A Perspective: Trends In Legal Technology Post-Pandemic
The legal technology industry has undergone a somewhat significant transition over the past year. Some of the change was undoubtedly the result of the need to immediately deploy certain technologies due to the nearly overnight transition to a remote work environment. However, the adoption of other innovative technologies has evolved over the course of the past year, as well. And, as has become the norm, data security efforts remain vigilant on both the law firm and corporate front. The “Pandemic Year” pushed us forward, and, really, it was all rather exciting!
Mid-March 2020 found us suddenly working from home. It quickly became apparent that we would need to enable video conferencing capabilities to simulate the office environment, maintaining a sense of community with each other and connection to our clients. If we could not meet in person, we could meet via video. Our firm was not alone in the need to move up our planned migration to Zoom. Indeed, many firms found themselves expediting the deployment of Zoom and Microsoft Teams, and the like. Once we were able to connect our attorneys and clients via video conference, we soon found ourselves evaluating and vetting the capabilities and security of various platforms and vendors to allow for remote depositions, arbitrations, mediations, and even, trials.
A year later, we face the challenge of “zoom fatigue”, but we know these video communication platforms are here to stay. In fact, there is consensus in the industry that remote depositions, in particular, will continue after we are free to once again meet face-to-face…why pay to send counsel from Minneapolis to New York to attend a deposition when they can attend the deposition remotely for far less cost? And, the added benefit? You can use the remote deposition as a training platform for younger attorneys.
We have seen not just a greater adoption of - and comfort with - video collaboration, but with on-line collaboration platforms, generally. Microsoft Teams became the standard for many organizations, not just for video conferencing but for chat and other collaboration capabilities. At our firm, and others, we also saw the deployment of more extranet-like platforms to collaborate with clients on documents and case management. Suddenly, after years of trying to drive adoption of Jabber presence indication and chat messaging, we had people asking for jabber on their mobile devices. The traditional desktop phone may soon be a relic of the past, as attorneys rely more upon their mobile devices and chat platforms to communicate.
In my view, one of the most exciting changes over the past year has been the heightened interest in workflow automation. With the remote work environment, interest in technology to manage workflow to, and among, the support staff has started to pique the interest of management. Automated workflow management will allow firms to have more transparency into support staff workload. It also means efficiencies can be achieved by ensuring work goes to those with available time and to those with particular skill sets, in any office.
During the pandemic, we have also seen a surge in the desire by corporate legal clients to use AI tools to examine contract documents…”what is the force majeure provision in all of our contracts, and how soon can you tell us our obligations?” we were asked. Contract AI analysis, as a result, experienced great adoption. Attorneys who had been skeptical of this technology over the past couple of years, suddenly became adopters and the technology is increasingly used for general contract analysis as well as for M&A due diligence. This use of technology reminds me of the eventual acceptance of predictive coding for e-discovery document review and is likely to change the way traditional contract review is conducted going forward.
"The automated workflows and AI technology have found their way into various administrative departments and practice groups"
The automated workflows and AI technology have found their way into various administrative departments and practice groups. As I look at the technologies I am involved with, they include the following: e-discovery data analytics, predictive coding,and automated PII/PHI detection, document automation and AI-document drafting, machine translation and machine transcription,automated signature management,AI-lead legal research, AI-infused idea management, automated task assignments,and more. We are looking at new on-line service offerings and new ways to deliver services to clients. Indeed, these technologies are being encouraged by clients and embraced by law firms and are transforming the practice of law.
Of course, while we have been mostly stuck at home working, the need to ensure the security of our data has not lessened. As we examine these new technologies, many of which are cloud-based, our growing data security team must vet each potential vendor and their platform. The move to a remote work environment meant ensuring all employees could connect securely to their work environment. We respond to an ever-increasing number of client surveys asking about law firm security. Security awareness training long-ago found its way onto the new hire orientation agenda and regular training is a requirement of all firm members. As a result, more and more resources are needed to support the law firm security team and technologies. Security continues to be – and will continue to be – an overarching consideration as we seek ways to innovate, collaborate, and move our industry forward.
I have only touched the tip of the iceberg, but suffice it to say that this past year, as challenging as it has sometimes been, has been a catalyst for change in the legal technology industry. It is a very exciting time to be involved in legal technology!