Another year has come and gone in the blink of an eye. 2017 is drawing to a close and it’s time to start preparing your law firm for 2018. And what better way to do that than with predictions about what’s to come from some of the leading experts in legal technology and law practice management?
Read on for their predictions so you can get a glimpse of the future. Then take advantage of their expertise and take steps to set your law firm up for success in the year to come.
Sharon D. Nelson, Esq. and John W. Simek, Sensei Enterprises, Inc.
We think that the adoption of cloud services (Exchange in the cloud, document storage, document assembly, Office 365 etc. ) will go forward at a feverish pace. On-premise solutions are disappearing rapidly in the solo and small firm market. Cloud services have become more all-encompassing and a lot less trouble and expense than on-premise solutions. It is also true that cloud security is better than most small law firms can provide for themselves.
Without a lot of evidence (yet), we believe that artificial intelligence is going to be the emerging trend. It is becoming embedded in all kinds of software. Even Fastcase is working to make AI available to attorneys. AI in 2017 was overwhelmingly the focus of the Am Law 200 but we see that changing rapidly as costs come down and legal software vendors begin to incorporate AI into their products at prices that smaller firms can afford with the goal of making their practices more efficient. What has already happened in the e-discovery space will happen everywhere.
Tim Baran, Good2BSocial
More firms will use marketing automation software to drive the right message to the right person at the right time. Many large firms are already jumping on board with the use of software providers such as Marketo, Pardot, Salesforce, etc.
Smaller and mid-sized firms and legal technology companies are also starting to see the value of automation tools such as HubSpot and Infusionsoft. This trend will increase in 2018 as the tools get even more sophisticated and increasingly necessary to stay competitive.
One word of caution, before you invest in marketing automation software, make sure you have a keen understanding of what it takes to use it effectively. Translation: have someone in-house or a consultant take ownership and do it right, or else it’ll be a costly, frustrating dud.
Client communications tools will become more sophisticated and commonplace. Why? Because clients want it. Opaque relationships between client and attorney are, thankfully, becoming a thing of the past. More practice management software providers are adding Slack-like communication features and those that don’t will be left behind in an increasingly crowded field.
I’ve used the term “sophisticated” twice. By that, I mean, the adoption and integration of artificial intelligence, machine learning, chatbots, etc, into these tools to transform data and drive engagement.
Jason Moyse, Law Made
For solo and small firms, anything that automates back office functions and efficiency workflows in seamless fashion will continue to be important. The billable hour has not disappeared at this end of the market and getting caught “running the business” rather than delivering the chargeable services is the lawyer version of the E-Myth. While early, it’s exciting to see firms with as few as six lawyers utilize tools like AI for legal research, including Ross.
Kevin O’Keefe, Lexblog
There will be greater appreciation by lawyers that unless they achieve “star status” in their area of law or locale, an alternative means of delivering legal services will erode their client base. Additionally, efficiencies in the delivery of legal services brought about by innovation and technology will only increase.
Kelly Twigger, ESI Attorneys
All lawyers, but solos and small firms especially, need to be able to do more in less time. It’s what our clients and our desire to have a life outside of the office demand. The best bang for the buck with tech for 2018 will be tools that give you insight into your processes quickly and allow for automation of repeatable processes with customization features. Tools with a great dashboard that let you see an overview of what’s happening — whether billing, practice management, social media management, legal research, ediscovery etc. — are what we need, and I expect to see great improvements in this area for existing platforms for 2018.
Office 365 and moving lawyers to the cloud who aren’t already there will increase confidence in cloud-based applications. Automation is key, but the ability to customize my automated process to fit my practice and workflow is what’s required. The lack of standardization of research, rules, forms, and other data in the legal profession makes automation harder, and that’s the time suck. We need to solve that problem, and I think 2018 will see more and more legal technology working with lawyers to solve their unique challenges.
Kevin Ryan, Monroe County Bar Association
I believe that the next year will see increased focus on two major areas of concern: information security and practice efficiency.
1. Information Security. It is increasingly obvious that information held by businesses of all types, including law firms, is at risk. Ethical experts increasingly agree that the competence requirements of Rule 1.1 include an understanding of technology, its risks, and the available ways to mitigate those risks. The day has come when “I didn’t know” or “I’m confused by all this newfangled technology” will no longer provide an effective defense to disciplinary action. Today, what counts as reasonable behavior by an attorney or firm includes recognition of security risks and affirmative steps toward avoiding them. Consequently, we can expect an increase in educational opportunities for attorneys to help them cope with ever-changing threats and probably the adoption of new CLE requirements addressing information security. I also expect we will see the emergence of new law-related businesses offering new technologies aimed at helping attorneys safeguard the information they possess.
2. Practice Efficiency. Technologies (and ethical expectations) will emerge, and be increasingly adopted, that facilitate effective and secure communication with clients. Lawyers need to communicate with their clients in a manner the clients prefer while at the same time ensuring that the communication is both adequate and secure. We can expect more and more solos and small firms to adopt client portals and insist that communication with clients take place only through the portal (or face-to-face or, sometimes, by phone); email, I believe, will soon become a disfavored avenue of communication (if it has not already done so).
Nehal Madhani, Alt Legal
Legal tech companies are likely to start addressing more niche practice areas and problems in the legal industry. Attorneys are increasingly creating companies and technologies to solve their own problems. At the same time, with limited funding, some companies will focus on addressing niche practice areas to overcome the unique challenges often faced by a legal technology company. Because more attorneys will begin to embrace cloud-based legal technology, there will be growing demand for cloud-based tools, including niche technology. As a result, as an increasing variety of cloud-based software becomes available, solos and small law firms will finally have tools tailored for their specific practice’s needs.
We are also starting to see the rise of AI solutions and analytics tools that take advantage of both internal datasets (e.g., billing data) and external datasets (e.g., court filings, IP filings, etc.). Combined with software that is tailored to the needs of specific practice areas, these technologies will allow attorneys to take advantage of data in their practices. They will also be able to better identify bottlenecks and more efficiently manage their law firms. Ultimately, with these new technologies, solos and small firms will be able to focus their efforts on substantive legal work instead of administrative and repetitive tasks.
Charity Anastasio, Maryland State Bar Association
I predict we will continue to see the walls of electronic security appear porous as Swiss cheese. New and old worms and viruses will strike businesses and individuals alike. Lawyers will, in 2018, become the warriors they were always meant to be by answering the onslaught of attacks with demands for better system protection and reduction of risk in their and their clients’ lives. They will adopt two-factor authentication in droves, send every phishing scam to email@example.com, begin a worldwide tracking system of electronic offenders, and demand protective legislation. Some lawyers will go native and you will hear their howls in the dark of night as they partner with techies to investigate and hunt down hackers at large and help bring them to justice. Or, at least a few will begin to encrypt and look into secure client portals after they think maybe they have been hacked. Only time will tell.