.
AI-powered software is shifting the way many traditional activities of legal professionals are conducted.
Document review and contract review can be conducted more efficiently without expending man hours on tedious activities.
Even legal research is impacted, with AI tools having the ability to sift through case law and statutes.
Artificial intelligence has been around for a long time, but the legal tech applications have only become popular within the last decade. This technology is advancing quickly, and as developers offer more tools leveraging features like machine learning, they will continue to become increasingly common in law firm tech stacks.
Like many of the innovations on this list, AI’s biggest impact is that it does some of the menial and manual work that humans used to do and allows people to focus on more complex, strategically important tasks.
#6. Data-driven legal practice
On top of all these other innovations, it should be no surprise that legal practice has become more data-driven.
As much as the legal profession prides itself on being evidence-based, legal decisions have traditionally been made based on wisdom and gut instinct.
The industry has recently turned more to gleaning insights from data.
The main data-driven area of legal practice has been litigation analytics.
Litigation analytics tools enable attorneys to make predictions about likely case and hearing outcomes based on data from court dockets and documents. Now, attorneys do not have to base their judgments on experience and “feel” alone — they can look at patterns and numerical data to make their big-picture decisions.
Data is also used to help with other areas of legal practice.
Data-driven marketing allows law firms to run highly targeted advertising that is specifically shown to people who are likely to need legal services in the near future. This is more effective and less costly than traditional advertising strategies.
Some firms use productivity data and other business metrics to optimize the way their firms run. This is a smart way to cut out waste and use the budget more wisely.
Increasingly, firms collect and use data for everything from recruiting to client relations. There has never been this much visibility into trends and operations, and the applications of data science are just beginning to blossom in the legal industry.
Where do we go from here?
All of these legal tech advances demonstrate that the profession is coming into the digital age like never before. Legal practices who want to maintain their edge should take note — and take advantage of legal tech sooner rather than later.
Not every new technology is going to change the world. As a legal professional, it’s okay to weigh your options before trying out each new legal tech innovation.
The technologies listed in this article aren’t new trends, though.
Go back through this list and ask yourself this question:
Where am I being left behind?
If you’re missing out on something, that’s okay. It means that you have an opportunity to change your practice for the better.
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