Smartphones and tablets are everywhere, and the discussion about the need to embrace mobile is similarly ubiquitous. However, in our experience, law firms are still in the early stages of embracing mobile devices as an essential work device. There are many reasons to stay away from mobile devices – the security risks inherent in a device that is easily lost or stolen; the conflation of personal and corporate data on a single device; and, perhaps most damningly, the feeling that the mobile device is out of IT’s control. However, it would be a mistake to miss the forest through the trees.
Now that 2017 is drawing to a close, it’s time to review the legal technology happenings of the past year. What legal technology events and trends shaped 2017 and will no doubt continue to have an impact in the years come?
Here’s a retrospective on my focus here on Legal IT Pros since last January. While not all encompassing, it offers a (hopefully) instructive glimpse into a small sliver of the legal technology world and provides some insight on what to expect in the upcoming year.
On September 1, 2017, the Dutch court system began requiring law firms to submit documents in PDF/A format in two districts: Gelderland and Midden Nederland. PDF/A is different from a standard PDF format in that it requires the PDF to be fully self-sufficient which includes embedding all fonts, disabling the inclusion of attachments created by other software applications, and removing any programming scripts in Java Script. This is important so that the PDF can be opened again in 50 years by any computer in use at that time and the document will be fully readable.
Cloud computing has been around for more than a decade now. At first, law firms were slow to adopt to the concept despite the fact that it offers a host of benefits, including 24/7 access to law firm data, the convenience and flexibility of being able to enter billable time using mobile devices, the ability to communicate and collaborate with clients and others in a secure online environment, and being able to easily manage calendaring and tasks from any internet-enabled device.
Legal professionals work with varying types of documents ranging from case records, writs, pleadings, patents, contracts and mandate files. Most of these originate as paper and scanned to digital, but a growing number are being born digital. In response, legal IT professionals have incorporated PDF software to quickly transform documents to become court-ready. However, obstacles still exist that are draining efficiency and productivity, such as non-searchable scans, PDFs with sensitive and often hidden client information, and inability to edit some PDFs. A tool that can equally support both digitally-born PDFs and scanned paper documents is needed.
Business intelligence, or BI for short, has existed in various forms of corporate life over a number of years from marketing teams using information such as click-through rates to gauge the success or otherwise of campaigns, through to sales teams assessing the impact of individual people or promotions on takings. Essentially Business Intelligence refers to analysis of an organisation’s data to influence decision making so that the business can internally operate more efficiently and externally gain competitive advantage over business rivals.
Digital transformation is now widespread – Amazon, Airbnb, online banking apps and even the move to autonomous cars are prime examples. Fundamentally, it is fuelled by client demand for a user experience that enables individuals to access and consume services/information, the way they want it, when they want it and from the device they want to use at any point in time. This is achieved by automating paper and other ad hoc business processes, thereby creating business efficiency and enhancing service to clients.
Time recording has always been a core process in the business of law. And, almost as long as there has been timekeeping technology, there have been predictions about the ‘death of billable hours and the need for time recording.’ With more firm clients demanding creative and especially predictive pricing strategies from their outside counsel, you might be quick to believe the hype that timekeeping technology is stale, antiquated and oh so passé.
The practice of law has changed significantly over the past decade, in large part due to technological innovation. One major factor contributing to the rapid pace of change has been the rise of mobile and cloud computing. With the iPhone’s release in 2007, it was suddenly possible for lawyers to practice law and access important case-related information stored in the cloud from anywhere at anytime.
Early in my career, I worked for a major insurer who faced legislative challenges in regards to the use of credit scoring in determining auto insurance rates. I was tasked to find software that would allow insurance brokers to contact their respective state legislators with messages that would influence the legislation. The project was intense; I had to search for software vendors, issue an RFP, evaluate responses, and arrange for demonstrations. Once a vendor was selected I knew we needed to negotiate a price, but what I did not expect was the internal request to build a business case to measure the return of investment of the technology. I scrambled to try to measure the benefits of the software, had to revise the business case multiple times, and although the technology purchase was eventually approved, that process of proving value extended the purchasing process by months.
For about 15 years it has been a standard practice among law firms to skip iterations of Desktop Operating Systems—go to Windows 7 from XP, for example, or from Windows 7 to 10. As a result, desktop deployments used to be projects slated for every few years. This model, however, is no longer sustainable. With a new update schedule and a less than forgiving end-of-support timeline, skipping versions will leave firms scrambling to test, pilot, and deploy updated builds in uncomfortably small windows.
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